Folk rockers Washington Irving are back with another album of emotional highs and lows, this time delving into the bloody battles of WWI as inspiration for a set of songs that seek to catalogue love, misery and dread.
Having played with Glasgow’s kings of anthemic melancholy Frightened Rabbit as well as the likes of Titus Andronicus and Wintersleep, the gang know how to match their miserabilism to rollocking tunes and this is certainly their heaviest and least folk-inflected set to date.
For those who loved the unreconstructed folksiness of their earlier flute assisted material, the all-electric sound of August 1914 might take a little getting used to but with song-writing this strong you’d be missing out if you passed it over for those reasons.
Appropriately given the newly beefed up sound, August 1914 may well also be the group’s darkest set of material so far, from shout along first single ‘We Are All Going to Die’ to the stormy ‘Petrograd’.
The latter in particular lends weary vocals to a tale of the war torn and builds to an enormous, swollen wall of sound.
When the tracks spark to life there’s a fiery intensity that few current Scottish bands can match, most notably on the brilliant and righteously angry ‘Faslane Forever’.
When the tracks don’t quite gel there’s the risk of submitting to the widescreen Celtic rock bluster of U2 but for the most part Washington Irving swerve this hazard, channelling a passionate musicality that Bono and co only wish they could recapture.
‘The Great Unrest’ offers the most romantic moment of the record as Joe Black earnestly sings “I loved you inside out” while ‘Young Bosnia’s winding riffs sounds like REM beefed up ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ with added guitar solos.
As the record rolls on we get a natural set closer in the crashing seven-minute epic ‘Tongues’ and finally the understated ‘A Grave! A Grave!’, a group singsong that hews closest to their earlier acoustic guitars round the fire vibes despite the dark subject matter.
To make August 1914, Washington Irving travelled to New York seeking new horizons; we’re lucky to have them back.
Words: Max Sefton