Today’s post falls with somewhat unhappy timing.
Our friend Tails – who many of my readers will know from Infest among other events over the years – passed away recently, and today is his funeral and Wake in Huddersfield. Sadly I was unable to make it north for this, but my friends there today are in my thoughts, and I’ll be joining them at Infest later in the summer to celebrate his memory.
Dealing with friends passing away is a tough thing. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it, and we all endeavour to help each other out along the way.
That said, life must go on, and here are ten tracks you should hear this month.
Track of the Month
No Lives Matter
There were, perhaps, a few ill-advised comments about how the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency was going to usher in some kind of punk utopia, where all of a sudden everyone would want to write political songs and inspire some kind of revolution.
The chances of that happening, frankly, are nil – but there are a voices shouting very loud indeed, and one of those is Ice-T. His metal project Body Count have been a going concern for well beyond two decades, causing all kinds of ruckus in the aftermath of the LA Riots with Cop Killer (even though it had been written a few years before), and in the meantime Ice-T had seemed to have retreated from controversy.
Until now, anyway. On this brutal, searing track, Ice-T unloads his fury on the political troubles of today, and picking up on the past – reminding that it isn’t just “Black Lives Matter”, and those diverting by saying “All Lives Matter”, the sad truth is that in the US, no-one gives a fuck about the poor, no matter their creed or colour – be that in healthcare, police dealings, or simply general life chances.
The best Body Count song in well beyond twenty years, and one of the best politicised metal tracks in about the same timeframe, Ice-T has set a fire under his band and his politics, although sadly those that actually matter in politics will most likely ignore it anyway.
Absent Affect single
It’s been a little while since I last wrote about this new-ish US act – 213: Tracks (Sep 2014), in fact – and in the time inbetween there seems to have been a bit of a change to their sound. I remember mentioning last time that the most notable songs from their last release were full of hard-edged beats and savage riffs, while here the guitars take something of a back seat for a snappy, anthemic industrial groove, with synth hooks and snarling vocals that take me back a few years, that’s for sure. Tracks as dancefloor-aimed as this make me want to pick up my DJing headphones again (it’s been a while!).
Demons & Shame
Oh god, what have I missed by not really listening to this band before? A track of thundering, sweeping drama, built from an incessant drum tattoo and weeping strings, before Nicklas Stenemo’s wracked, emotional vocals push you over the edge. I’ve heard countless tales about this band’s power live, and had never found an entry point into their material before that resonated with me – until now. This is an extraordinary, emotional powerhouse of a song. Excuse while I go and kick myself, repeatedly.
“TONIGHT! HELL! FREEZES! OVER!”
Aw yeah. The Greatest Band of All Time are back with more tales of Austroploitation – assisted by a whole army of kickstarters (disclosure: I was one of them), and the heroic tales this time are the lesser tales, the oft-forgotten ones – yes, even Twins. But the songs are no less great for the lesser subject matter, and to put it mildly, Arnocorps are on point here. Let’s be honest – Batman & Robin was utter tosh, but the ballsy delivery here (almost) makes me want to see Mr Freeze in action once again. “You’re not sending ME to the COOLER!“.
Discovered thanks to a link by my friend Vlad in DC the other week, this is now some months old but well worth mentioning. I’m not sold on the electronic whimsy of Diabolical whatsoever, but Nightmare has rather more bite, a stalking, punchy rhythm and vocals that spit venom and revenge. Third track Blindsided is yet another change of tack, too, with commercial dance (IDM, if you must) overtones, full of drops, rave-edged peaks and a huge, hands-in-the-air chorus, while Noose slows things down with a tar-thick groove and all sorts of distortion on the beats and vocals. Last track Waiting – a short, a capella piece – is certainly an interesting closer. The title track, though, is the best thing here and worth picking up the EP on the strength of alone.
Hey, wait a minute, isn’t this borrowing a bassline from Elastica? (Which is really quite ironic, when you think about it. But either way, that is *so* taken from Line Up). Aside from that, this is nothing Britpop-based, this is a savage snarl of a track that owes somewhat to the shrieking fury of The Jesus Lizard at their peak, and is taking a look at the prevailing political views of the now, and is disgusted with what it sees. Key line? “You have the right to bear arms if you’ve got the right coloured arms”
I was in from the opening riff, frankly – At The Drive-In return with their first new music in nearly two decades, and aside from Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals sounding slightly different, it’s like the band never left. Which, seeing as their last album was the astonishing tour de force of Relationship Of Command, this is no bad thing. This is three minutes where all the fat has been trimmed, they waste no time ripping back into their old post-hardcore, punk-as-fuck rhythms – although as before I suspect it’s going to take me a good few listens to work out what the cryptic, dense lyrics are about. Great to have them back.
Make The World A Bitter Place
It has been some time since the last album from Cease2xist, but the new album really is quite a step up. The production, for one, is a level above, with the whole album snarling like a chained guard dog – and the quasi-tribal intro of Remove The Head of the Snake is swept off the table by the rampaging Make The World A Bitter Place, where the band unleash breaks, punky synths and vocals howled into the darkness – and even heavily treated, perhaps vocodered vocals work, too. I remember seeing them live a good few years ago, and they certainly had promise then as they raged across every inch of the stage, and this new album really delivers on that promise.
The Hold EP
I’ve always found Jamie Blacker’s work under his ESA moniker a fascinating listen. While nominally in the heavier, noisier/rhythmic side of industrial, his background in extreme metal previously really does make his work rather different to just about anyone else. His highly conceptual albums in recent years – a three album sequence, never mind the one-off concepts prior to that – have always worked brilliantly as a whole, so it’s interesting to see a single release that takes us into new realms.
This is ESA moving a little further towards neo-folk and tribal influences, of a sort. Ukrainian metal vocalist Valeriia Moon offers suitably bombastic vocals (from what I can tell, mainly in Ukrainian), while the track itself has thundering drum work that builds to an exceptional climax.
When We Die, There’s Nothing
I featured the wondrous single Black Wings last year (2016: Tracks #10), and I’ve been curious to see where this band from the North East would go next. Their next step has been to record a new album, which is out next month, and the band were kind enough to send me an advance copy for review (a full review will follow, life has been a bit busy of late).
Happily, there has been no change to their style. For all the world, they sound like they’ve crawled out of a dingy Berlin club in the eighties, blinking into the dawn, having been drinking and smoking with their influences from that time all night. Oh yes, there’s something of early Bad Seeds, of Berlin-era Bowie, and also something of Blixa’s deadpan vocals, too, at points. But taking that base, they add in touches of their own, not least an unexpected tenderness and elegance to some of the songs that really make them stand out – as in the second song they’ve made available from this album, When We Die, There’s Nothing. Here the vocals are drenched in reverb, as if the band aren’t too sure they want you to hear them, but the feel is one of deep sadness and regret, a feeling I can certainly empathise with today.
The tea? I’m raising that for Tails.