Hello my lovelies, welcome to The Listening Booth. After all the new releases last week, we’ve got a mixed bag this time around with one from the present and two from the past. Although, I have seen both of the bands from the past live in the last couple weeks, and can confirm that rumours of their demise are greatly exaggerated. The albums are from back yonder, but the bands themselves are not. Anyway, let’s stop wanging on about it and get on with, well, wanging on about it!
The power of expectation can do tricky things to the way you approach music. If Metallica are your favourite band, you want their latest album to be great. Often, it can be months or even years before you establish your real opinion, so desperate are you to love the music of the musicians you respect. Conversely, what you expect something to sound like can greatly alter your views. If you hadn’t listened to Bring Me The Horizon since Suicide Season, you would at best be baffled and most likely despise amo. It doesn’t matter whether the songs are good, it’s not the album you wanted.
All of which might seem to have little to do with HEALTH. Except, when I turned this album on, I was expecting extreme metal. I can’t pinpoint why, honestly I’m not even sure where I heard the band’s name, but something in my head had told me that the members of HEALTH were going to be attempting to make my brains explode out my ears. I went into it geared up for something closer to Daughters than the synth-heavy, industrial landscape that I got.
Yet, unlike that poor Bring Me fan, I don’t hate this. In fact, I think it’s really fucking good. This album is bleak and cold, playing off the themes you’d expect from something entitled SLAVES OF FEAR. Tracks like ‘GOD BOTHERER’ are darker than many a metal band with its erratic drumbeat and lo-fi sound. And wherever the idea that they were a metal band came from, it wasn’t totally wrong, it’s just far from the only string to their bow. There are elements of Ministry and Fear Factory woven through this album, even if they are wrapped up in an unsettling pop sound.
So yea, expectation can fuck an album for you. However, in the case of HEALTH, it may well have made it. I was expecting something so vastly different from the weird and unsettling world I got, that it drew me in deeper. The unexpected sounds put me on the back foot, making it easier for me to stumble into their world. I’m not saying you should always go into new music not having a clue what to expect, but every now and then, it might just work out for the best.
I, like many people, had the absolute pleasure of going to see Behemoth, At The Gates and Wolves In the Throne Room this week. It will be no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention that Behemoth were outstanding. However, the real surprise of the night (for me) came from At The Gates. I have (a perhaps foolish) habit of dismissing older bands. They often live off past glories and in a world with so much fresh, hungry music being released every week I prioritise that over the past. I didn’t expect a group who released their first album in the year I was born to do anything for me.
And yet, even with an unscheduled break in the middle thanks to a fire alarm that would also end Behemoth’s night early, At The Gates were outstanding. They might not be youngsters, but they hit the stage with a passion that seems to come from a love of the music they play and ripped through a set that sounded incredible. This wasn’t the fusty old band that I’d conjured in my head. It was a group of musicians as enamoured with their music as ever.
Which means I have some making up to do. In an attempt to get started I have turned towards Slaughter Of The Soul, the album that is widely regarded as At The Gates best. Although, I must admit to being slightly surprised at its sound. If you’d put this on and told me it was an American Thrash band I’d never heard before, I would have bought it hook, line and sinker. There is a lot of Slayer running through it, and while the melodic death metal sound that would influence the Gothernberg scene is there, I think it’s fair to say that other bands would take their blueprint and drive it further down that route. Of course, this is only one album, and I’m sure countless others can tell me why I’m wrong. All I know is that if At The Gates have a load more songs that sound like ‘Cold’, ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ and ‘World Of Lies’, I’m in.
Part of the reason I started doing this weekly ramble about music I’ve been listening to was in an attempt to encourage me to go back and listen to older stuff. I get wrapped up in needing to hear the new, and because of that often forget that music’s history is rich and bursting with bands that can still make me gasp. At The Gates have now grabbed my attention, and while it’s a shame it took this long, I’m glad I got there in the end.
From one band I caught in a support slot to another. I dragged a very hungover and sleepy version of myself through to Glasgow to see Drug Church a couple weeks back and ended up delighted I’d made an effort. Not only were the headliners great, but it was my first time checking out Single Mothers, and it didn’t take long for me to realise that we were going to get along very well. Listening to Negative Qualities since has only increased that feeling.
Because this is one bitter album as nearly everyone feels the wrath of Drew Thomson’s tongue throughout its twenty-odd minutes. One second you find yourself screaming along with him, lambasting his latest target, only to suddenly realise that the person being attacked sounds an awful lot like you. Well, that was at least the experience of this particular English Lit grad when listening to ‘Marbles’ (I at least like to pretend I’m not quite that pretentious). No-one is immune from his ire being whipped in your direction.
And in other hands, those factors could have made this a slog to listen to. As Thomson notes in ‘Ketamine’ “to be honest, Drew, they’re getting pretty mean”, these songs are not nice. In fact, they’re downright cruel. It’s a nihilistic and bleak view of the world that seems to drift around getting drunk and screaming in the face of anyone that dares step past the imaginary lines that it has crafted. Sure, some of the complaints here are valid, but there’s a riposte in every one of them, in which someone screams right back.
Yet, almost because of how openly hostile it is, you’re almost willing to forgive. Nine out of the ten tracks on this album throw themselves at you. All snarls and snide remarks. Before you can quite figure out what the fuck is going on, they are biting and scratching, finding your weak spots and digging in. That might not sound like a good time to everyone, but if you like your music to fight back, you’re going to love it.
As mentioned, it is only nine of the songs that attack in this way. On closer ‘Money’ things slow down, and for a second you start thinking we’ve hit the single. You’d be wrong. The music might be a bit calmer, but the words are no less acerbic. As he notes on his way out, ‘all I want to do is sit here complaining’. There aren’t many people whose complaints I actively want to listen to, but Single Mothers are on the list.