|Three Albums In Under A Month, Indivisible, With Grindcore And Powerpop For All…. It’s Ginger Wildheart’s Very Own Pledge Of Allegiance.|
|Written by Rich Hobson|
|Sunday, 20 January 2013 03:30|
2012 was a good year to be a fan of all things Wildhearts. Records from the legendary band’s collaborators have been plentiful, with the ultra-success of Pledge campaigns by long time collaborators Willie Dowling, Random Jon Poole and Chris Catalyst, plus previews for the upcoming Loyalties album (featuring Rich Jones) and no less than 6 albums by the big man himself. You can’t help but feel that we’ve never had it so good with these releases.
Summer of course saw the release of the epic triple album ‘555%’, a mammoth undertaking, which brought together the twisted talents of various co-conspirators to make a record which, frankly, smashed clean through expectations.
The triple album and indeed, Pledge as a concept as a whole broke the barriers that have been holding artists back; not only was the album received well by the fans, but it’s slimmed down version ‘100%’ managed to creep into the mid-week charts in a top 10 position, surpassing expectations of nearly everyone - despite being as distant to the watered down vanilla offerings of fellow charters as champagne is to cat-piss.
But what exactly do follow such a massive undertaking with?
Wasting no time at all Ginger promised a 2nd Pledge Campaign, once again offering up a 3 course musical meal of madness, promising sugary sweet melodies with Hey! Hello!, a new project consisting of himself and Victoria Liedtke, and a polarising double behemoth in The Mutation Project; an oozing Mr. Hyde to the pop-clean Doctor Jekyll of Hey! Hello! and an ode to all things grindcore and heavy.
Admittedly, I did find it impossible to not listen to Hey! Hello! on release (which oozed onto, and dominated, my MP3 player like a particularly catchy strain of musical herpes) because what I’d really wanted to do was wait to have all 3 courses in front of me to really delve into this Pledge project to get the poppy highs and sewage level lows.
But a few weeks later all that was of course finally possible, so join me now as I take you on a journey though time and space…..oh balls here’s the albums.
The starter (and probably most eagerly anticipated release for a lot of people) was Hey! Hello! released back in December, the album was a promise of pop rock goodness in the vein of Cheap Trick, a promise of big songs with even bigger choruses. Songs from the album even managed to sneak into the live setlist for the annual Birthday Bash during Ginger’s “& Friends” support set – something which, if nothing else, indicates how assured he was that even though the record was freshly released, and ‘555%’ very easily could have been aired in its entirety to a disappointed audience of around 3 particularly trollish Wildhearts fans, Ginger believed the songs would speak for themselves and shine brightly for live airing.
And it’s no surprise that they most definitely do. Hey! Hello! is the spiritual descendent of the much acclaimed Silver Ginger 5 and Supershit 666 projects; it oozes the flash and slick style of the former whilst boasting the ego shrivelling coolness and catchy razor sharp meathooks of the latter, coming in with a round 10 songs which could easily be flung out as double A single quality material.
Opening with the roaring ‘Black Valentine’ the project starts in full earnest with a massive crowd-baiting chorus, witty lyrics (albeit slightly more risqué, and perhaps honest, than the average pop lyrical fodder – "I didn’t think of you when I came or the girl onscreen, I thought ‘the car needs a bit of a clean’"), and the kind of pop rock slickness that was only hinted at with ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed’.
Victoria’s vocals dictate the album as much as Ginger’s own, if not slightly more so in parts, and this is by no means a bad thing – the duality creates a strong harmony that grips like a starving pit-bull and threatens to never let go (in fact, the only thing that ever managed to unstick it was the ridiculously catchy song ‘Fucking Hell’, from the ridiculously twisted and talented mind of Random Jon Poole).
With nearly each song being as instantly catchy as the last, it’s difficult to stand up any one song as a taster of the album to the uninitiated – in fact, any attempt to do so would no doubt leave you fumbling as you realise that the whole damn thing works as a cohesive lead in for the Pledge, though that isn’t to say that this album doesn’t have its highs.
‘Lock For Rock (And Other Sporting Clichés)’ is probably the slickest, and most "important" sounding track – 6th in the track list, I’ll be damned if this isn’t the intro to the B-Side of the Vinyl edition of Hey! Hello! as it marks an upping of the ante from the straight one-two punch of the first half of the album, switching from the sunny like atmosphere to a darker and bigger sound to close, which in terms of sound could probably be likened best to the last Wildhearts album, ‘Chutzpah!’ albeit ramped up in the pop stakes.
‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’ was a bizarre introductory single to this album, well in terms of sound and structure it’s a pretty removed and much more aggressive pop track than the rest of the album, sounding more distorted and fierce than the other songs, and yet it works perfectly in the listings as the last-but-two-track, a self examinatory song on Ginger’s own career, the slogan-cum-chorus "Ask Lots Of Questions, Don’t Eat The Bullshit" could almost be a mission statement for the Pledge bands, and it’s almost a DIY order on par with "here are 3 chords…now form a band!", flinging a good dose of punk attitude into the already pedigree mix of the album.
Other major tracks of note are ‘The Thrill of It All’ and ‘I’m Gonna Kiss You Every Day Like I’m Going Away (For A Long, Long Time)’, both of which were written for other artists – Courtney Love and Michael Monroe respectively, both of which fit so perfectly with the zeitgeist of this album that it’s impossible to imagine these songs in any other way than as a part of the overall Hey! Hello! package.
Hey! Hello! is everything that is good about rock with pop sensibility. It’s all big choruses, bouncing and bounding riffs, bubblegum sweetness turned up to diabetes inducing levels without sacrificing any of the ball kicking rock ‘n’ roll edge. Far removed from the foppish fringes and "punk goes Busted" vibe most other bands who wave the pop rock banner, offering up albums with a few memorable singles, the rest of the tracks decidedly falling into the "Filler, Not Killer" category.
Hey! Hello! does not falter at this hurdle, instead they simply deliver a cohesive and rounded album with mass appeal to anyone who has been aching for a good record to get some in the car karaoke going. No classic rock fan can go amiss with this record, its mass appeal harkening back to the glory days when a rock band could still release a record which could easily be enjoyed by everybody, sans the niche trappings that most acts end up becoming constrained (and defined) by in the modern climate.
The 2nd course in this Pledge campaign is the one that has spent the longest in the metaphorical oven. ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ goes all the way back to 2011, when Ginger had just left Michael Monroe’s solo band and promised that his next project would be a juggernaut of riff-tastic heaviness, sounding more and more with each comment he made like an unholy mecca of noise, an avalanche of utter crushing heaviness, and the album fans had wanted to hear him deliver since ‘Endless, Nameless’.
Looking at Ginger’s current work ethic, it feels odd to think this album was shelved for over 12 months due to difficulties in the mixing stages, of all areas. The threat that it may never see the light of day, dead on the operating table as it were was very real as 2012 rolled on. But, like a bolt of well placed lightning, the successful first Pledge Campaign flashed a new spark into the original project, and when Ginger unveiled Mutation as a Pledge campaign he promised that it would come in a triple pack – two albums pertaining to the Mutation project, and one decidedly not.
And now the wait is finally over. Opening track ‘Powderland’ lumbers out with an air of Melvins menace, crushing as iron boots on bones, as heavy as we’ve ever heard Ginger, and upon first contact suddenly the “death paint” look of Ginger 2011 makes so much more sense. Once past the ultra-cacophonous drum/guitar intro we are thrown headfirst into a brick wall of riffs courtesy of a Cardiacs infused Slayer-thon, using Ministry’s equipment to inflict as much impact on the listener as a sledgehammer to the eardrums, this is everything that this project promised it could be with added bat shit insanity.
However, heaviness alone doesn’t make this track, nor this album interesting, after all, many bands are heavy, but hardly any these days are inventive enough to dislodge the "metal by numbers" anvil that has been weighing the heavier side of the rock n roll music spectrum down as of late. It takes something more to really stand head and shoulders above an already sweaty, beardy and stale as a commuter’s arse crack genre, but luckily MORE is something that the conspirators of Mutation have by the bucket. The riffs don’t follow the same old chug chug railroad riffing that many acts stick to as though they are worried that veering off might break some holy rule in the “Book of Heavy Metal”, instead these riffs are at simplest a rampaging charge off a cliff edge, into a ravine, then suddenly through the side of a building by way of a playground, steered by the frantic Melvins-like drumming of Young Legionnaire Denzel, and the masterful riffing of a ubiquitous string based legion in the forms of Ginger Wildheart, Eureka Machines’ Chris Catalyst, Loyalties’ bandsman Rich Jones and ex-Cardiac, and most recently once again Wildheart Mr Random Jon Poole, amongst others.
