Life, as anyone who has experienced even a little of it will tell you, is a series of peaks and troughs; victories and defeats; euphoric rises and disastrous falls.
For Wrexham pop-punks Neck Deep, the trajectory of the last half decade has been, seemingly, one of unbridled success. Comprehensively the most successful British band in the history of their genre, and with an average age of just 23, they have risen – at a pace so head-spinning it nearly snapped necks – to become the zeitgeist capturing band of their generation and scene. They’ve scored Kerrang! and APMA awards along the way, completed two summer-long stints and Warped Tour to unprecedented crowds, worked alongside legends like Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 and completed a 2016 headline world tour of their own which took in some 15 countries across four months and sold in excess of 52,000 tickets
Moreover, their second full-length album ‘Life’s Not Out To Get You’ smashed its way in to the top 10 of both the UK and U.S. album charts and has shipped more than 150,000 copies worldwide to date. It both catapulted the the band to the front of the pack and effortlessly captured the essence of what problem free young adulthood is all about in the way only truly great pop-punk can.
But, as frontman Ben Barlow ruefully points out, “Maybe we were tempting fate a bit with that album title – it’s felt like life has been out to get us since then.”
Indeed, following the release of ‘LNOTGY’, the young men in Neck Deep endured several sharp, stinging reminders of life’s ability to pull the rug from underneath you. They’ve had some growing up to do, and along the way have faced down more demons than most their age ever have to.
“My dad died whilst I was away on tour with the band and so did Fil’s,” nods Barlow sombrely. “We both lost friends during that period of time too, one of Fil’s oldest mates in a car crash. It gave us a stark realisation of the double nature of things. With the good naturally comes the bad but we were going through what felt like a period of uninterrupted good. Then, all of a sudden we got smashed with the most horrible stuff imaginable.”
To that end, Neck Deep’s third album – the philosophically entitled ‘The Peace & The Panic’ is a meditation on the constant duality of life and the struggles that come with it. It comes blessed with an acknowledgement that seizing the day and having a laugh with your mates is important, but so is the personal growth that comes with pain and existential crisis.
“It’s not all ‘Let’s have a party and grab a beer’ this time,” surmises the frontman. “But I wouldn’t say it’s pessimistic, just realistic. Trying to make something of your life is a big theme on this record, as is dealing with depression and anxiety. There are some political songs in there as well – we’re at a point where we’re comfortable using our voices to talk about those things.”
Aptly enough, the pair of lead singles the band have selected from the record reflect both the ‘Peace’ and ‘Panic’ sides of a coin that constantly spins across the album’s 11 tracks. ‘Where Do We Go When We Go?’ sees Barlow and his band wrestling with mortality, but recognising that ‘There’s a world full of possibilities / and a million people just like you’ while backed by the sort of infectious bounce and major-league chorus that we have come to love and expect from them.
‘Happy Judgement Day’ meanwhile is all spidering riffing and wide-eyed terror at the brutal and feckless nature of a society edging ever closer to the apocalypse. The best bit of all: both songs sound unequivocally like Neck Deep on the top of their game.
That such a three-dimensional approach would (and frequently does) elude lesser bands is testament to the ambition, commitment and musicianship the five-piece are now bringing to the table. Working alongside producer Mike Green (Pierce The Veil, Paramore) they have imbued ‘The Peace & The Panic’ with a sonic sophistication and depth that goes far beyond the ‘generic pop-punk’ template and matches lyrical changes of pace and tone with ease.
“It’s still very much a Neck Deep record,” notes Barlow, “but we don’t want to be one trick ponies. We did pop-punk very well on the last album, but I think a lot of people who think they don’t like us will find plenty to discover on this one.”
And whether that’s in the sidewinding groove and personal manifesto of ‘Don’t Wait’, or the wide-screen summer road-trip anthem of ‘Heavy Lies’, it’s clear that this is a collection of songs full of a newfound, and deeper, confidence.
“We’ve all found ourselves in the last few years and grown up a bit,” finishes Ben. “I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching and maybe I’ve been hardened by life a little bit, but I feel ready to take on the world again, just in a different way.”
The truth, as anyone who has even a little experience will tell you, is that when life takes away it also gives – in self-confidence, in conviction and in a galvanised dedication to expressing what lies inside you in the very best way you can. Neck Deep are here to prove that, and a whole lot more besides.
Here’s to The Peace & The Panic.