Record Label: Venn Records
Release Date: 01.05.2020
For Fans Of: Radiohead, Thrice, Black Peaks
Making a truly massive rock record in 2020 is a difficult balancing act. You need a certain degree of pomp and swagger to pull it off, but push it too far and often you end up with a bit of an overblown mess. However with decades of experience between them in some of the UK’s best underground bands, the members of Gold Key are better placed than most to walk that line. The band’s second record, Panic Machine doesn’t just dismiss any notion that the collective should be viewed as a ‘side-project’ or ‘supergroup’, it puts the band right at the forefront of British music and shows exactly how massive rock songs should be written in this new decade.
Everything that Panic Machine offers is based around the band hitting the sweet-spot for a range of different areas. There are lots of different effects layered around the songs but they maintain a raw centre thanks to mostly being tracked live. Tracks feel progressive but never get to the point where they are wandering or aimless, the more ballady songs heartfelt, but never overwrought. The really important one though, is how Gold Key manage to sound arena ready, and radio friendly, without losing a drop of creativity or personality in a similar vein to Muse, Biffy Clyro and latter-day Thrice.
This does mean that initially you need to have a bit of patience. Many of the hooks, particularly in ‘Mechanical World’ and ‘Sweet Darkness’ take a little time and a few listens to worm their way in, however are completely undeniable once they do. The former takes nods from Soundgarden and Foo Fighters musically while covering the sort of themes you might expect from Radiohead. It ends up being just as massive as that sounds. A huge sound is only one part of what Gold Key can deliver though. Elsewhere the band really aren’t afraid to stretch their legs and show off their musicianship, ‘Don’t Sleep’ is surprisingly danceable, with a grooving bassline and casually throws in lead guitar lines that would be a centerpiece for most other bands. Meanwhile, the opening of ‘Trick of the Light’ really shows the influence of Pink Floyd with an ethereal feel that still packs a tonne of power. Just in case you were wondering just what else the band could possibly throw in there, ‘Enceladus’ sounds like it could soundtrack both a Western and a Sci-Fi film. It’s at this point it becomes hard to imagine something that Gold Key can’t pull off. The band appear to slide between the esoteric riffing found on ‘Fly Into The Sun’ and the relatively stripped back piano ballad ‘Shallows’ as easily as other bands shift keys.
Just when it seems like you’ve heard it all though, ‘Human’ is probably the moment where Gold Key show just what they are capable of. Incorporating synths and a huge amount of influence from 00s Britrock, the song simply soars and, without taking credit of the other tracks on the record, seems to combine pretty much all of the elements we’ve seen so far into three and a half minutes of pure magic. Usually when talking about a band on their second record, you’d expect to be talking about ‘potential’, looking at where they might go, and how their sound may develop but here Gold Key appear fully formed and have seemingly mastered it already.
The idea of four musicians who have cut their teeth playing in some of the UKs finest underground bands of the last two decades making a huge rock record should be enough to catch anyone’s eye. What really makes Panic Machine special though is how these four members of Gold Key have come together to create something that is far more than the sum of its parts. It takes elements from so many different areas and scenes, churns them up and reassembles them to form a sound of their own. If you feel like rock music is stale or has nowhere left to go, one listen to Panic Machine will show you just how wrong you are.
Recommended Tracks: ‘Human’, ‘Mechanical World’, ‘Enceladus’