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Monday, 8 October 2018

Reviews: Hardcore Superstar, Thrice, Emma Ruth Rundle, Therapy? (Reviews By Alex)

Hardcore Superstar: You Can’t Kill My Rock N Roll (Gain Music Entertainment)

Just a cursory glance at the cover art of Hardcore Superstars 12th album will show you what you are in for. An overturned crucifix sits atop the bold album title, while the main picture portrays three nuns, smoking and drinking, the middle character wearing a mischievous smirk. Yep, you’re 100% right, the record is truly the embodiment of sleazy, prototypical, hair metal. That said, ridiculousness in music can be executed well, especially when a band takes advantage of their clichés. Credit where it's due, these guys do their best to capture the fun, indulgent atmosphere and hilariousness which always proved the most likeable aspects of bands like The Scorpions and Def Leppard in the golden age of this genre. Tricking you for a second into thinking we are in for a serious experience, the opening AD/HD begins with the words, ‘’is there a chance for me, they’ll never change my personality’’ ringing out over a somber keyboard.

Suddenly, a thunderous tempo sets in and Joakim Berg bellows the words just a moment ago sung so quietly, in a way which screams ‘who cares if there’s no chance for me, I love my personality’. Electric Rider, Have Mercy On Me, and the satisfyingly titled Never Cared For Snobbery are the same in their overzealous, life on the edge aesthetic yet refuse to take themselves too seriously and are committed to staying insatiably catchy. My Sanctuary and You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll even pull off the soppy ballad trick, dishing up sing-along choruses and euphoric guitar solos. Like everything with its influences so firmly defined, the cliché elements will cause some to take one listen and make a mental note to firmly avoid Hardcore Superstar for eternity. Yet while my immediate reaction was taken aback, I can’t help but admire the attitude and message on show here: one championing fun and making a good argument for why hairspray and glitter tainted metal still deserves a sentimental place in our hearts. 7/10

Thrice: Palms (Epitaph Records)

Carving out an obsessively melodic, and politically charged name for themselves within the early 2000’s melodic hardcore scene, records like The Artist In The Ambulance and Vheissu is still rightly enjoyed by a devoted following to this day. Conversely, while I always had my feet planted firmly in the Rise Against camp when it came to debates about which are better, I warmed to Thrice upon the release of their 2016 post-hiatus record, To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. That album was unrepentant punk with a strong, bluesy and classic rock core, taking in its stride the societal anger which defined their early works and making it sound sharper and cutting.

So, of course, I was excited when I heard that this comeback would not just be a one-off and that their tenth album would be experimental and embrace a darker sound, and continuing the history of social conciseness. Palms refuses to disappoint on any of these fronts. An ominous looping synth begins Only Us, almost hypnotically drawing you in, as layers of equally elusive instrumentation set in. ‘’we cast us aside, we silence our plea, but the system that terrifies you should terrify me’’ Kensrue wails as the song reaches its climactic seconds, in what is almost an impassioned speech, directed at the listener, setting up the topics and themes that will persist throughout.

The Grey has that raw bluesy swagger which they perfected so exquisitely on their last album and derides the pervasive Black and White nature of western politics, by which vast and sprawling concepts are robbed of complexity and molded into political pawns. Just Breathe and My Soul take an atmospheric, yet uneasy direction, dealing with personal emotion and psychological trauma, yet relating back to society when or frontman’s own uncertainty surrounding religion and belief creeps into his storytelling. With these experiments at play, Palms may be the least hardcore-influenced album in the entire history of this band, yet where those influences do sneak back in – Branch In The River, Hold Up A Light – they do so in a big way with massive choruses and an attitude which smacks of anger and disillusion.

