Hello friends, Romans and indeed countrymen, welcome to the Listening Booth where I ramble incoherently about what I’ve been putting in my ears. This week we’ve got some music that hit uncomfortably close to home for moi, the brilliantly named Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and a touch hardcore from last year that I never got a chance to talk about. Sound good? Too bloody right it does.
'I am tortured by the imagined,
as anxious as a child
and I still can't keep a job.
And I still struggle with insomnia,
so often can't sleep,
waste my time thinking of people,
who don't care to think of me,
and I am not my finest hours,
I'm moments in-between.
I'm so ashamed, to be me.'
Have Holy Pinto been reading my diary?
Jokes aside, the feeling of listening to a song that connects with you on a level beyond anything you could have expected is unique. For a second it feels like someone has opened up a window into your head, seen what is going on, extended out their arms to hug you and let you know that, yea, they feel that too. Christ, that’s just the opener.
And not all of Holy Pinto’s second album, Adult, had quite the same gut-punch of recognition as those words did. However, it still ticks all of my boxes. It’s steeped in melancholy, from the album wide themes of leaving home and growing up which are encapsulated in ‘Daisychain’ to reflections on old loves with ‘You Are My Seatbelt’. It’s music which feels lived in as Aymen Saleh’s voice draws you in and has you believing in every word he sings. There is no artifice to his reflection as you trust that he’s speaking from the heart.
Yet, even with those mournful reflections, these are songs that you can imagine listening to in the sun. I’ve mentioned before that my favourite way to experience music is while wandering around Edinburgh and I can imagine bouncing up Arthur’s Seat with an extra spring in my step as ‘Gold Leaf’ takes over. Although this is Scotland, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up that the sun will make an appearance. My point is that in among that melancholy there is still joy. It’s not an album about giving up, but about reflection. When life sucks, there is still light to be found.
Which, as a human being who appears to be trapped in a constant adolescent state of mind is everything that I want from my music. It’s catchy and infectious yet with an emotional thrust that doesn’t so much connect with me as mind meld. However, even if you’re not quite as emo as I, Holy Pinto have crafted eight fantastic songs that are begging to be loved. It’s time to do so.
That’s a band name and a half. I want you all to take a second to imagine the kind of music you think Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard play. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have already assumed they are a doom band (they’re hardly going to be playing dream pop) and will have perhaps presumed they are one which like fifteen minutes song made up of one note. You might also have pictured them as a group of big, burly blokes with more beard than face who look like they’ve just wandered out of the woods and stumbled upon some electric guitars. Am I close?
Well, prepare to be surprised. Because while some of those points are correct, they are a doom band with a penchant for long songs, others are wide of the mark. For one thing, those long epics are listenable for people who don’t have the kind of attention span required to sit and watch a fire burn for an hour or so. They might not be dream pop, but they’ve brought a bit of the dreamy into their doom.
A whole load of which comes from lead singer Jessica Ball. There have been some discussions recently about the growth of femininity in metal and how that’s only a good thing for the scene. Well, in Ball, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard have a singer who can do things that (great as he is) someone like Matt Pike could never do. She brings an ethereal tenderness to music that typically revolves around riffs and metal. Not only that, she seems to draw the rest of the band out, driving them away from sticking in the same place and into experimentation. Right from the start ‘The Spaceships of Ezekiel’ sees all the bells and whistles introduced, blending with its clear sci-fi inspirations. Whether it’s her influence that pushes them that way behind the scenes or not I have no idea, but in the music, it feels like she is leading the way.
Now, if I were harsh, I would say that it is still a bit overlong for my tastes. However, it’s worth remembering that I am a guy who points to punk and hardcore as my main loves. I’m more inclined to listen to an album that has thirty songs and goes under twenty minutes than one with eight which trickles over an hour. There is a thirteen minute instrumental on Yn Ol I Annwn that I would trim and other tracks stick on the same motif for slightly longer than my tastes would like. But, the fact I’m still paying attention by the time the thirteen minute long instrumental turns up is praise in itself. Usually, I’d be long gone. Mammoth Weed Wizard have written a doom album with the potential to appeal beyond that world, and that’s always exciting.
There are a lot of bands out there taking swipes at the mindless construct that is ‘The Man’. Now, I’m not saying I have any complaints about that, fuck that guy, but the truth is that it’s a very safe way to stand your ground. Snarling at the government is easy because everyone dislikes the government and, to most, that faceless institution remains impenetrable. Shouting fuck off at them is like raging at a storm.
That’s not what Svalbard do, though. Sure, the government is still very much at the end of their frustrations, but it’s not a mindless complaint tossed into the wind with the hope that it takes root. They are very clear what they are about and have no wish to hide it behind riddles. ‘Unpaid Intern’, ‘Revenge Porn’, ‘Feminazi’ and ‘Pro-Life’ make up the opening four songs of this album, and I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to decode them. Serena Cherry is standing stage centre roaring her frustration in your face, and those are the frustrations that are facing so many young people in 2019. Svalbard are as far removed as you can get from an ageing rock band telling you to fuck the system. Listening to this album, it becomes clear that they are people like you, as fed up about the world as you should be.
After all that, it’s almost a bonus that the music is fucking badass. The surface of It’s Hard To Have Hope is all hardcore rage. Seven tracks of in your face aggression looking to smack you between the eyes until you listen. However, it’s the layers between that rage that make this band stand out. For backing up that hardcore is the unrefined grandiosity of black metal. It’s like the river underneath Svalbard, pulling them forward and allowing them to reach out to more expansive territory on tracks like ‘How Do We Stop It’ and ‘Try Not To Die Until You’re Dead’. From there they can slip into sounds that draw on post-rock and enthuse this music with emotions that are more than just anger as sadness and despair creep in.
And that more experimental side is what makes Svalbard truly exciting because it hints that they can get even better, that they can push this music further and reach levels that will surpass something that is already pretty damn great. Punk rock needs voices. It needs voices that call out ‘The Man’, but it also needs those that people can relate with. Ones that the next generation will connect with and hopefully take as inspiration. Figuring out that music can’t change the world is a tough step in life; no song is going to fix the situation we are in right now. However, it can inspire, and in Svalbard’s roar of frustration, there is the seed of something that could do just that.