No Talent, No Camaraderie, No Hope

Originally posted on 10/2/10
I stepped into the room gingerly. A bunch of Rocksoc kids are gathered around the stage making noise. Four boys stand nervously on a stage. A row of judges are being announced; none of them really matter. I pick a spot at the back behind the sound guy and wait. Battle of the Bands fucking sucks.

It’s been a very long time since I attended one of these affairs. Back in the day when a few friends had bands together, I’d go along and support them, but these were bigger scale events, meant for people who were actually serious about music. Bandsoc’s humble affair is a bit of a shambles in comparison. Six bands, each with a fifteen minute set – winner gets through to the final, a runner up goes through to a semi final where they pick one more band to go to the final. And it’s most likely rigged to hell. Unfortunately, for a competition so small, that’s how it works. Best friends, members of the society’s committee, the band that won last year… it’s all a bit incestuous, really. And almost all the bands are absolutely fucking terrible.

I just don’t know what it is about Battle of the Bands that draws such bad acts out. The fact that they can’t get shows anywhere else? Or because it’s the only place where they can get away with their generic, under rehearsed bullshit? This is synonymous with pretty much all BOTB competitions that aren’t being sponsored by some industry bigwig that require a comprehensive demo before they’ll let you anywhere near a stage. Also, it’s always the same type of band. Through the two heats I have seen thus far, there have been about seven out of twelve ‘generic rock bands’, a couple of prog bands, a bad excuse for pop-punk, a weird Yellowcard-esque post-hardcore band and a shit indie band. The overwhelming amount of ‘insert generic rock here’ involved in this competition is ridiculous. It’s easy, but it sure as hell isn’t any good. And I think this is generally why I don’t go to these kind of things – there’s no real variation. Any band that steps away from the formula doesn’t really get taken into account because the judges go batshit insane for… well… shit. It’s as if nobody’s learnt to diversify and are still digging their dad’s Def Leppard cds he keeps in the glove compartment because he can’t play them in the house.

But ultimately, what I hate about Battle of the Bands is the way that each band bitches about the other. Okay, I’ll admit, that in some cases (like last night), it’s a totally valid practise, especially when your band does happen to be much better than everyone else on the set list. However, in general, there’s no camaraderie. I realise that ultimately, BOTB is a competition. The term ‘battle’ is in the name, so of course people are going to begrudge their fellow bands a win. However, there’s no need to take it out on the rest of the guys when you lose. I always think back to the Cobra Skulls song “Anybody Scene My Cobra” (look it up, it’s a damn good song) and the chorus in it –

No scene, no scene, no scene
No camaraderie, this might as well be battle of the bands
No scene, no scene, no scene
No common enemy, we might as well be playing in a talent show

The fact that BOTB and talent shows are being used as a negative example of how music should be conducted… well, I think that says it all.

So, why do I subject myself to it? The hope of scoping out pretty boys? Vaguely. The fact I have nothing better to do on a Tuesday night? A contributing factor. Because it gave me inspiration to start my own band based on how awful the majority of bands have been so far? Most definitely. The truth is, there is this part of me that wants to support live music as much as I can, especially in the student union where there is hardly anything to cater to somebody with my specific musical interests. So I go, grit my teeth and think of how scathing an article I can write about it the next day.

Why ‘Trainwreck’ Matters

Originally posted on 25/2/10

It was the year 2005. I hit up a random music blog in the hope of finding something new, my listening habits being diluted and destroyed by a teenage obsession with Fueled By Ramen. I wanted something visceral, something destructive, something that had a little bit more than ‘I want to fuck you and hope you want to fuck me too’. So, clicking the post-hardcore tag (I was getting pretty into At The Drive-In and Circa Survive and thought that it might be a good bet), I stumbled upon an album entitled ‘Trainwreck’ by Boys Night Out. I vaguely remembered the name – they’d been reviewed in Kerrang! for their debut – and the cover looked pretty awesome. I wasn’t quite aware what was going to happen. But as soon as I unzipped that album and listened to it through, I knew that I had discovered a musical masterpiece.

The thing is, ‘Trainwreck’ is the only good Boys Night Out album. Their first album, ‘Make Yourself Sick’ isn’t anything to shout about. Their self-titled, which came after ‘Trainwreck’, is fucking awful. It defies all logic, but there it is – ‘Trainwreck’ is potentially one of the best albums ever written, and it comes from a less than average band. Perhaps it has something to do with the appearance of Kara Dupuy, their short lived keyboard player/backing vocalist, which added a completely new dimension to their sound. Or maybe, it has to do with the fact that ‘Trainwreck’ is a concept album, and a pretty screwed up one at that.

