15 years is a long time to be in a band, and for Welsh alternative band The Joy Formidable, the group has worked hard to expand sonically while remaining true to their roots. Since their debut album, The Big Roar, in 2011, the group has tried to transcend the arena-rock sound—filled with epic guitar riffs and even more epic choruses—that put them on the map, but with varying degrees of success. For instance, their 2013 album Wolf’s Law doubled down on the formula they created in The Big Roar, which proved that their musicality was no joke. But with their last two releases—2016’s Hitch and 2018’s AAARTH, respectively—it seemed as though the band chose to stray from the path and incorporate new influences and techniques in their sound. This resulted in albums that did not give much in return—a textbook case of growing pains that never found an outlet to thrive.
This is what makes the band’s latest release, Into the Blue, so intriguing. While they do make some drastic—and at times, questionable—decisions in the diversification of their sound, the majority of the record is an undeniable return to their roots. Or, at least, an attempt to, as there are still moments of weakness in finding the right balance between old and new.
The album starts with the title track, “Into the Blue.” A simple drum beat and an intricate guitar riff accompany lead singer Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan, whose sweet and mellow voice immediately hooks the listener in and still holds the power to carry the instrumentals. Like “just one big wave,” the first verse builds and then crashes into an epic chorus, where the lead singer belts her heart out, adding a layer of emotion to lyrics like “‘Cause things go bad but it’s real and there/ Better than slowly emptying me/ Into the blue/ Into the blue once again.”
The next track, “Chimes,” plays a game of delayed gratification, with the drums starting and stopping in defiance of a simple pogo-friendly anthem, while the lyrics ruminate on growing older and trying to remember to stop and find the beauty in the everyday. The addition of piano and layering of vocals add to the feeling of yearning present in the lyrics, something that many have been feeling in times of uncertainty.
Every album has its hits and misses, and Into the Blue is no exception to this. “Sevier” ventures into a clunky, metal-like feel, which feels out of place from the lighter air of its predecessors, while “Gotta Feed My Dog” sounds more like a failed experiment, with more uncharacteristic metal riffs paired with lyrics like “Dip my fingers in the tree’s blood/ Thank him for it and bound ahead,” which, in both a literal and figurative sense, sounds like a bad psychedelic trip.
The closing track, “Left Too Soon,” is also the album’s saving grace. Here, the lyrics are shining star, perfectly capturing how as time goes on, change is to be expected, but also how it can also be downright terrifying (“Close my eyes I know nothing is setting/ You know how it feels to leave too soon/ Just hold onto me as the changеs roll through”).
Regeneration, re-evaluation, rejuvenation; The Joy Formidable have looked the music industry’s latest raw deal in the eye and come out fighting, telling people who they are and proud of what they do. Despite its obvious setbacks, the band has proven once again that their music deserves to be heard with Into the Blue.