Friday, 11 December 2009

Dead Swans - Sleepwalkers

Thanks to my new metal mag of choice, Terrorizer, and I say "thanks" in the same way that a child says "thanks" to the grandma that made him a sweatshirt of industrial twine and razorblades for Christmas, I've become aware of the blog Metal Inquisition, which attempts to refine the medium of music snarkery to an art form, and at this point I'd like to say that I DEFINATELY HAD NEVER READ IT BEFORE THIS BLOG WAS STARTED. It's an entertaining read because beneath the complete contempt for justified opinions and constant gushing over obscure-to-unimportant '80s thrash, the entire blog is essentially a portrait of Sergeant D, the world's saddest man, his contempt for the world and triggered double kick drums a mere cover for his desire for people to value him. I have an image in my mind of a fat guy in a Devourment t-shirt hunched over his keyboard, tears streaming down his face as he types hatespeech with one hand, his other jammed down the front of his shorts as he sweatily masturbates to the MySpace photos of the fifteen year-old scene girls that fawn over BrokeNCYDE.

It suddenly occurred to me that this may well be me in twenty years time.

"No!" I said to myself, proudly holding my 50/50 good-bad ratio aloft like lion cubs in a Disney movie, "Cynicism has yet to take me! And also, no thanks, fifteen year-old girls!” I then spent a day in Brighton with a group of friends criticising everything they like, see and are. Maybe I was right the first time. Eventually one of them actually screamed at me, "Is there anything you like?!?" and confronted with the challenge that I am in fact incapable of feeling love, I actually had to think for a moment. I love webcomics, and gameboy music, and also my friends, I guess, but whatever. But yes, I'm a changed man, and I'd like to talk about something I love.

I have officially listened to "Thinking of You", the first track off Dead Swans' new album "Sleepwalkers" more times on my current iTunes library than any other song. I may well love it more than any other song on there. It is what Dead Swans are; a highly concentrated, utterly refined explosion of everything that makes hardcore great. Imagine the hyperactive hardcore punk offered up by This Is Hell combined with the intensity and brooding textural elements of The Hope Conspiracy. We're talking thoughtful, dissonant guitar soundscapes that burst into racing, soaring melody. We're talking vocals spat from the pit of the soul and roared at an imagined crowd screaming every word back. We're talking that crash-snare-crash-snare drum pattern that anywhere else would be oversimplified but in hardcore works because dammit the important thing is that they're hitting the drums really fucking hard because that means they care or something. Every hardcore trope they use, they play totally straight because if they didn't mean every second of it, it wouldn't be nearly as brilliant.

Anyway, if you could understand any part of that torrent of praise, it's that Dead Swans mean every note of the album, and considering that the last band I reviewed, I declared had no souls, this is an improvement. Yes, they just play very fast punk with a guy shouting over it, but how they do it is the sign of how superb they are. It helps that these guys have very personal lyrics, which lend the a huge amount of emotion to the performances - plus it's a great change from the usual hardcore thing of singing incessantly about HEART and PASSION and about how YOU'LL NEVER BRING US DOWN like they're hosting a fucking pep rally. Many years ago Ian MacKaye denounced the term "emotional hardcore" by pointing out that hardcore was always emotional. This was what he meant all along. Vocalist Nick Worthington possesses a superb hardcore shout packed with conviction and purpose, and the obligatory gang-vocal parts are natural and exhilarating, which is good because this album does what all the great hardcore albums do – it doesn’t prepare you for the live performance. This feels like a live performance. The captivating, energising power of this album carries the force of a real band, like the Brighton crew are actually trapped inside your speakers and that’s why they’re screaming. The guitars gracefully shift from sludgy ambient sections to fast, exhilarating riffs, and the dual guitar lines use dark, powerful harmonies to create a perfect atmosphere from start to finish. They also manage to avoid that weird obsession with oceanic and nautical imagery that most young UK bands are so into, which is nice.

"Sleepwalkers" is one of those albums that every genre has that doesn't do anything new, but does everything so well that it still seems like a novelty. It's certainly the best hardcore album any UK band has ever produced, but considering the UK hardcore scene is about three years old, that's not saying much, so let me make a bigger statement. Best hardcore release of the year. Oh, go on. Best hardcore release since This Is Hell's last one.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

P.S. I can also confirm, as of 18/12/09, that this band FUCKING RULES live. All the heart-wrenching emotion of the album is replaced with astonishing fury, and the impact of the crowd favourites whipped the crowd into a mad frenzy. A great show.