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From feasts of heavy metal fire to folk-rock perfection: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Sleep Token perform at Trinity Centre on January 23, 2020 in Bristol, England
(Image credit: Martha Fitzpatrick/Redferns)

Not a fan of August’s high temperatures and humidity? Understandable, but perhaps you’ll be more inclined to enjoy some of the guitar-driven heat we’ve seen emerge in the last week and change. 

In recent days alone, we’ve seen Trivium bring a Feast of Fire with their new single, Big Thief summit the mountain of folk-rock perfection on Little Things, Sleep Token maximize synths in the world of metalcore on The Love You Want, and Billie Eilish declare – over a wall of crunchy riffing – that she’s Happier Than Ever.

All that and more awaits you below, so take a break from your busy day and indulge yourself in guitardom’s finest new offerings.

Machine Gun Kelly – Papercuts

To those who doubted the permanence of Machine Gun Kelly’s pop-punk reinvention, take a listen to his latest track, Papercuts. Teaming up with longtime collaborator, Blink-182 drummer and pop-punk stalwart Travis Barker, MGK once again delivers a track deeply rooted in guitar, from the no-frills acoustic playing of the intro to the Whammy-driven leads of the outro.

The track arrives as the first single from MGK’s brand-new record Born With Horns, the followup to 2020’s Tickets To My Downfall. Could it be that, given the album’s title, we’re in for some heavier material from the Cleveland rapper-turned-guitar-toting-rockstar? Only time will tell. However one thing’s for sure, Machine Gun Kelly, the rocker, is here to stay. (SR)

Big Thief – Little Things

At the hands of any other band, Little Things one-half of Big Thief’s new two-sided single – would likely fall apart. 

In the words of the band’s drummer, James Krivchenia, the song is “in this sort of evolving free time signature where the beat is always changing.” You never feel like you’re on steady ground, listening to it – its environment keeps warping and twisting at will, taking you right along with it. It’s absolutely thrilling.

It’s a testament to this Grammy-nominated Brooklyn quartet’s musical chemistry that the song – a whirlpool of joyful 12-string acoustic strumming, snake-like electric leads and Krivchenia’s ever-changing but powerful rhythms – not only holds together, but absolutely flies. 

“The joy is in the journey” is a sentiment that’s about as cliché as it gets, but it proves true once again on Little Things, where Big Thief take a mess of ingredients that shouldn’t work together and – much to their audible exhilaration – make a perfect folk-rock song out of it. (JM)

Trivium – Feast of Fire

Trivium are one of the most reliable bands in heavy metal right now. Not only is their entire catalogue all killer, no filler, but the frequency with which they release new material is nothing short of astounding.

A little over a year after the release of their ninth album What the Dead Men Say, the Orlando quartet have just announced another LP, In the Court of the Dragon. And not only that; the group started recording the new album in the fall of 2020, just months after the release of WTDMS. That’s efficiency for you.

Following the album’s first single and title track – which was released last month – the band have unleashed its second single, Feast of Fire. Whatever guitar playing discipline you associate with – be it rhythm or lead – there’s something for you to marvel at in this one.

A pounding intro riff, a dazzling Corey Beaulieu guitar solo and no shortage of super-catchy vocal hooks, Feast of Fire boasts everything in the Trivium playbook, and it’s executed to perfection. (SR)

Sleep Token – The Love You Want

The career of masked British metallers Sleep Token has proven a fascinating exercise in the increasing genre fluidity of djent, melding ambient textures with down-tuned chug.

Fresh off their celebrated set at Download Festival’s recent pilot event, the anonymous collective have unveiled the first taste of their second album, and it stretches the definition of metal further still.

The Love You Want is ostensibly a synth-pop ballad for much of its duration, but when its barrage of tightly clustered doublestops and distorted stabs finally lands on the song’s closing chorus, it feels truly monumental, particularly in how it melds into the track’s already-ambitious sonics. (MAB)

Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever 

Billie Eilish. It’s a household name by now, one that has become associated with some of today’s most forward-thinking, boundary-pushing, rule-breaking, whatever-you-want-to-call it pop offerings. With the release of the 19-year-old’s sophomore album, the celebrated singer-songwriter has shrugged – nay, hurled – off her doubters for an effort that outdoes her own sky-high standards.

