With 2019’s Mana, Unto Others (then, Idle Hands) made quite possibly the biggest splash a band could make with a debut full length. It was an amalgamation of goth, classic metal, and tragically intense lyrics that painted itself across best of lists by the truckload. On follow up Strength, there’s burning questions aplenty and, admittedly, a bit of trepidation going into it that this would merely be a part II. And really, who could blame them? However, this couldn’t be further from the truth as the band has, somehow, made a tighter, better, more focused album.
Let’s back up a bit. First came Spellcaster with its classic heavy metal chops and acute attention to the almighty shred. Then came Idle Hands with the Don’t Waste Your Time EP which took goth and metal to a new level and honestly didn’t receive the praise it should have at the time. To be sure, this amalgamation of styles and sound wasn’t a particularly new thing, but in the hands of Idle Hands it was the best this particular pairing had been to that point. Then came Mana which blew the lid off the whole thing and catapulted the band into the stratosphere. Whip smart lyrics and rhythms, soaring vocals, and sad sack grooves that wormed their way into every fiber it could find, helped us through dark days, made us sing when we wanted to fight, and to this day I still can’t get enough of it.
With the announcement of (current timeline now: Unto Others) Strength, our back office water cooler chat has been something like this: “let’s hope this album won’t suffer from it not being a new thing anymore and won’t be just another album full of the same stuff but, if so, we’ll still love it but, they gotta crank the wheels of creativity and blow us away, again, just like last time. Further, they still have to be the same band with the same sound.” Absurdly high expectations to be sure, but if anyone could do it, surely they can based strictly off the meteoric rise of the last album.
Lead off track “Heroin” shows off their distant past with its insane heavy metal licks, but it doesn’t take long before we get that swaggering gothic groove and right there is where the cheers started. Mere minutes in and I’m in a full on sweat, good sign. Follow up “Downtown” eschews the crunch for a straight up rainy day jam session while “When Will God’s Work Be Done” settles in a bit more and really highlights how much better Gabriel Franco’s vocals have progressed, dude covers so much ground yet makes it sound effortless. And it’s those vocals that drive tracks like “Destiny” and “Instinct,” just to name a few, right into the next chapter on from the success of Mana.
Then there’s the Pat Benetar cover of “Hell Is For Children” which, on paper, sounds like an odd choice. But, for Unto Others it fits like a glove and if no one knew this was a cover, it would easily be assumed to be an original. “Why” and “Summer Lightning” sound as if they’re onstage trading lick for lick with The Cure and honestly, there’s no shortage of moments like this throughout the album and they really stand out more this time due to the choice to trim runtimes down just a bit for better focus. Not that the last album meandered that much, but there were times that tracks would’ve benefitted from a trim here and a cut or two there. No problem here though, each song is tight and straight to the point.
Midway through the first track, and definitely by the end of “Downtown,” (quite possibly the best one-two punch on the entire album) any sense of trepidation had evaporated and it was clear that this album would be way more than just a follow up. And no, it definitely is not a part II, rather, it’s a blossoming of the promise they clearly had. Have they progressed since last time? Yes, this one is a bit heavier with further experimentation on the rocking goth side. There’s purpose in every note, there’s better clarity all over, there’s power when needed and more restraint when the song calls for it, and there’s an even higher sense of passion for what they’re doing that comes through crystal clear and, at times, louder than the music they’re making. And the choice to tap Arthur Rizk for production and mixing was an excellent one as this album sounds more robust and more dynamic than they’ve ever sounded. All in all, a complete success and an album that, just like Mana, I will not be able to put down anytime soon.