Don Blake are one of those bands that I always get excited about when they release a new album. The Bolton based band recently became a three piece, following the departure of guitarist Rob, but this hasn't stopped them writing and recording a brand new album titled Tough Like Diamonds. Tough Like Diamonds features twelve songs and is only twenty-five minutes long so you know that it's going to be full of fast paced pop punk goodness.
Tough Like Diamonds begins with the song How Can I Not Be Here? If you haven't heard Don Blake before, they have their own sound that I think not many other bands replicate. Musically they play fast with buzzsaw guitars and hard hitting drums but lead singer Joe has more of a soft and melodic vocal than what you often find in the genre of pop punk. This works fantastically well and helps Don Blake stand out from the rest. How Can I Not Be Here? is about feeling like you don't want to be anywhere if you can't be with someone you love. The Rational Nihilist starts out with a simple drum beat and some stabby guitar that leads nicely into some sublime power-pop music. The melodic vocals give the song a sweeter edge and when the chorus hits, and the harmonies come in, I'm in heaven. The song is about trying to find the good in people and improve ourselves as a species. Chemicals is a track that really stood out to me on my first listen of Tough Like Diamonds. The up-tempo song features a combination of vocalists that adds plenty of energy to the track. It's also brilliantly catchy and takes up residence in your brain quickly. Over the years Don Blake have written quite a few songs about mental health and that's what this song is about. More precisely it's about taking medication to help with your moods and putting your trust in them.
The fourth song, titled Let's Be Friends Again, is a nice slice of skate punk loveliness. On the verses in particular it feels like Don Blake might have been listening to some Epi-Fat skate punk whilst writing this song. Nigel's drumming on the track is superb and shows real talent. Despite a slightly edgier skate punk sound, Joe's vocals remain soft. This offers quite a contrast but it works really well. The pace is picked back up on the excellent I Think We're Alright. This punchy pop punk jam is full of positivity as the band state that they think, despite everything that's going on, they think they are alright. The up-tempo nature of the song adds an infectious energy that's hard not to be swept away with and the punchy nature of the melody makes it another instant ear worm. Reflex falls more into the melodic punk territory of the band's sound. The chorus had me instantly wanting to sing along and it's so catchy it won't be long until I can. I loved the lyrics "My teeth are falling out, Which I can do without, I would be smart to keep my mouth shut." It put such a big smile on my face when I first heard it.
The second half of the album begins with the track Over-Thinking, That's All. I'm sure you've gathered from the title that the song is about something we're all guilty of from time to time – over-thinking things. Don Blake are so good at writing songs that are so easy to relate to and make you feel like you're not the only person in the world who feels a certain way. Wasting Away is another of the big stand out songs on Tough Like Diamonds. It starts out with just some bass and vocals that are crying out to be sung along with. From there we go along with some more fast paced melodic pop punk. It makes me think of some kind of love child from Iron Chic and The Copyrights. It's an astonishingly good sound. The ninth track is named I.D.S.T. After a little Googling (seriously what did we do before Google!?) I discovered that that this stands for "I Don't See That." It starts out ferociously (for Don Blake) and midway through the song it features some serious guitar shredding. On the song, Joe sings about having memories of the good times no matter if things get destroyed. I wonder if the band are saying that they don't believe that it's possible to remember everything and sometimes it's important to have physical reminders.
One-Trick Pony is a classic Don Blake tune. It's another ear worm song, perhaps the most catchy of the entire album. Seriously you will have the words "I'm a one-trick pony, I know" lodged in your head for days. The penultimate song, Next Weekend is about becoming an adult, struggling to find the time to see your friends and constantly putting things off. This is another song I really enjoyed. It seems like as soon as I try and settle on a favourite song, another plays and I change my mind. It starts off reasonably slowly before launching into some more fast skate punk. I really think Don Blake are at their best when they're playing with a faster paced melody. The energy and urgency in the song sweeps me up and makes me feel fully invested in the track. The breakdown at around the halfway mark of the track, that leads to a high tempo build, fills me with joy before we get to a final chorus of "We're always catching up!" The final song on the album is title track, Tough Like Diamonds. It's more of a mid-tempo melodic number to finish things off. It features some great harmonies that add an extra layer to the verse. The chorus is, of course, what really stands out. Again it's oh so catchy you just can't ignore it. This feels like a positive way to finish the album as Joe sings "I think it would have broken me." – which makes me think that he's grown as a person and found ways of coping with life.
Tough Like Diamonds is another superb release from Don Blake. Despite losing a member, the band seem to have progressed as songwriters. Don Blake are one of those great bands who I've always felt like should be a much bigger name within the UK punk scene. They write such fantastic and relatable punk rock tunes that also get stuck in your brain. They make you want to sing, dance, smile and most importantly they make you feel like you're not in this by yourself.
Stream and download Tough Like Diamonds here: https://donblake.bandcamp.com/
Like Don Blake here: https://www.facebook.com/donblakeband/
This review was written by Colin Clark.