Ants From Up There - Black Country, New Road

In the face of an uncertain future, Black Country deliver an experimental rock masterpiece for the ages.

"As satisfying as this debut is, one of the most pleasing things about its teasing length and short structure is the space it leaves for Black Country to continue developing their wildly enigmatic style... If the results are as electrifying as this then Black Country will be a force to reckon with - judging by the gleeful anarchy and bold thirst for invention that defines this debut, For the first time could be a mere tune up for what’s to come."

The above conclusion taken from my February 2021 review of Black Country, New Road's exhilarating debut For the first time had seemed to be right on track with the band's trajectory at the beginning of this year, with a slew of captivating singles being dropped throughout January in the lead up to the band's rapidly developed sophomore album. Ants From Up There promised to be a wild and wonderful sequel that quickly capitalized on the young septet's emergence last year, and while it does indeed deliver on its promise and more, it's impossible not to listen to BCNR's second record with mixed feelings.

The band's future was seemingly thrown into chaos in the days leading up to Ants release when frontman Isaac Wood announced his departure from the group, citing increasing mental health struggles that led to a commendable yet nonetheless heartbreaking decision which now leaves Black Country in a bizarre sort of limbo. The band have announced they won't tour the music they created with Wood, and will instead be working on alternative projects in future citing the possibility of film scores and working with orchestras as potential routes forward - knowing the astoundingly raw abilities of these six musicians as you might from their music to date, they are sure to be worthy and rewarding exercises if not quite the same as what we have here.

And what we have here is something special.

Ants From Up There is an album to be treasured in spite of (or perhaps even more so due to) the circumstances surrounding it, but chiefly because of the lightning captured inside this post-punk bottle, a spectacular death cry from a truly unique band that were too young to die and too fast to live.

With 10 tracks across 58 minutes, Ants presents a fully fleshed out version of BCNR's debut with almost double the song content and a near hour runtime but not a second wasted. We get a mix of Black Country styles here, with more focus on the contemplative lo-fi balladry that was represented in fan favourite 'Track X' the first time out, as early highlights 'Concorde', 'Bread Song' and 'Haldern' set a blissfully mellow and melancholic tone as Wood poetically details the anxiety and fear that led up to his departure in between the more classic jazz punk of 'Chaos Space Marine' and 'Good Will Hunting' which still packs the same thrilling, singular punch it did a year ago. The latter in particular finds Black Country at their most accessible, with one of the band's more structured tracks led by a playful and catchy guitar refrain as well as dreamy backing vocals courtesy of violinist Georgia Ellery.

It's the latter half of Ants tracklist that takes us to an even higher plain though, with a full half hour dominated by an epic concluding trilogy comprising three of the greatest pieces the band have created to date. 'The Place Where He Inserted The Blade' offers up a shimmering orchestra of flute, piano, saxophone and guitar that soundtracks a typically surreal tale which pays stunning homage to late era Bob Dylan while 'Basketball Shoes' is the glorious 12 minute conclusion to Ants that traverses almost every sound and idea the band have executed in their brief lifespan.

An avant garde symphony divided into 3 parts distinctly separated by a set of instrumental interludes, the song's creation predates For the first time and was a focal point of the band's live sets in their early existence, having been written by Wood about a dream he had of Charli XCX. It's a suitably bonkers way to bring Ants to a finish, but the true climax of the album takes place a track earlier.

'Snow Globes' is an intricately built, haunting existential anthem that stands as the highlight of not only Ants From Up There but the entire discography of BCNR, a spellbinding post-punk mantra of such eerie beauty as to make words futile with its indescribable magic. I am wholly confident in saying two months into the year that this will go down as one of the definitive songs of 2022 for exposing the singular power of Isaac Wood's brilliant creative mind and why it will be outright impossible to replace the band's chief songwriter.

At once euphoric and devastating, 'Snow Globes' finds Wood at his most inimitable, dropping his usual spoken word delivery to sing desperately of Catherine of Aragon and Henry the VIII while simultaneously tying these historical themes back into the personal with an outpouring of pure unfiltered emotion on a spine tingling 9 minutes that will shake listeners to their very core. As Wood ferociously battles a thundering drum solo in the track's apocalyptic climax, it feels as though the world may be ending, but somehow it's all going to be okay.

The tragedy of 'Snow Globes', and Ants From Up There as a whole, is the realization that we are listening to the mesmerizing sound of a songwriter and a band without limits, perhaps only just beginning to realize a world beating potential that we may never see sustained. Just as with all great artists who were fleeting in their existence though, the cruelly short nature of their time together may make everything just that much more special in hindsight.

So whatever happens in the future of Black Country, New Road, we'll always have Ants From Up There - a towering experimental rock masterpiece that stands as the pinnacle achievement of the band's short lived existence in its current form. In the space of a year, Black Country have produced two albums quite unlike anything else in the current rock landscape, and for that, no matter where they go next, we can only be grateful.

9.5 / A+

Best Tracks: 'Chaos Space Marine'/'Concorde'/'Good Will Hunting'/'Haldern'/'The Place Where He Inserted The Blade/'Snow Globes'/'Basketball Shoes'

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