The title track from Happier Than Ever neatly summarizes the entire album’s sonic direction, which sees Billie and her brother/producer Finneas flesh out the technologically advanced, super-produced instrumentation with some marvelous guitar parts.

It truly is a song of two halves. What starts out as a dreamy, jazz-esque guitar/vocal duo number crammed with extended chords, tasty turnarounds and decorative post-production soundscapes, soon turns into a wholly different beast altogether.

The acoustic is soon swapped out for some thumping electric guitar powerchords, propped up by a support act comprising rumbling 808s and single-note six-string punctuation marks – all of which give way to a monitor-shaking, right-on-the-edge thrash-a-thon.

Now the knockout album has dropped, there’s only one question that needs to be asked: how many records is Billie Eilish going to break this time? (MO)

Yasmin Williams – Virga 

Having already made a significant mark on the guitar landscape in 2021 with Urban Driftwood a magnificent, acoustic-driven album of melodic invention, technical wizardry and compositional brilliance – Yasmin Williams is back with a new standalone single, Virga.

Released today as an Amazon Original alongside new instrumental pieces from a number of other visionary 21st century musicians, Virga is a buoyant acoustic masterwork that vividly captures the strange cocktail of joy, fear, optimism and caution that Williams and so many of us have felt as the pandemic has moved from one stage to another. 

Played on a two-neck harp guitar, Virga is driven with determination by Williams’ incredible fingerpicking performance, which gives the song a restlessness, eagerness and sunniness that plays perfectly off the thunderous bass notes from the guitar’s top neck. 

Are the bass notes supposed to be ominous? Chipper, like the melody? Neutral? Given that Virga’s about a meteorological phenomenon of the same name that can be both, as Williams herself puts it, “beautiful and very dangerous,” that obliqueness is quite intentional, and adds another mesmerizing layer to this piece.

"Don’t just look at the guitar as this thing to play four chords on,” Williams told us in an interview in July. “They're multi-dimensional – they’re like eight instruments in one.” If you’re wondering how exactly one can make a guitar sound like eight instruments at once, Virga is a perfect place to look. (JM)

Slow Crush – Hush

Everyone’s favorite Belgian shoegaze combo are back with their sophomore effort, written during a pandemic-enforced hiatus from touring with the likes of Pelican, Torche and Gouge Away.

One lineup shuffle later, the result is a more dynamic and altogether richer sonic landscape. It’s still unmistakably Slow Crush – the reverbs decay for days and Isa Holliday’s vocals continue to enthrall – but there’s a new sense of confidence that takes their sound to fresh extremes.

Hush is, well, hushed one minute, and crushing the next, with a sound that foregrounds aggression as much as it does dreamlike textures. It’s My Bloody Valentine with a post-hardcore edge, and we love it. (MAB)

Robben Ford – A Dragon’s Tail 

When Robben Ford announced Pure – his first instrumental album in almost 25 years – the guitar world took a sharp intake of breath, and has since been waiting patiently for the inevitable blues masterclass, all while being drip fed some tantalizing teasers from the man himself.

Ford’s latest offering, A Dragon’s Tail, is perhaps his mouth-watering Pure single to date, suited to boot with an abundance of diverse guitar tones, ranging from single-coil snaps to raucous, high-gain lead lines. It’s a decidedly riffier approach, too, for Ford, who, as well as prescribing a healthy dose of theoretically advanced fretboard navigation, doesn’t shy away from tapping into his inner head-banger for a fiery lead hook.

The blues titan – who described Pure as “unlike any recording I’ve ever done” – saves the best solo for last, calling upon his unrivaled blues/rock/jazz/hybrid powers for the track’s final hurrah. Fret not, for Ford will return on August 27, when Pure is finally shared with the world. (MO)