Review: Moral Dilemma – Is Anyone Alive Out There?

Launched on the increasingly popular PledgeMusic, Moral Dilemma’s third and final album Is Anyone Alive Out There? can probably lay claim to being the most punk album of 2014. Funded by the fans for the fans, and having announced that they will play no final shows, this record is to be a send-off for a band who have given it everything for the past eight years. I’m going to be honest and say it straight off the bat – this is a perfect album. This is less a band riding off into the sunset after a shift well played and more a band scorching its way down to hell and taking absolutely everything else down with it.

Where previous Moral Dilemma efforts have been (and I mean this in the most flattering sense) kind of scrappy affairs with minimal production values and more or less paint-by-numbers hardcore punk, Is Anyone Alive Out There? showcases a band giving their legs one last glorious stretch. In terms of the step up these guys have made between albums; think the gap between Diesel and Power and Total 13 by Backyard Babies. Think Bleach to Nevermind. Think In Casino Out to Relationship of Command.

The album kicks off with a slow build up and a very metal guitar solo intro before giving way to the more familiar breakneck Moral Dilemma shtick. It’s an absolute thrill-ride, but this is merely the tip of a furious iceberg. Next up is album highlight ‘Lost Cause For Alarm’, which is the kind of tune Bad Religion would kill to come up with these days. It is full of impressive guitar fills and boasts an incredibly catchy chorus – exactly the sort of song that could launch a band right into the big time. With the two vocalists swapping lines, it’s almost like Johnny Foreigner high on petrol fumes.

It isn’t all gutter punk fury on Is Anyone Alive Out There? though, as the band have really diversified their sound. It’s almost like knowing this was their last roll of the dice, they decided to throw absolutely everything at it; kitchen sink and all. You get the rockabilly-skiffle-punk of ‘Spare The Vote, Spoil The Ballot’, you get Flamenco guitar tapping in ‘Evolution’, but perhaps the biggest surprise of all is in ‘Building Gallows’. This is another song with masses of crossover potential utilising a Hammond organ and a harmonica. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by their German gutter-punk counterparts Radio Dead Ones, or even – at a push – The Gaslight Anthem.

Put simply, there is not a bad song on Is Anyone Alive Out There? What Moral Dilemma are offering as their swansong is a relentless forty-minute sonic gut punch, and easily their best album by a considerable margin. This is an intensely vital listen and a wholly satisfying one at that. This is the kind of album that makes you fall in love with punk all over again.

5 out of 5 high fives!

Moral Dilemma – Bigger Cages Longer Chains [7″]

If there’s one word that sums up Moral Dilemma at first, it’s nostalgic. Their furious hardcore laced punk rock is loud, brash and sounds like it’s come kicking and screaming through a wormhole from the 90s to the present day. Right from the off, in title track Bigger Cages Longer Chains, the pounding bass and raspy, barely intelligible screams immediately take you back. It’s fast, furious and at first, deceptively simple. But upon a closer listen, there’s some ballsy guitar, and the dual vocals from Craig and Chloe assault you from every angle. And there’s not forgetting the absolutely impeccable bluesy solo towards the end.

Spare The Vote Spare The Ballot is equally as explosive, but slows it down enough for Craig’s vocals to become more understandable and allows the band’s political discontent to take the forefront. Even though the lyrics are worth paying attention to – although it’s pretty much your general political anger, there’s some great phrasing – the sheer fury with which they are delivered is more than enough to get you going. And then later, the psychobilly style pedal effects are, quite simply, filthier than a crust punk at a festival.

B-side New Empire sounds like it was ripped straight from The Distillers’ Sing Sing Death House, and that’s no bad thing at all. In the absence of Brody Dalle from the punk sphere, Chloe takes the mantle and powers through the track like a freight train in an avalanche while drummer Pasty pounds the skins with an intensity that’s unmatched throughout the record.

