Review: Cobra Skulls – Bringing The War Home [EP]

Cobra Skulls fast became a staple in my listening habits straight away with their debut, Sitting Army. An incredible album where everything has ‘Cobra’ in the title. Every song sounded a little different and there were songs about the lack of a scene and well… preachers and manwhores. American Rubicon, the follow up was just as spectacular, and we were left begging for the Skulls to make an appearance in the UK. Now, they’ve come forth with a new EP, Bringing The War Home, representing the beginning of a new era as they move from Red Scare to Fat Wreck. Can it measure up to their previous genius?

The short answer, is of course, yes. It’s the Cobra Skulls you know and love, but unlike previous albums, it’s clear to see where some of the influences are from on this one. That said, it’s all while sounding completely original and is a great addition to their discography. As the name may suggest, it’s somewhat more politically driven than previous material, but this is barely surprising – politics has always featured in a Cobra Skulls CD, just not as prominently. Ultimately, it’s a great listen. It’s still fun, it’s still fist pumpingly brilliant.

The EP opens on Doomsday Parade. A brass section, in my Cobra Skulls? It’s more likely than you think. The brass section as the end, as indicated by the lyric “You’ll make me a trumpet in your doomsday parade”, works well, adding to that feeling of fury and brings a completely new dimension to the song. The song itself refers to recent and ongoing troubles in Africa and the importance of uniting nations against terrorism and dictatorships, a pretty noble endeavour. Bringing The War Home certainly means this throughout – every song connects an issue in the world to America, making it painfully aware that even if you think you’re disconnected from this world of danger, you really are not. ICE In The Night is an upbeat affair, its lyrics underlying something much more sinister, as people are kidnapped in their sleep. The juxtaposition of such a jangly guitar part and upbeat vocals next to such a dark subject simply serves to make it more poignant.

Hot Sand is possibly the central affair in this whole EP, both literally and lyrically. Written from the perspective of American soldiers and discussing the state of affairs back home as well as out in Afghanistan, it perfectly displays the problems arising from, well… everywhere. It’s certainly my favourite track on the EP for its furious sound and its hark back to a previous era – the Offspring influence over the end section can’t be denied. It’s short and sweet but truly packs a punch. Give You Nothing is a Bad Religion cover that fits well with the rest of the songs, and features Fat Mike as well. Cobra Skulls really make the song their own without losing any of the original sound that made the song so damn great in the first place. This song can also be found on the Bad Religion tribute album, Germs Of Perfection.

Closing track, Life In Vain, is the perfect ender. Right from the bass lead in, it’s a pretty dancey affair and while not quite as overtly political as the other tracks, it still tells of scene politics and the struggle of making it in a band. Truly, Cobra Skulls are one of the few bands that have to worry about being original, because there are no other bands quite like them out there right now. Life In Vain is definite proof of that. It’s not quite as forceful as some of the other songs but in that respect, it makes a better closing track – a peaceful, thoughtful lead out.

Every song is under three minutes, proving that you don’t need to provide some kind of epic in order to succeed. Every song is right to the point; an onslaught of awesome. For an EP, it’s pretty expensive in the UK, costing about £7 for a CD copy but trust me, it’s worth every penny. A fantastic return for the Skulls!

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

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.