Coheed and Cambria officially stole the spotlight when they released ‘The Second Stage Turbine Blade’ in 2002, and subsequent albums all based upon an absolutely crazy comic book world (of which comics actually exist) which would take at least another article to explain. Curious? Go here. But either way, the world of Coheed and Cambria and their children captivated the ‘alternative’ listeners, to put it simply. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before. Concept albums were relegated to power metal and prog rock, and here was something that… rocked! The Coheed revolution sparked a few other fantastic concept albums, including the first two Armor For Sleep albums, but that also requires another article to discuss and perhaps one day, when I write a book on the rock scene in the 2000s and how much it equally owned and sucked, I’ll go into greater depth. But we’re here to talk about Boys Night Out. And well… ‘Trainwreck’ is pretty incredible, and certainly the best of all the concept albums that began to spring up in the scene.

The story isn’t too complicated, but insanely fucked up. In essence, the main character, The Patient, has excessively violent nightmares which one day, spill over into real life, and he kills his wife in his sleep. After a murder trial, he is declared insane and sent to a mental hospital in the hopes of rehabilitation. A brief stint makes the Patient believe he’s getting worse by being in there and he’s ready to leave, so the Doctor releases him back into society where he retains a massive sense of guilt and cuts off his hands to prevent himself from killing anyone again. And this is told in the most graphic of ways. Needless to say, he goes back into hospital and is given a shit ton of drugs, and ends up writing this song in his head which becomes the key part of the album – he just can’t get it out of his head and it drives him further into insanity. He convinces the Doctor to let him have friends over and kills them so he can see his wife again and try and finish off the song. Oh, and she’s the one singing this song in his head, to make things even crazier. So, to finish the song, he either has to kill the Doctor or himself, and well… it isn’t the Doctor who ends up as a bloated, overdosed corpse. Yeah.

It sounds like something out of a comic book, although it’s not imitative of the Coheed stuff at all. And whilst the story itself is compelling, it’s the music and the way that it interacts with the story that really shines throughout. Opening track, ‘Introducing’ is chilling to the bone, opening with muted guitar tones and a voiceover provided by the Doctor. Unlike the rest of Boys Night Out’s material, it’s relatively sedate for the most part, despite being excessively dark. The screaming is limited, and this really aids the album, by providing just moments of anxiety and paranoia. Kara’s vocals on ‘Relapsing’ as the Patient’s wife are the high point of the album and fit perfectly in a wonderfully tender, yet haunting song. It’s ridiculously romantic – the acoustic guitar alone sends shivers down your spine – but you can’t deny the underlying feeling that something is very, very wrong. The soft tones just don’t seem right straight after one of the most intense and metallic songs on the album (‘Purging’). This is a reasonably common theme throughout the album, and a lot of the time, the darkest moments are juxtaposed with the most melodic and calming riffs.

And that’s the beauty of ‘Trainwreck’ – it can completely knock you sideways when you aren’t expecting it. It’s also ridiculously catchy in places that shouldn’t be; for example, in ‘Composing’, the lyrics “So come over to my house/Catch up over dinner/We are having strychnine and sirloin/Port wine and paint thinner” are sung in the most upbeat and awesome way. I can’t convey it with justice via text, so you’ll just have to go pick up the album and find out for yourself.

But why does ‘Trainwreck’ matter so much? It’s fairly unknown, virtually impossible to find within the UK and didn’t attract much of a fan base. However, it’s one of the biggest influences to me as a writer. Upon first listen, my thoughts were “Fuck, I wish I could write something as incredible as this”, and not from a musician’s point of view either. The story is one of the most compelling and haunting I’ve ever come across and if I can think of something anywhere near as original, then I’m onto a winner. It’s also proof that concept albums can transcend the banal (read: The Black Parade) and the metal to combine both great music and a great story, which unfortunately, doesn’t really happen any more. The post-hardcore concept album reached its height at 2005-2006 with Circa Survive, Coheed and Cambria, Armor For Sleep and Boys Night Out. Therefore, ‘Trainwreck’ matters, not because it stands alone, but because it’s timeless, unlike the latest Armor For Sleep album, it’s got a definite and individual story, unlike Circa Survive, and it’s easy to understand and appreciate, unlike Coheed and Cambria. That’s not to say that a concept album needs to be viewed as a concept album – it’s easy to appreciate them on a purely musical basis, and it’s very easy to do that to ‘Trainwreck’. But ‘Trainwreck’ simply stands apart from the rest of the crowd and provides a musical experience like no other.