Admittedly, I walked into Bigger Cages Longer Chains with slight trepidation, but it’s well produced, without sounding too slick, more varied than you’d expect and quite possibly one of the best punk records I’ve heard all year. It’s short, it’s to the point and it’s really bloody good.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Crash Doubt Festival – The Showroom Lincoln, 2/6/12 [pt 1]

After a very successful first year, Crash Doubt returned to the deepest and darkest depths of the North (well… at least on the very rainy Sunday) for another go. Hosted in The Showroom in Lincoln, the punk and hardcore fest was a beautiful interruption to the Jubilee weekend.

Before I get into the bands, I have to stress how well organised the whole weekend was. Bands rarely overran or came on late, the stages were laid out well, the merchandise section was fantastically managed and the bar wasn’t too overpriced. The venue, a conference centre combined with a youth centre, was a great space to host in. If only half of the festival-goers spent more time in the venue checking out the bands than out in the car park.

Saturday started out strong. We got to the venue just in time for Climates (3.5/5), whose particular variety of melodic hardcore was good fun. The vocalist, who looked a little bit like Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall, had a great tone to his voice and the band as a whole sounded brilliant for one of the first on. Following them up on the Time Will Tell stage were Fair Do’s (3/5), a local Lincoln pop-punk band. Tinged with posicore, they were fun and bouncy but they wore all their influences on their sleeves. Nevertheless, with their sense of fun and a little more development, they should be going places. Up on the Punktastic stage, Tim Van Tol (3.5/5) regaled us all with his solo folk punk. Reminiscent of sea shanties at times, some gruff and soulful acoustic fare did everyone some good (and Kitteh thought he looked a bit like Varg from Burzum).

Watch Commander (2/5) were fairly boring melodic punk rock – their songs had promise but failed to hit the mark. However, Attack! Vipers! (5/5) were nothing short of incredible. One of the most impressive hardcore bands coming out of the UK right now, their performance was intense, exciting and completely involving. If Attack! Vipers! play near you, don’t ever miss them. Moral Dilemma (2.5/5) weren’t really to my taste – abrasive punk rock that sounded all the same. It’s difficult to write good punk in the old style these days and while their overall performance was reasonably solid, I still found their set dull. Bangers (4/5) are proof that musical evolution often wins out and their gruff punk anthems rang out loud and clear on the Punktastic stage. There were awesome singalongs, sweet hooks and some actually very cleverly written instrumental sections. You can still be a musician in a punk band; Bangers will show you how.

Back downstairs on the Big Cheese stage, The Smoking Hearts (4/5), along with a guy who was either so wasted or on some variety of pills, showed us all how to party. Admittedly, they played fairly standard hardcore stuff – nothing new, but it was tight and they were batshit insane. Lots of jumping, some rolling around and potentially broken elbows – that’s how it should be done. Demoraliser (1/5) clearly didn’t observe how The Smoking Hearts did it and were truly the first of a few identikit hardcore bands we managed to stumble upon. They may have been local heroes but their breakdowns were so subpar, the vocals had no tone to them whatsoever and they sounded like a Terror ripoff without any of the brutality. Hang The Bastard (4/5) are how you should do hardcore, in comparison – terrifyingly. There are no other words. And yet the man in the khaki balaclava wasn’t the most intimidating thing all weekend. That accolade belongs to Woody from POLAR (4.5/5). While POLAR’s set was impressive, it was distracting to see a guy who looks like he has rabies push a crowd around because “if [you] don’t move, [I’ll] fucking move you”. Highly counter-productive to crowd involvement, but nonetheless, a stellar performance from one of the UK’s most exciting new bands. Heights (3.5/5) struggled to follow suit but their crowd involvement was certainly better. Their sound was less intense and more dirgey – the doom influences in their music rang loud and clear but still remained full of desperation.

And we finished off the night with No Trigger (3/5). I’ve been waiting to see No Trigger for a while, ever since I was bowled over by Canyoneer. To this day, it’s one of my favourite records. But I found No Trigger to be a bit… well, flat. There was plenty of enthusiasm but it just felt like there was something lacking. Might have been a levels thing, might have been an end of tour fatigue, but it just didn’t ring true. It didn’t end my night on a total downer though because they played Owner Operator and that put a fairly big smile on my face.

So, Saturday was pretty damn sweet. Sunday’s writeup to follow!