On top of the tumultuous riff work comes the vocals – a distinct switch from the traditional 3 vocal options on offer for “All That Is Heavy” (namely screaming, operatic pissery or trying to dislodge some particularly stubborn phlegm), Mutation grins and offers the "Fuck it" 4th option – "Other", including distorted anger by way of "Uncle" Al Jourgensen, mixed in with big, harmonic crowd choruses via the local insane asylum.
Following on from ‘Powderland’ comes ‘Rats’, a heavier than heavy drum beat lends itself to something that feels near outright thrash dance, something not heard this side of the musical insanity act that is Dog Fashion Disco. Melodic, schizophrenic and jaunty in a psychotic flailing kind of way, the track resides in the same asylum as its preceding track, whilst sounding like it’d take a whole different course of drugs to keep it tied down - something continued throughout the album as each track bares its fangs.
Follow up ‘Friday Night Drugs’ kicks in with a thrash/groove metal traditional "bounce goes the riff", before losing all sense of standard timing to really fling the Napalm Death influence in your face, becoming so vicious and noisy that it needs to be carted off by a full harmony in the chorus, which is then lost yet again to another switch in pace. ‘Friday Night Drugs’ feels like it could be meandering between different studio rooms, deciding that the mix actually sounded better than the sum of its parts, then stitching them all together in a centipede of disharmony, achieved with a warped grin.
‘Schadenfreuden’ has a slow starting stretch to a track which runs far harder and straighter than its predecessors, feeling almost early Slipknot-like at points, then completely dropping in another harmony over a blastbeat kick that dares you to try singing along, or to lose your mind, or preferably, both. ‘Compass Point’ kicks off like Billy Idol sharing a stage with Wednesday 13 covering the Ramones – it’s a heavy, bouncy and somehow punk riff, a mix of different energies, this song offers punk, synth, thrash and big-arena riffs at points, all with a Cardiacs sense of linear sequencing.
Track six, ‘Lively Boy’ became one of a few videos to be released to Pledgers as a promo for ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, and this track is much more linear than many of its predecessors, it has a kind of rampaging, slobbering violent feel that could send the most backward vicious redneck running for the hills.
Follow up ‘Gruntwhore’ was the final video released as promo, directly before ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ was released to Pledgers and it was subsequently released to the general public with a suitably large NOT FOR MINORS warning slapped all over it – whilst it is heavy as hell, it is also probably the most catchy of the songs so far, the combination of the impassioned howling vocals, the bounding yet repetitive riff and the most straight forward blast of music so far, it’d be a damn shame if this track never gets to see live airing to a baying audience.
‘On Poking Dogs’ is where the album starts to come apart at the seams almost completely; it switches from the menace of a full brutal build-up to a dancing, twisted riff and then back, as though nothing ever happened. The build-up is a lead in for a Rob Zombie like chorus with a lead heavy leading vocal subverting the backing vocal howls of "Come On", like an invitation to try and figure out how the hell this album was co-ordinated, yet alone conceived and composed.
Penultimate track ‘Wham City’ is one of a small group of covers recorded for ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, but the only one that made the final album. The track is a bouncing, ungraspable exercise, leading out with vocals that recall NoMeansNo’s ending to ‘Two Lips, Two Lungs, One Tongue’.
Ten is yet again the magic number, ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ ending on track ten, ‘Carrion Blue’, a track which was the very first exposure fans received to the project, a hard hitting discordant kick to finish the first Mutation record with full dash into the darkness lunacy. The final flat line like howl of feedback is more than enough to describe any listener’s first exposure, the perfect aural equivalent of "…"
‘The Frankenstein Effect’ certainly delivers its initial promise to be riffy (in fact, trying to keep track of each of them would be like trying to scale the depths of its creators collective minds, which is to say a dangerous and frankly crazy task). Heavy and so much more, it reaches out with more tentacles than Cthulhu and more ill supressed sexual rage than the House of Commons, promising to inflict itself a little deeper in your head with each listen.
If this is to be the reinvention of the metal genre, or heaviness overall, then “viva la revolution.”
The final release for this campaign is the 2nd Mutation album, titled ‘Error 500’ after the error code for a fan caused overload on the Pledge website during an early campaign surge. Ginger promised that if the fans enjoyed ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, it was a mere glance at the madness that Error 500 would be, and the initial fan feedback has done nothing but confirm this.