The Top Four Reasons Why Black Flag Are So Awesome (by ninthandash)

Originally by ninthandash, posted on 8/9/2009

Black Flag, a name known by every punk rock kid worth their salt. In the hardcore genre, Black Flag are named as being one of the three most important and influential bands, according to the documentary film American Hardcore. And Michael Azerrad, author of the book This Band Will Change Your Life, calls Black Flag the ‘godfathers’ of the genre. There’s no doubt about the fact that Black Flag are certainly a hardcore band to be reckoned with, one of the most popular and well-known. But why are they so unarguably awesome?

Reason #1: The Ethics.

Black Flag were formed in 1977 by Greg Ginn; the guitarist, songwriter and — unusually — the only continuous member of the band through their many member changes. Black Flag are important not only for their music, but also for the ethics surrounding them. They were one of the first bands to tirelessly promote a very strong DIY ethic; Black Flag were all about what you can do yourself, without relying on anyone else, particularly the major corporate record labels. This is emphasised by the way Black Flag released the majority of their material through SST Records, which is Ginn’s own independent label.

Black Flag started a revolution. There’s absolutely no arguing with that. They started the whole idea of doing it yourself, of booking your own tours, releasing your own music, and many bands followed their lead. They were all about the word-of-mouth network, utilising hardcore and the punk scene as a community. Black Flag toured relentlessly, barely stopping, so dedicated to making this work. Before you even listen to the music, Black Flag demand your respect.

Due to their strong work ethic, many members quit in the early days. Ginn was the guitarist and songwriter and Keith Morris was the original singer, but they had a hard time finding a bassist. I’m trying not to turn this article into a history lesson, believe me, but there’s so much more to Black Flag than just the music. Black Flag are, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, about the lifestyle. They’re more than just a band; they’re a subculture, an ethic, a revolution. When they started, there were barely any places for punk rock bands to perform — because as well as pioneering hardcore, Black Flag were part of the first wave of American Coast punk rock.

They would perform at picnics, house parties, schools, anywhere that was available. Imagine growing up in ’70s California and having Black Flag perform at a picnic. The kids who were there for those first few shows were a part of history, and it must certainly have been an enviable experience. Morris was still the singer at this time, and he is without a doubt my personal favourite of the singers that Black Flag have had. The original line-up; Greg Ginn on guitar, Morris singing, Brian Migdol on drums and Chuck Dukowski on bass, was undeniably amazing.

Reason #2: The Members.

Keith Morris is, without a doubt, an amazing frontman. His stage presence is one of the most energetic seen in punk rock; throwing himself about the stage with a boundless and manic energy. He helped the band gain a reputation in LA, commanding the audience and demanding all their attention. Dukowski was also key. Although Ginn formed the band and wrote the lyrics, Dukowski was usually the spokesman to the press. Very intelligent and a fast talker, even after he left the band as bassist he stayed with them as tour manager and his contribution should not be overlooked.

Migdol was replaced as drummer by Roberto Valverde, known as ROBO. ROBO was such an awesome drummer, and he had a new sound due to the metallic bracelets he always used to wear. They’d clink as he played the songs and this soon became a part of his unique sound. After Morris left, Ron Reyes was singer, and after him came Dez Cadena, who was originally a fan of the band. He was much more reliable and the band started to become much more commercial and popular, although he’d had no formal training as a singer and soon had to leave.

Then, came Rollins. Henry Rollins was Black Flag’s longest lasting singer, and attracted a lot of attention from critics. Sub Pop critic Calvin Johnson wrote: “Henry was incredible. Pacing back and forth, lunging, lurching, growling; it was all real, the most intense emotional experiences I have ever seen.” Even after a lot of the members have left Black Flag, they are still important parts of the music and punk rock scene. Keith Morris now fronts Circle Jerks, and Rollins is well known for his spoken word, as well as campaigning for human rights in the United States.

Reason #3: The Music.

This, is a difficult one. Black Flag’s music is absolutely fantastic, but I’m bound to be entirely biased as they are one of my all-time favourite bands. They were one of the first punk bands (a phrase I’m sure you’re sick of hearing but, as I said, Black Flag were completely revolutionary and therefore one of the first punk bands to do a lot of things) who incorporated heavy metal melodies into their music. Not just that, but Black Flag also used a lot of different elements from different genres, such as free jazz, breakbeat, and contemporary classical. Black Flag’s discography sounds so much more varied than pretty much any other punk band’s due to this.

