Like a superhero blockbuster movie, no New Secret Weapon review would be complete without the obligatory origin story.
The three piece came together on a make-shift stage in the campsite of KnockanStockan way back in 2007. This impromptu jamming session quickly revealed a greater purpose – a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ moment if ever there was one – and New Secret Weapon were born.
Their wild and wonderful blend of punk, rock, prog, pop and psychedelia, formed in a field, honed through hundreds of live gigs since, has now finally been committed to record.
Like a good origin story should, ‘New Secret Weapon’, the band’s titular debut, pays off on the group’s unique formative experience with a sound that is at once highly accomplished while still retaining the raw energy of an impromptu late night jam taking place in the middle of nowhere.
From an opening onslaught of big chunky riffs, the album feels like it’s building into a full on noise-rock breakdown in the vein of the likes of Girl Band (particularly on Look at the State of It), but it never quite lets go.
Instead New Secret Weapon retain a highly developed melodic structure, favouring a kind of brooding introspection over a full on hard rock freakout. The influence of more thoughtful guitarsmiths like Jeff Buckley and John Martyn comes across on the airy, and constantly evolving, You’re Still Losing.
At times this restraint seems a little forced. The overwrought riffs of Wild One feel like they are building to an all-out Jimi Hendrix-style sweeping guitar solo that never quite comes. But a super hooky melody that strays from pop catchiness to progressive weirdness, often several times within the one track, keeps things bursting with freshness and highly listenable.
‘New Secret Weapon’ reaches its peak on its two longest tracks, Rose and The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Rose sees the band channelling a complex emotional range that plenty of other alternative bands in this mould would forego in favour of some simple teenage angst. Frontman David Griffin croons about how his “aunt rose… lived her life like an absolute angel,” before harmonising his vocals into a wallop of sighing guitars.
The song flows down to almost silence, allowing each instrument to come out and do its thing before fading out again, favouring individual inventiveness over the chaotic wall of sound approach.
The Epic of Gilgamesh goes the opposite way, kicking off with a loose grungy intro of jangling guitars and flowing into a model of constant repetition. Lyrics get yelled over and over again.
Despite it’s length, the song is a collection of a small number of recurring melodies and patterns and whole sections that get played over and over again, as opposed to a true progressive rock epic that incorporates large scale musical experimentation.
But if every impromptu jam that happens on a festival campsite sounded this good nobody would ever leave their tent to go check out the main acts.
‘New Secret Weapon’ is bursting with an odd inventiveness that is incredibly difficult to classify. At times it’s a little too unselfconsciously poppy to be properly alternative, and at others it dives into way too much psychedelic weirdness to ever appeal to a mainstream audience.
It is the sound of a late night genre-fusion jam that shouldn’t make any kind of musical sense, but is somehow brilliant nonetheless.
New Secret Weapon will launch their album in The Button Factory on 25 April. Tickets are €10 and will be available at the door.
To hear their album in full check out our exclusive stream, here.