‘Backhand Deals’, the debut album from Cardiff based indie power pop sensations Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard made waves amongst those in the know back in 2022. With an image straight out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon circa ‘77 and an album choc-a-bloc with radio-friendly singles such as ‘New Age Millennial Magic’ and ‘Good Day’, they channelled the pomp and circumstance of Queen, the guitar-driven glam rock of T Rex and the quirky songwriting magic of Jellyfish. How could they fail?

Fast forward 2 years and the band’s sophomore long player ‘Skinwalker’ sees singer and main songwriter Tom Reese take his band in a different direction than anyone could have expected.

In the lead-up to this album’s release, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard opted to tour playing none of their older songs. Apart from the recent singles, it was all unfamiliar songs. A very brave or a very stupid move depending on your perspective. Turns out that there’s a newfound intensity to Tom’s songwriting and these songs sounded fresh, vital and cool as fuck in a live environment. I snapped up a copy of the tour exclusive ‘blood splatter’ vinyl from the merch stand without hesitation, as soon as the band finished playing.

‘Skinwalker’ is a rollercoaster ride through the mind of Tom Reese as he comes to terms with depression, anxiety and a trip into therapy. As well as the metaphorical nods to the shifts in the band such as the album title and the Blair Witch styled cover art, there are the physical ones. Gone are the stripey jumpers and the quirky haircuts, the singer has shaved his head, wears Black Sabbath t-shirts and has penned a set of tunes that seem to be a reaction to the definite power pop of the debut.

The trademark layered vocals are still omnipresent, but the music is a gargantuan alt-rock, fuzzy monster. The album opens with a doomy, heavy metal chord that will make you jump and reach for the volume button before we glide into the first single ‘National Rust’, a Talking Heads-inspired alt-rock ditty, full of glorious bass and drums. Next, the Sabbathy fuzz of ‘Chew’, with its rising dance beat and lush harmonies takes over.

The brilliantly titled ‘My Starsign Is A Bassett Hound’ is next level. It was a standout live track for me and showcased not only great songwriting dynamics but also what an outstanding drummer they have. It verges on prog rock, and I mean that in a good way. Layers of Queen-like vocal harmonies cry out over stabs of rhythmic beats and furious, fuzzy guitars, it sounds massive.

The ghost of Silver Sun rears its golden skin on the fuzz-drenched ‘Sugar Sandwich’. With its sublime “sugar, sugar, sugar” refrain, it’s an earworm that remains after multiple listens. And when we flip the record over ‘Leather Bound’ has much the same impact. 

We delve deeper into Tom’s headfuck with ‘Therapy’, a six-minute plus dark and macabre alt-rock dance tune that rides on a throbbing bass groove and comes on like Viagra Boys for the win.

Epic closer ‘Night Of The Skinwalker’ is a full-on 70’s glam rock throwback, like Freddie Mercury and Richard O’Brien directing a Black Midi opus. As theatrical as it is guitar-driven, it feels like a hellish journey through one man’s headfuck as we come out the other side intact following a massive crescendo of noise.

Changing your sound, and your image and discarding your back catalogue is a brave move for any band no matter the stature, and ‘Skinwalker’ is a literal shedding of the skin of one of Wales’ finest musical exports in recent years.

If you witnessed them live recently, you know how good these tunes come across, and what a beast of a band they have become. If you are one of the few diehards that flicked ‘em two fingers and walked away because they didn’t play the old stuff, then more fool you!

Once this album has worn in and the dust has settled, it could turn out to be Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard’s ‘The Holy Bible’ or Tom Reese’s ‘The Wall’. And whether they do play the old stuff again in future, or implode after 12 months is anyone’s guess, but at least I can say I was there when they changed their world.

Seek out ‘Skinwalker’, buy ‘Skinwalker’, and experience the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making one of the standout surprise releases of the year so far.

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Author:Ben Hughes