Closing out on an almost theatrical premise with Blood On Blood and Beyond The Pines, we finish the record feeling as if we have experienced almost every facet of Thrice’s musical ability, and yet that they still may have more to offer. It’s by no means perfect, as the records Songwriting and production seem occasionally lacking. What Palms does show though is the growth and maturation of a band who care about the issues facing the world, while not being afraid to grow and develop past their former ideas 7/10

Emma Ruth Rundle: On Dark Horses (Sargent House)

Exploring ethereal, experimental rock through her solo project, Emma Ruth Rundle is a prolific musician, serving as the vocalist and guitarist for psychedelic-metal acts Marriages and Nocturnes, as well as holding down being a member of Red Sparrows. On Dark Horses, Rundle clings onto the spacey and minimalistic stylings she has become known for, each of the songs taking a loose structure, weaving from stints of unsettling ambiance to moments of disquieting noise. Unpredictably and fluctuations in volume or tone are tailored to keep the listener fixated, throughout the eight songs and forty minutes. It’s a feat which requires appropriate attention to have its desired effect yet may just intrigue with its strangeness.

Fever Dreams opens on a disturbing note, a persistent beat at a drum, disturbed only by distant guitars and Rundle's vocal undulations. Immediately, we are enclosed in tension, wondering what places we will be drawn to emotionally, and how we will be transported there. Contrary to a standard, rigid setup, music seems to lurch from ambient textures to distorted disarray. In creating these atmospheres, the instrumentals on Control or Dead Set Eyes take on a strangely writhing quality, almost as if someone has breathed new-born life into them and they are crying out in their newfound sentience. It is unsettling, yet quite beautiful, watching each new melody or chorus slowly bloom into life.

Post-rock or Experimental music will be the common markers used to distinguish Emma Ruth Rundles from more accessible contemporaries. Yet what I admire about it goes beyond labels, extending to the weird soundscapes, and the crucially tiny details which swell and surge like a water from the gaping mouth of a river. Certainly, it won’t be for everyone, yet deserves praise for its incredible qualities and layers, which prove both disturbing and uplifting 8/10

Therapy?: Cleave (Marshall Records)

Therapy? Yes, you read that right. Famous for serving up short-sharp doses of edgy Punk, the band with their name meant to sound that little bit eerier by the addition of a single question mark are back. I won’t pretend to have a long history with them, yet I occasionally find myself reveling in the rebellious and scuzzy tones of 19994’s Troublegum, lines like ‘’I’ve got nothing to do, but hang around and get screwed up on you’’ bringing a satisfied smirk to my face, as they do with the bands small yet dedicated following. That said, please believe me when I say that I wanted to like Cleave. How interesting would it have been if I could take a peek inside a new release by a sadly forgotten 90s act, setting me off on a ride of discovery into their catalogue or at the very least giving me a fresh taste of mischievous sarcasm? Unfortunately, however, Cleave gives me pitifully little to talk about.

Problems begin with the opener Wreck It Like Becket. Drums here are almost St. Anger levels of tinny, the one and only guitar riff is straddled and robbed of any power by the level of down tuning, and the bass appears missing from the mix altogether: combine that with really lazy rapping from the usually snarling and spitting Andy Cairns, and you begin to sense the rough ride you are in for. Kakistocracy begins somewhat better with a distinctive lead part before the idea is seemingly abandoned to make way for some poorly mixed drumming and obnoxiously typical ‘’Do you feel lost’’ lyrical platitudes. In fact, that’s a really big trip up for this entire experience.

Where the guitars are allowed to stand out, as, on Callow and Crutch, they lend the project just a little bit of that old energy I mentioned earlier. Yet for the most part, from Save Me to the ordinary to I Stand Alone, they are either taking a back seat or being repressed into oblivion. Put it this way, being a 3-piece, Therapy? Need to channel all the energy and infectiousness they possibly can. In this case, the production kneecaps a lot of the power, many of the attempts to be edgy or different fall flat, and the melodious which always lent something of an immature charm to this band are not as up to scratch these days. The result is a sterile, thrown together, and tediously dull sloppy mess of an album, which doesn’t so much as deserve a place in the cesspit of worst of the year lists, as it does space in the musical dustbin, where it can be easily disposed of and quickly forgotten. 2/10

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