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Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Reviews: The Wildhearts, Bad Religion, Origin, Slomatics (Alex, Rich & Paul H)

The Wildhearts: Renaissance Men (Graphite Records) [Alex]

Well, this was a pleasant surprise. Make no mistake, I love the Wildhearts. Albums like The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed and P.H.U.Q are required listening for any fan of hard rock or punk. Yet for all my efforts to keep up to date with new releases and be an albums enthusiast, occasionally there is one great record which I don’t hear about until the weekend of its release. Such is the case with Renaissance Men. Given how straightforward the band themselves like to be in their riffs, melodies, and lyrics, it feels right that I should take a similar approach to this review. Consequently, I can say without any pretensions or hyperbole that this is a fantastic comeback. All the energy, vigor and dynamism of classic Wildhearts is present. From start to finish, Ginger, and co. don’t waste a second in letting you know that they are ‘back in your face again’ and prepared to ‘rock you like a boomerang’.

Dislocated kicks the record into gear with a crunchy riff, the contrast between the screaming verses and the catchiness of the chorus, making clear from the outset that they have lost none of their original knack for maintaining a contrast between aggression and approachability. ‘Let em go’ Let em go, let the shit-filled rivers flow, while your belly burns in anger, no one ever needs to know’ runs the infectious chorus to Let em’ go – you will almost certainly need to suppress the urge to sing these lines in public. Renaissance Men is a funk laden number complete with memorable melodies and chants of ‘Arriba!’ Fine Art Of Deception has a similar proclivity for excitement, and again demonstrates a fondness for silly yet fun lyricism. Not that it’s all immature. The centrepiece of the album is Diagnosis, an insanely memorable yet empowering tune, dedicated to those suffering from mental illness: ‘You are not your diagnosis, you’re not that prescription in your hand, you’re not an animal, you are a human being’. My Kinda Movie sees a return to a more light-hearted tone, the throttling guitar part and punching tone, seizing the listener’s attention.

Although one of the most melodic pieces on the entire album, Little Flower is equally as commanding and enthralling as everything else here, and even if it is a bit too short and sugary for some listeners, the fast-paced and ferocious Emergency more than makes up for that. Aside from being one of the most frenetic songs here, My Side Of The Bed takes the opportunity to mock racism and homophobia, reminding us that ‘respect is all you need to know’. We finish on Pilo Erection, which despite its rather blue title, has a message of friendship and camaraderie at the heart of its stomping beat and soaring phrases. For The Wildhearts first album in ten years, this is an excellent record, bursting with vivacity. Perhaps the only thing which saddens me is how overlooked this band have always been and will continue to be. Still, to a small yet dedicated following, there is no band as beguiling and robust. I for one can say I’m proud to be a fan. Whatever lies ahead for them, I’m sure it will be remarkable. Arriba! 9/10

Bad Religion: Age Of Unreason (Epitaph Records) [Alex]

Bad Religion does not care for nationalistic fantasy or false promises. If their 40 or so years in Punk rock has earned them anything, it’s a reputation as a principled yet sharp bastion of their genre. Whether they’re critiquing religion itself as on The Process Of Belief or taking on Western politics and imperialism with The Empire Strikes First, they always do so in a brutally honest yet witty fashion. I hardly need to explain context when it comes to Age Of Unreason, The name alone is a condemnation of an age overrun with anti-intellectual posturing from demagogues. In keeping with his trademark irony and sarcasm, which they always pack into their songs, Gregg Graffin promised us records worth of ‘F**k Trump’ anthems. In a sense that’s exactly what we got, yet there is so much more to this 14th studio outing than sloganeering. Although these songs are short in length, they amount to a condemnation of romanticized patriotism, and candy cane fantasies about the ‘country we should be’. Inspiring and foreboding in equal measure, there is a harsh yet truthful quality pervading throughout this piece. ‘Sometimes there’s no sane reason, for optimism!’ runs the bridge on My Sanity, to a powerful melody, made more spirited by pummelling guitars and a strong rhythm. Chaos from Within also takes this approach, the moniker ‘oozin’ ahh’s’ as they call them, adding a rousing quality.