Black Flag have a lot of albums and EPs, so I’m obviously not going to talk about them all here in detail. My personal favourite has got to be the Nervous Breakdown EP. Released in October ’78 while Morris was vocalist (he never sang on any of the band’s studio albums), Nervous Breakdown is probably the band’s most well-known song, and according to Dukowski was used as a ‘badge of legitimacy’ and led to them getting a lot more gigs in the LA area. It was also the first release on Ginn’s SST records.

Nervous Breakdown is an absolutely classic song. Morris’ raw energy is audible through the sound, and the band sound both rough and together at the same time. For me, Nervous Breakdown as a song sums up Black Flag as a band — raw, loud, and slightly out of control. If you only ever listen to one Black Flag song, it should be this one.

Damaged is, arguably, the band’s best studio album. Damaged was incredibly controversial and many thought it would single-handedly corrupt America’s youth. Not so. But Damaged could even be called one of the best albums to come from the ’80s California hardcore punk scene. Rollins gave Black Flag the edge they needed to attract attention; his guttural roar energised the songs and pulled them together, providing the missing link.

Although My War has been called “a pretentious mess of a record” by critics, there is no denying the influence it’s had on many other bands, who cite it as influential for the departure it showed from the standard punk rock model. Although side two was not the great music expected from Black Flag, it wasn’t bad, just not up to their standards. If any other band had released side two of My War, it would’ve been awesome, but for Black Flag it was distinctly lacking. But that’s not to say that the album was worthless. The title track is formidable, with Rollins ‘howling like a caged animal’, and it is definitely worth checking out.

Reason #4: The Legacy.

This section is going to be a little less formal, a little more flailing. Black Flag have basically left a mark on musical history. Their experiences have become legendary, apparently blacklisted by the LAPD and clubs in the LA area, mainly due to the violent nature of their shows. So many bands have covered their songs, become influenced by them, so many bands have simply just formed because of Black Flag. They are a band who everyone into punk or hardcore has an opinion on. They are a talking point, a revolution, an inspiration.

Black Flag are what got me into hardcore, and I have never looked back since. I heard their song playing on a jukebox at some shitty run-down venue and found out who it was, and what song it was (unsurprisingly, Nervous Breakdown). I went home and I found out everything I could about this band. Black Flag led me to Bad Brains, Minor Thread, the Bouncing Souls. They were so unlike anything I had heard before — and they still are.

In conclusion? If you haven’t listened to Black Flag yet… why not? Go. Listen. And be inspired.

Review: Bullet For My Valentine – Fever

First things first: I am easily influenced. Tell me cheese and marshmallows work well together and I’ll put them on a pizza. Tell me that cowboy boots don’t make me look like I’ve got rickets and I’ll wear them all day long. Tell me Bullet For My Valentine’s new album is marvellous and genre-defining, and I’ll go and buy it. In all three of these instances, I should’ve brutally attacked by whoever was putting such painful and ridiculous ideas into my young impressionable mind. Okay, so that’s a little over-dramatic – ‘The Fever’ isn’t as bad as spending an evening spewing up an unholy marshmallow/cheddar combo. In fact, it’s not ‘bad’ at all – it’s a perfectly good album. The problem lies in the hype surrounding it; with five star reviews left, right and centre, it’s hard not to get sucked in and think the answer to all your metal-y prayers has arrived, emblazoned with a lobster-lady.

First and foremost, one needs to accept that the Bullet for my Valentine found on ‘The Poison’ have left town without leaving a forwarding address. Indeed, both ‘Scream Aim Fire’ and ‘Fever’ lack that raw energy and freshness that both ‘Bullet for My Valentine’ and ‘The Poison’ seemed to possess so effortlessly. Negatives aside, both the production and the technical skill on the album are damn good. But for a band of this calibre, that should go without saying. Overall, the album is pretty catchy and such tracks as ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Alone’ and the title track ‘Fever’ shine when played on a live platform and are real crowd pleasers- For those of us who saw their set at Download this year, such tracks seemed to fit effortlessly into the ‘live Bullet’ canon.