Album opener ‘Bracken’ twists out like a cut-throat contortion of heaviness that never stops turning; from the outset ‘Error 50’0 looks back at ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ as though its inventiveness was a toddler’s tantrum. Firmly in the Napalm Death school of heavy it swings with juggernaut might and lets absolutely no relief of harmony through – relentless ‘til the last, it is a track that could only ever die abruptly, and does so with a final violent spit. ‘Utopia Syndrome’ keeps the dial up to 11, a jabbering dose of schizophrenia it swings from the discordance of the verse to a full grindcore howling chorus, lashing out in fits of viciousness, dealing out blows like melody is a mortal enemy.
Sidestepping conventionality again like a contorted crab, ‘White Leg’ switches mindsets again; the initial heaviness of the track is a thick cover for a bouncing bassline, which could easily find itself lodged in a Primus number. The first full dose of harmonic vocals on the album are showcased in this track, sounding like a space age probe gone wrong. ‘White Leg’ keeps the album swinging fresh and different, feeling more akin in spirit to Cardiacs and God Damn Whores, Random Jon Poole’s influence on this track is pronounced.
Track four ‘Protein’ pulls out the lyric "Can’t You See The Walls Are Coming Down?", and is the aural equivalent of this single statement – vicious and strong in possession of the self-destructive quality that all the greatest tracks have, the track crashes around like it intends to bring the whole studio crashing in around it, closing out with a creepy kid in a horror movie style playground song.
Keeping the horror movie stakes up track five opens with a scream not out of place in a Hammer Horror, ‘Mutation’ features noise legend Merzbow, and is a crash course in dance via grindcore noise – think Big Black meets Napalm Death. Much more electronic than previous tracks, its distinctive tones and dancey rhythms are an odd departure whilst still retaining the noisy heaviness that has weighed the record so far.
‘Computer This Is Not What I…’ bounces in with further electronic leanings, albeit this time in the vocal department as we are treated to the sounds of dial-up gone grindcore. The aural equivalent of a fit, the album keeps a vicious hold on the listener’s eardrums and mind, as though it intends to strand you completely in an aural wasteland of pure noise filth.
The humorously titled ‘Sun Of White Leg’ howls back into action like a trip through a funhouse with a chainsaw wielding maniac, meandering with confusing swiftness it screams, shouts and shudders around all to the soundtrack of maniacally cheerful sounding vocals and a circus of insane heavy torture instrumentally.
Track nine, ‘Relentless Confliction’ is the one that boasts The Fall legend Mark E Smith on vocals, it’s schizophrenia gone rampant as it rebounds like a bladed pinball and threatens to never stop hammering directly against the eardrums of the listener, tearing out with a widdling guitar solo on crack - it spews madness and shits frantic beatings, a track befitting the legend.
The big finale for ‘Error 500’ is ‘Benzo Fury’, building up like a final crushing wave of pure gonzo fury, the album chooses to not end with a bang, howl or roar but instead with a wall of uneasy, colossal noise, all leading up to the final assault – a tsunami, the final crushing blow of riffing before breaking like all truly destructive forces in an uneasy quiet.
Mutation then is a huge payoff for Ginger fans who have been looking for something heavier in past years, and it’s no surprise really, when it boasts a group of such insanely talented collaborators who have helped bring the two album project to noisy fruition. Amongst the aforementioned noise legends is Shane Embury, long time Napalm Death bassist, whose influence is a massive catalyst in the sound of the record. With a melting pot of various bands and musicians coming together, it’s surprising that whilst the record inevitably sounds hugely distinctive from song to song, it has an overall cohesiveness that marks it for great record status.
That this project almost did not get to see the light of day is now unthinkable, and the presence of Pledge as a format for future album release is reassuring as it promises new creativity, collaboration and uncompromising inventiveness.
In particular Pledge has become a beacon of proof for all Wildhearts (and in particular, Ginger) fans that the biggest hindrance to the band’s inevitable meteoric ascension to Metallica levels of ass-kicking, was a total apathy on the part of the music industry, that has killed more than one great album (2009’s ‘Chutzpah!’ immediately springs to mind) through head in the sand levels of ignorance and under-exposure.
Ding Dong, the wicked witch may finally be dead boys and girls.