What does the name Hawk Eyes conjure? To this mind, such a name suggests anthemic, pummelling, relentlessly driving riffs and soaring melodies coated in gargantuan slabs of blistering assaults of guitar noise. Which means it’s a relief that Leeds-based Chickenhawk decided to adapt a far more appropriate nomenclature when changing their name to the aforementioned in the interim between 2010’s Modern Bodies and Ideas, their new release on Fierce Panda.
At the very beginning of Ideas, frontman Paul Astick bellows “Hands up if your hanging around and you’ve got nothing to do… the future belongs to you!” Trite sentiments perhaps but Hawk Eyes are firmly ensconced in the American alt-rock idiom of abandoning overt lyrical reflection instead of guitar heroics and relentless riff massacres. Such bellowing has been toned down since the band’s previous incarnation; Astick was advised by a doctor to alter his traumatic vocal approach as it was causing irreparable damage to his throat. And it’s this minor change in approach which has the band moving their focus from sheer metal towards this altogether less abrasive sound.
Or else, someone has told the band that they are actually Therapy?. Ideas bears a striking resemblance to the latter band’s Troublegum era output, particularly the breakdown and harmonies in Bears By The Head and Skyspinners. The pace of the album is consistently breakneck; arpeggios direct and sustain the barely concealed aggression of Yes Have Some while You Deserve A Medal resembles about 10 separate songs soldered together to create a weaving, wandering and wildly unpredictable ride through the bowels of pop metal.
However, it all sounds a bit, well, 1994. Hawk Eyes may have ditched the chaotic screaming but seem to have replaced it with a post-grunge sound that doesn’t provide any light between the band and their peers of yore. Headstrung is a particular offender, suffering from over indulgent vocal treatments and some quiet-loud-quiet trickery which is as derivative as it is dragging. It’s also disconcerting to hear Astick scream on Milk Hog, perhaps the album’s most outwardly metal number, “I want milk, I want more milk!” a request which somewhat dampens the fury raging elsewhere.
Hawk Eyes work best when they swoop in and out with their big choruses and focus their talents on less complicated tones and textures – the one minute and 58 seconds of Kiss This could be a vintage-Wildhearts chantalong and the killer opener Witch Hunt surmises the irresistible pop-hooks which crop up sporadically throughout the rest of the album. The ostensibly dark focus of Ideas is compromised by the needless bombast and studio trickery – while Hawk Eyes certainly aren’t short of intention, perhaps they need to fine-tune the balance between idea and influence to fully convince the great unwashed.