Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I ramble incoherently about what I’ve been putting into my ears. It has a been week of heavy hitters as we have the return of The Wildhearts, Frank Carter continuing his journey with The Rattlesnakes and some Vikings. You probably won’t discover something new, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun all the same.
It has been ten years since the last Wildhearts’ album. Ten years in which the various members have been off doing their own thing (Ginger has released more music in that period than some do in a career) while occasionally coming together to pull out the old hits and celebrate a classic album. In that time, you began to wonder whether they would ever release new music again. Was it possible to get those personalities to co-exist for long enough? Or was there more likely to be a murder?
Well, no-one is dead yet and we have an album. It’s not just any old Wildhearts either. This is the so-called classic line-up (who have produced a surprisingly small amount of recorded material together) of Ginger, CJ, Danny McCormack and Ritch Battersby. Although the word classic shouldn’t trick you into thinking that The Wildhearts sound dated because fucking hell, it’s just possible they sound fresher than they ever have.
It’s a freshness that comes from that eternal wellspring of creative inspiration: anger. Ginger Wildheart has been open about his recent ups and down which is a fight that has clearly inspired this album. A fact that’s never more apparent than on the defiant ‘Diagnosis’, an anthem for the modern age if there ever was one. Its roar of ‘you are not your diagnosis’ has never been more timely.
‘Diagnosis’ isn’t alone, though. The Wildhearts have always known how to write an alt-rock banger, and that ability hasn’t died. There are few (if any) better songwriters than Ginger Wildheart, and he’s on inspired form throughout. Right from the start, he pulls out that ability to blend irresistible hooks with an all-out rock attack. ‘Disassociate’ is a rager that hides within it the bittersweet story of staying up all night to look after someone suffering, the sing-along chorus contrasting with the chaotic music around it. Elsewhere, it takes only one listen of the defiant fuck you of ‘Let ‘Em Go’ to have it stuck in your head forever.
The Wildhearts should feel like a relic. They released their first album in 1993, and since then they have done it all. After all the drugs and the fights, no-one would blame them if they wandered into 2019 and released an album that served as little more than an excuse to go out on tour for a while. Instead, they’ve dropped a statement. A statement that there is life in these fuckers yet. Renaissance Men is up with the very best of their work, and twenty-six years into a career, that’s one hell of a thing. Thank fuck for the motherfucking Wildhearts.
Frank Carter has had a weird career. His explosion into the UK music scene with Gallows tipped everything upside down. There are now a million hardcore bands that wouldn’t exist without Orchestra Of Wolves and Grey Britain. However, it turned out not to be what Frank wanted, and he left, stating that he was ‘sick of singing about hate’. Unfortunately, Pure Love didn’t inspire quite the same devotion, and you wondered whether his time was over.
Then, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes appeared and dropped Blossom, a screaming return to form that saw him embrace his hardcore roots. It seemed to come out of nowhere and was all the better for it. Except, once again, it seemed like Carter was uncomfortable in that world. The follow-up, Modern Ruin, saw him start to gravitate towards a blues led alt-rock sound, and now, on End Of Suffering, that transformation is complete. This ain’t a hardcore record.
And, I can’t lie, that makes me sad. I love Frank Carter the hardcore singer. He’s fucking awesome at it. Gallows were a massive band for me, and his return with Blossom felt like the prodigal son coming home. Seeing him sneak back out the door is almost made worse by the reminder of how good he can be. Christ, I saw him live a couple of months back, and on that stage, he is still a force to be reckoned with.
All of which probably explains why my first listen to End Of Suffering left me cold. I was left waiting for it to explode. I wanted that moment where a grenade was lobbed into the room, and everything took off, yet it never came. What I wanted, wasn’t happening. ‘Crowbar’ is the closest thing to it, and even it feels closer to rock than hardcore.
However, I stuck with it. I’ve always believed that you shouldn’t review what you want, but what you get and I’ve dived back into End Of Suffering multiple times since that first listen, armed with the knowledge of what to expect. And my verdict? I think it’s good. It is easily Carter’s most accomplished vocal performance, and on songs like ‘Angel Wings’, you can hear how he’s changed as a singer. There is still that swagger, but it’s no longer the main attraction. He is pulling these songs off as a vocalist rather than as an attitude.
Perhaps even more importantly, you believe every word he says. The title track is essentially a love letter to his daughter and while the lyrics might descend into cliche, the passion with which he sings it makes up for that. That’s a recurring theme on the album. You buy the message of songs like ‘Anxiety’ as Frank seems to take his role as an almost elder statesman of punk rock very seriously. It’s hard to imagine this guy and the cocky arsehole from Gallows ever being friends.
It’s not just him either as The Rattlesnakes sound tight. Dean Richardson (once of Heights) has turned into an incredible guitarist, and he plays beautifully within that bluesy sound they’ve developed. For all my talk of this being a less aggressive album, they are by no means a pop band. There is still darkness in their music, and while it could easily break into the mainstream, it wouldn’t be accompanied by shouts of “sellout”.
Yet, for all that, I can’t get past the album I want it to be. It might just be that Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are moving in a direction that is not for me. I don’t begrudge them that, I hope they fucking smash it, but I can’t get excited about this the way I did about Blossom. It’s not fair, Christ, it’s not like I don’t listen to alt-rock, but my brain is wired that way, and that’s cool. I’ll still listen, and I’ll watch them live whenever I can because fuck me, you aren’t having a bad time at a Frank Carter show. End Of Suffering is just not going to be my album.
Let’s get this right out there from the start. Amon Amarth? Bit silly. Grown men dressing up and singing songs about Vikings is very power metal, and usually, I cannot be arsed with that shite. Despite being a huge fantasy fan, that stuff does nothing for me, and I live in constant amazement that there are people who swear blind Manowar are good. What the fuck are they listening to? However, unlike Manowar, Amon Amarth are good. They are good enough to make up for the fact that they sing silly songs about Vikings.
Berzeker is the perfect example of why that is the case. I’ve mentioned on these articles before that I’ve recently struggled to get passionate about metal. For whatever reason, it’s been leaving me cold. It’s a feeling that extended to the first few times I listened to this album. I didn’t dislike it, but I was finding it hard to care. It was a decent melodic death metal album with some funny song titles.
Then it clicked, and when it clicked, it clicked hard. Suddenly, I was headbanging along, fist in the air and picturing myself riding a longboat into the unknown. From the ‘Battery’ alike intro of ‘Fafner’s Gold’ through the call to the arms that is ‘Shield Wall’ and into the epic tale of ‘The Berserker of Stamford Bridge’ I was there with Amon Amarth, embracing my Norwegian heritage.
Because for all that silliness, this is a fucking fun album. Amon Amarth know how to write a song packed with big rumbling riffs and chant along sections. The words death metal will almost always put certain people off, but songs like ‘Mjolner, Hammer of Thor’ have an almost classic rock edge. These particular Vikings know how to write music that will appeal to all.
Not that it’s perfect. It’s far too long, and by the time ‘Into The Dark’ rolls around I am thoroughly fed up of songs about war and boats or whatever it is they’re going on about. But that’s an easy fix. The skip button does wonders for albums like that. On the whole, Berzerker does what you want it to do, and when I remove my snobby head from my arse, I can’t resist grabbing a beer and getting down with the Vikings.
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