The curtain has risen for the next act in Radiohead’s inscrutable rock opera. And like one filled with heavyset women with Viking horns, “Hail to the Thief” leaves the ears and minds with a palpable sense of unconscious design. Since the release of ‘Kid A’, Radiohead have been beating their drum to a distinctly different beat. These rock savants are the front-runners of musical experimentation on an opulent scale and their latest work seems like natural progression. Splicing in elements of both ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ and then sprinkling an inkling of their earlier progressive rock, this 14 track assemblage holds true to the dictionary definition of the word “opus”. An artistic work on multiple plateaus, the only element they seem unable to outdo is themselves; a boundary they cast when they unleashed the masterful dexterity of ‘Kid A’.
Pushing musical extremities has been the silver lining to decades worth of industrial common ground but perhaps, in this time where fashion and business so clearly bombard the general buying public, an act that does so (push these boundaries) with genuine panache is heralded as music’s savior. Radiohead are traveling down paths carved before by the likes of Pink Floyd and The Doors of yesteryear and the Flaming Lips of today, and like these aforementioned artists – their long lasting creative appeal will win out in the end, even in a “less than astute” society.
For all the electronic tinkering and jangled instrumental workings of their previous two LPs, it seems Yorke and company are finally comfortable with their new visage. They are no longer breaking conceptions, but rather creating their own – a pretentious ode to themselves; self created gods of music purveying a craft in the genre previously known as ‘rock’.
Thankfully, they are unafraid to trace back to their earlier sounds, “Hail to the Thief” comfortably flaunts morsels of more traditional sounding compositions. Take the tracks “Go to Sleep” (a concoction of guitar twiddling and fringe percussion work) and “Sail to the Moon” (an aural, picturesque piano led number with acerbic lyrics – “maybe you’ll be president / but know right from wrong / or in the flood / you’ll build an Ark” – compounding it’s sense of hopelessness) as examples how they turn the accepted norms of rock arrangements into a seemingly effortless task.
In “Where I End and You Begin”, they seem to beg the question, “can anyone out there keep up with us?” This evocative bass frenzy of engine drumming and wavering vocal toil is adherently simple – but attempted by any other outfit and the result is guaranteed to end in musical miscarriage.
Trust Radiohead to continue their quest to shatter all previously formed ideas of music as art. In “Sit Down. Stand Up”, they once again utilize seeds of ambience and electronic hobnobbing before embarking on a trip of cacophonous delight. Replete with the vestiges of “Idioteque”, the pulsating bounce of the track “Backdrifts” is remarkable soundscaping of tune and dissonance; leaving the mind with lasting inhuman relapse; a textural tumble into digital euphoria.
The first single “There There” is a triumphant balance between this cacophonous delight and artistic cadence. Yorke’s falsetto hum is its operator while the scenic, earthy backdrop is provided by the ancestral sounding instrumental collaboration that is unafraid to be traditional in aesthetic, but eloquently inspired nonetheless. It’s unending sense of confusion, affirmed by the words; “In pitch dark I go walking in your landscape / broken branches trip me as I speak / just cos you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there” are it’s acting thoughts of loneliness and prevailing sadness.
Radiohead are no longer simply out-dueling their musical counterparts. Their latest effort is testament to that notion. They have no equal. Their only antagonism emanates from any inner struggle that may confound them. The political wranglings of the title “Hail to the Thief” aside (a virulent stab at stolen elections), this progression of the Radiohead opera continues to set precedence among its kind (or lack thereof). It is a wonder where they could possibly go from here – do they continue on this jaunt, moving on to the next act, or do they pull another discerning audio/visual contradiction that will leave not only the listener, but the rest of the industry’s hopefuls countless worlds behind.
Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers
The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance
It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).
Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.
In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.
The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).
The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.
Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness
From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities
When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.
Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.
From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.
What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.
The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.