Sadly, while writing the lyrics for ‘Fever’, Matt Tuck underwent a surprise lobotomy courtesy of Kid Rock and all was lost. Indeed, it is a true tragedy in the metal world. In short, the lyrics in ‘Fever’ are dire. Should any further proof of Matt’s demise be required, one only need to glance at such lyric sheets as that belonging to the only real slow/ballad track on the album- ‘A Place Where You Belong’. The music itself is fine, nothing offensive there. But when the line ‘just kill me now and let the good times roll’ is delivered, one can hear a distinct wince from the rest of the studio. While ‘Alone’ is one of my personal favourites from the album, my brain does feel a little dirty when met with a chorus of ‘you can die and rot alone’. In truth, the whole album is swimming in cliché – so much so, that any truthful or sincere sentiments have been suffocated in melodramatic mediocrity.
While some songs such as ‘Bittersweet Memories’ and ‘Dignity’ are a little too weak to justify their place on the fourth release of such a successful band, others (despite their clichéd phrases and painful rhymes) such as ‘The Last Fight’ and ‘Your Betrayal’ prove to be meaty offerings with fabulous chant-like choruses that thrill the listener whether it’s being pumped through tinny laptop speakers or massive, bowel-destroying amps. My personal favourite from ‘Fever’ is the final track, ‘Pretty on the Outside’. It’s not the longest or rowdiest on the album, but it does display a great evolution in the sound of Bullet, and seems to represent all that the album should have been. It’s powerful, technically brilliant and there are no glib lyrics to detract from the compelling, complex musicianship that these lads from Bridgend have been hiding.
The mistakes on this album were clearly made as the band became aware of their audience, and are now pandering to what they believe their fans want from Bullet. If album sales are anything to go by, then they have succeeded in pleasing the masses, but in order to create and preserve a legacy for Bullet, they need to leave this new hollow mindset, and go back to their roots – there lie four very excitable and determined Welsh lads with an immense talent that should be cherished at all costs, and not adulterated to suit the masses.

Review: Betrayal Within The Ranks – s/t [EP]

When I hear bands such as Betrayal Within The Ranks, I always whip out my mental checklist- floppy hair? Check. Irritating youthfulness? Check. The first tentative beginnings of tattoo sleeves Check. Swathed in ‘Drop Dead’ clothing? Check and check again. It’d be easy to dismiss this Stoke-on-Trent based troupe as just another college ‘Bring Me The Horizon’ tribute band – a vehicle to expand their sexual horizons while upping their scene credibility- were it not for their sickening amount of talent. With the average age of members landing around the 17/18 mark, they really do make you wish you picked up that guitar a little earlier in life.

Their debut EP, a neat little self-titled affair consisting of three tracks, is one of the most exciting offerings from a young, unsigned band that I’ve heard in a long time. In recent years, metalcore has become a byword for style over substance, with hairstyles often pulling in more comment than any musical releases. Hence- finding a genuinely exciting or compelling release is a rare thing indeed.

‘Sunsets’, the opening track on ‘Betrayal Within The Ranks’ EP, does not sound like the composition of teens- the opening beefy riffs, bowel-renching bassline and surprisingly controlled vocals would fit comfortably in any big name release. Although ‘Sunsets’ could be seen to be lightweight in structural terms, it certainly is a substantially impressive opener.

‘What Happened To Forever’ is my personal favourite from this small EP. It really is a showcase of the band’s versatility in the genre, and also, of vocalist Jay Wilko’s range. Wilko’s screams and bowel-juddering growls are certainly impressive, and, should he be able to replicate these vocal changes perfectly on a live platform, he’d certainly have the opportunity to be a crowd-pleasing, energetic frontman. The technical skills shown by the rest of the band in ‘What Happened To Forever?’ cannot be ignored. Joe Devine’s bass and (now ex-member) Lee Bowen’s drum lines are so rich and heavy, you’d feel as though they could move houses. The guitar work on the EP is equally as accomplished, with Tom Kidd’s blistering riffs punching through each track. Although constant talk of youth can be tiresome (trust me- I feel like I should be picking up my pension while listening to these guys), I cannot reiterate enough how talented and dedicated these guys are- they really are musically accomplished beyond their years. You’d have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to realise that this band could really make waves in metalcore circles.

The EP ends with ‘Skin of a Killer’, a frenzied track with a killer guitar-line that should belong on everyone’s ipod. ‘Skin of a Killer’ is made for the stage, and with each breakdown, you can find yourself envisaging a wall of death or brutal circlepit. ‘Skin…’ is by far the best structured track on the band’s EP, with each verse comfortably nestled between breakdowns or a momentary solo. Although simple, this method is surprisingly effective, and as the track fades out, you’re left salivating for more.

As metalcore bands are ten-a-penny nowadays, it can take a lot to set one apart from the others, but ‘Betrayal Within The Ranks’ seem to do it effortlessly. If they can stay focused and stick together without burning up in the inevitable pressure-cooker environment of a fast-moving young band, they could go very, very far. Jammy buggers.

3.5 high fives!