Do the Paranoid Style, has a dancehall swing vibe, imitating American culture while condemning its obsession with scapegoats and foreign enemies. Faces Of Grief and Old Regime are the two straightforward, quintessential and fast-paced punk tracks here, bearing echoes of early works, Suffer and Against The Grain. Even, Since When? With its call and response, sarcasm is delightfully acerbic. Strongest in this albums arsenal of catchy yet potent albums is End of History. ‘I don’t believe in golden ages or Presidents that put kids in cages’ Graffin chants here, making clear the subject of his ire before turning attention on the listener: ‘In the last days of December, how do you want to be remembered? For generosity or fucking monstrosity?’ Contrary to the rigorous speed which the genre demands, Bad Religion have always been an act who can succeed in making mid-tempo rhythms seem assertive. Lose Your Head is one of the most thoughtful songs here, the opening quip of ‘I ain't superstitious but hey, do you know a good exorcist?’, proving a particular favourite, even if I spent way too long attempting to decipher its significance. Candidate is a sardonic analysis of Mr. Trump but also a parody of celebrity politicians in general.

Moreover, Big Black Dog is a riff-based rager of a protest song, again showing a knack for clever wordplay and subtly masked political innuendo, sporting the line ‘They deal in art, the Art of the Deal, they sing Sieg Heils in the ails of High Heels’. As far as folk influences are concerned, both The Approach and Downfall, while punk in spirit, are melodically bright and striking. We end on What Tomorrow Brings. Interestingly, this final send-off can be interpreted as positive or negative. All depends on your attitude. To summarise, is Age Of Unreason among one the greatest punk albums of all time? Well, no, but no one was expecting another classic. In a sense, this is very quintessential Bad Religion. Although fans have grown accustomed to this sound, another aspect which hasn’t changed is the quality of the Songwriting. Lyrics are scathing as ever and there’s a precise bite to the musicianship which only they manage to capture. While far from over optimistic, the record is hopeful. In today’s political climate, that’s all some of us need. 8/10

Origin: Abiogenesis - A Coming Into Existence (Agonia Records) [Rich]

Origin have been at the forefront of extreme metal for over 20 years with their brand of brutal and technical death metal. With Abiogenesis: A Coming Into Existence the band take a look to the past as the album is made up of songs originally written and recorded back in the 1990's by founding member Paul Ryan prior to the formation of the band. The material is slightly less refined than what was to come but the core essence of Origin is very much there. These songs are teeth shatteringly brutal whilst the mind bending technicality which Origin is very much known for is very prevalent. It’s surprising that none of these songs made it onto the subsequent Origin releases as they are as strong as anything on the debut album. 

Insanity opens the album and sounds like a mission statement for the band, Infestation has some bruising hardcore undertones and Autopsied Alive relishes in its carnage. The one thing on this release that is very unrefined are the vocals by Paul Ryan which rely on screams and shrieks rather than the guttural growls of later material. As a bonus included at the end of the album is a remastered version of the bands long out of print debut EP A Coming Into Existence which has the band working as a full unit. Whilst again rawer and more unrefined this is another stepping stone in the advancement of the band to what we have today. Abiogenesis: A Coming Into Existence is an interesting look into the formative days of Origin showing that Paul Ryan's vision of the band has been there from day one. Whilst fairly enjoyable this is only one for fans of the band rather than the casual listener. 7/10

Slomatics: Canyon (Black Bow Records) [Paul H]

Beware. Canyons is one heavy, mind crushing beast of an album. The Belfast trio are something of a big hitter in the doom sludge department, having been around since 2004; they have several split EPs as well as four albums under their belt, with their last release being the split EP with those Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastards, Totems in 2018. Canyons opens in the way of all true sludge monsters with Gears Of Despair, just shy of 10 minutes in length and crushing in that way which causes you to catch your breath despite the knowledge that you are perfectly safe. The album continues with more of the same, Cosmic Guilt full of brain pulverising riffs, roaring vocals and thunderous drumming. Slomatics have the additional edge of a quite evil cloud of despair which hangs over their music, intentionally or not I’m unsure but it makes the listening uncomfortable, albeit in a good way. 

Reach Beyond The Canopy with your organs intact and you’re probably doing well, the slow, mammoth sounded fuzzed-up reverb certainly creating a rumbling in the bowels; plaster on the walls cascading down in huge chunks before cessation to hostilities as a lone guitar picks its way out of the gloom; the respite short lived as Slomatics pick up the intensity with a roaring conclusion. It’s hard to articulate just how heavy this album is, but if you were to write a soundtrack to a herd of Brachiosaurs as they headed across the Jurassic plains in their last hours then this would surely be a contender. With a range of percussion, vintage amps and analogue synths in their arsenal, Slomatics add more than just the distortion. The band play Cardiff’s The Moon Club on 18th May with a stellar supporting cast. A gig which I believe is free so if you like what you hear and you aren’t lapping up the second Bloodstock M2TM semi-final in Fuel, this will be a very promising gig. This is epic stuff. 8/10

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