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Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power

Phantom Power is the perfect soundtrack to the looming apocalypse that may plague your soul.

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It’s strange how as the years of our existence wane, we often discover that some of the brash behaviors we may have once been involved with seem merely uninteresting. Speaking on a smaller scale, a recent excursion to the beach resulted not in hours of sun baked attempts at “catching waves” or immersion in sand front activities (often referred to as “getting drunk on the beach”) but rather in the most mundane of manners – things like soaking in the rays and, gasp, reading! As humorous as it may seem to you, a 22-year-old-going-on-44 is not as alarming as it would appear. The energy it takes to rip through beer bongs has transferred itself into the need to comprehend works written by strange Welsh musicians and the desire to destroy the inklings of hope in a fraternity pledge has been replaced by the desire to control spoiled 13-year-olds into learning the basic idea of past and present tense. Alas, this boy is getting old and sometimes keeping up with the meandering vigor is as futile as an attempt to comprehend the words that slur out of a mid-speech Bob Dylan.

Similarly, as our musical tastes grow old, our interests often veer towards places of warmth and comfort (or those that do not induce nausea); it’s a seemingly natural process – like a once proud beast whose ability to run and hunt has severely declined over the years; it just lazes around in the afternoon glow of the African plain. And for someone who has spent days in post-ruckus recovery and weeks shivering in similar boots to one Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence, the wonderment of delight to the warm, soothing sound of the opening bars of “Hello Sunshine” is endless welcome. Be it the smooth coastal melodies, the slow simmering slide guitar and tender percussions; it is a fine open-armed calling to brief Fab Four parallels and Pacific Coast drives. In “Liberty Belle”, Rhys and company adapt a slightly more upbeat tone, but one that seeks its poise in its global traveling grace; brilliantly spirited and soaring so, it treads on Roger McGuinn-esque 60’s folky rock. This sort of unconditional fuzzy feeling is a dominant texture throughout Phantom Power (only on a few instances do they tap less organic means – most evident in the glitchy “Slow Life”); sprinkled so well that the Super Furry Animals belong in the same group as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and of course, The Byrds.

Yet, in an unexpected twist, SFA adapt a far gloomier lyrical ménage on several occasions; “Liberty Belle” is musically suited for sweet romance – but instead prod at the political mess (or as labeled here, the “gulf of misery”) of superpower countries flexing their bravado. The instrumental chant-like “Golden Retriever” is a jangly piece filled with darker tendencies; “You’ll need protection / from every direction / but she’ll get you any how”, while the hushed hum stalking “The Piccolo Snare” is smeared by biting descriptions of cannon fodder bleeding (“Have you ever seen the sea / painted red by a bleeding army?”) and lost hope (“Of pawns who will never find peace / tumbledown to the piccolo snare”). Thoughts of despair that ring once again in the musically quaint and mellow “Bleed Forever”: “There’s no console / it’s no game / we were going places / it’s such a shame”. This bipolar union of musical serenity and (mostly) caustic diatribe is the sort of searing combination that separates SFA’s latest, mostly snug musical outing from just simply being lukewarm.

Greener pastures it seems, has found its place in their hearts – and perhaps a trip to Wales might see the same plateaus, landscapes and valleys that is synonymous with the Golden State and the mid and old west. Welcoming, warm, and richly textured – this, their sixth full length disc is the soothing accompaniment to those wildly descriptive and potent stories old Uncle Abe told you of his time in America’s badlands (as interpreted by way of Cardiff, Wales). And for someone who seeks a more personal inquisition, this is the best way to melt away a burning day; for those who are seeking restitution for the torrent of crimson and desolation, Phantom Power is the perfect soundtrack to the looming apocalypse that may plague your soul.

(Epic Records / Sony UK)

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance

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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.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

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Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities

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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.

(Massacre Records)

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