There is a certain air of prophecy that encompasses the second album from the Watford-born band Gold Key. Some time after their esteemed 2017 debut ‘Hello, Phantom’, the four-piece decided it was studio time. Trading vocalist Steve Sears’ studio for a cottage in Gwynedd, North Wales, the group found themselves in a unique position of self-enforced quarantine. “It was perfect: with no phone signal, no car and nothing within walking distance, we were 100% isolated”, Sears describes. They could not have predicted that, come the release date, this album would be birthed into a worldwide mirror of their record.
‘Panic Machine’ is a step-up for Gold Key. Anthemic, heavy and riskier: it is capital-R Rock. Twelve tracks, forty-five minutes – it follows the guidelines for a quintessential rock record that seamlessly worms its way into the pantheon of must-listen pandemic projects. It is an album that certifies Gold Key’s reputation as A Band, rather than a side-project. Consisting of members of Gallows, Sikth, Spy Catcher and Blackhole, Gold Key have rewritten the rules of supergroups and, with ‘Panic Machine, have made a bid for rock’s necessity.
It does not take long for Gold Key to grab, and throttle, your attention. ‘Sweet Darkness’ greets the listener at the beginning. A five-minute blast: it is an ambitious opener. Loud, intense and riled up, it explodes with a flurry of furious drums. The rhythm section is duelling with these unpredictable striking guitar stabs, before the vocal interjects. The gloriously despondent chorus escalates to a thrilling large-scale operation, one with a yearning for a communal chant. Opening an album with an uproar of a lead single is a signal of intent; it sets a dark, abrasive tone it is destined to fulfil. With the aura of Deftones looming, Gold Key throws you in the deep end.
Deftones are not the only band that will spring to mind. A quick glance upon ‘Fly Into The Sun’ will detect a particular quality of Queens of the Stone Age. The only difference being that this song is a vehicle to flaunt their respective talents, it just is not sure where to go with it. It is QOTSA, only without the omnipresent slickness. Then on ‘Trick of the Light’, they are strikingly reminiscent of Muse, notably their track ‘Showbiz’. It isn’t so much that Gold Key’s version is lesser, or not good (it is a colossal battlefield); it simply feels unoriginal.
Gold Key have polished their knack for full-scale stakes. Where the second-half of the album begins to meander, rather frustratingly and seemingly unnecessarily, the group bring it back with ‘Human’. Full-throttle, restless and desperate; it is as if The Killers were raised in Luton, rather than Las Vegas. It is commendable in production and arrangement; there is little room to breathe. A frenzy of wired guitars, a propulsive bass and determined drum section carries the song home. Here, Gold Key are their own and they seem unstoppable.
If that performance was maintained across the album, ‘Panic Machine’ could be a landmark album for 2020 British rock. That isn’t to say it isn’t, it just could have been moreso. All this album might do for you is muster up the feeling of wanting to listen to the sounds they have been influenced by. ‘Shallows’ is also reminiscent of Muse. With Bellamy-esque vocals matched with a heavy reverb guitar whelp, it is a cinematic slow-burner that fuzzes out into a wandering instrumental that ties in at the end with aplomb.
Whereas ‘A Crack in the Earth’ is heavy-handed Radiohead. Sounding like ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ for Beginners, it is perfectly fine, but it does feel like it wants to go somewhere the band doesn’t. At the halfway point, another more established band would seize it to take a risk. However they do not and the song dwindles into obscurity. You get the impression that if Gold Key takes those risks on album three, they could be world-dominating.
When those chances are taken, Gold Key greets you with the confidence of a band twenty years in their prime. ‘Don’t Sleep’ is as fun as it is technically thrilling. Once the seductive, alluring riff comes into play, it is irresistible. With an intentionally monotonous blurted riff that resembles a Death From Above 1979 rager, it is a song to go back to. Punchier and more determined than most, Gold Key thrives in the pit.
As for ‘Mechanical World’, well. It is massive. Tremendous. It could not be bigger if it tried. Debuting in June 2018, it is as charged as it was nearly two years ago. When the rug is pulled from underneath towards the last chorus, you are tossed in the air, the world in suspension. Once the quarantine is over and everyone has stayed indoors like the considerate people we are, we will all meet and throw ourselves into the largest of pits to this song. It will be glorious.
‘Panic Machine’ demands your attention. A British rock album that belongs in 2020 more than any other. It does not seem like the end for Gold Key; rather this is the door that they have kicked open to make an album bigger and better. This is an album to self-isolate with together, and one that will motivate you to keep your head up until this all passes.
‘Panic Machine’ by Gold Key is out now via Venn Records