Highly anticipated? A long time coming? Worth the wait? Certainly the first two are true. This is the first album from the Aussie hardcore/hard-rock mainstays since ‘This is This’ over a decade ago! It’s their fifth overall in an incredible career spanning three decades. So…what’s the answer to the third question? Read on to find out…
TMOC have long been stylistically compared to New Yorkers Helmet, perhaps fairly, perhaps unfairly. Both the bands’ music is rooted in hardcore punk and features polyrhythms, odd meters and stop-start riffage. In certain people’s views, TMOC are somewhat of a poor-man’s antipodean imitation of the latter. This notion is completely apocryphal. The Aussie band were formed a full FIVE years before Helmet, and had long been ripping up the live circuit before Helmet were even a glint in Page Hamilton’s eye. So put that in your Helmet shaped pipes and smoke it!
The album kicks off with “Barkhammer”. And what a kick off it is! A pulsating, swinging chunk of heaviness laced with tricky riffs that spiral around the strange drum patterns as it hammers its way into your brain. And then there’s the chorus. Soaring, ethereal and triumphant! Not normally words you’d associate with TMOC, but John Scott’s melodic wailing of the line “You can’t go back, you can’t go back!” is just a wonderful addition to this song and makes it a brilliant opening number that really whets your appetite for the rest of the forthcoming musical treats.
Sometimes you can anticipate the quality of an album just by hearing the first few seconds of the opening track, and Songs of the Third and Fifth is one of those albums. Crunching guitars, rumbling bass and pounding drums certainly form the bulk of the record, but there is a lot of melody present. Particularly melodic are the vocals of Scott who doesn’t quite rant and scream like he did on previous works like Ill at Ease and This is This. That’s not to say that the vocals aren’t impassioned. Far from it. He certainly has a head of steam worked up, possibly due to his personal problems that caused the band’s decade long hiatus. This is reflected in the fairly angsty and morose lyrics, but it’s not all morbid introspection; there is plenty of political and social commentary scattered about, particularly in the tracks “Separatist”, “Milosevic”, and “Eastern Decline”. In the latter, Scott sings from the perspective of Raskolnikov, the main protagonist in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic fiction novel ‘Crime and Punishment’. The lyrical content certainly isn’t for the light-hearted, but it’s a perfect match for the dark and hard hitting music. While we’re on the subject of vocals, I had wondered why the track “Grey 11” reminded me of the Rollins Band….well as it turns out, ol’ Hank himself contributes vocals to the song!
Musically, the band are right in the zone. The vocals, bass, guitar and drums don’t sound at all like separate instruments. The sounds blasting at you from your speakers seem like they are coming from one giant, multi-faceted instrument! Despite being apart for ten years, the band have not lost one iota of their synergy or focus. While not immediately apparent, some of the drum and guitar parts are very complex. Polyrhythms and strange waltz-like time signatures are interspersed with straight ahead punk rock which gives the album an ever changing, ever evolving continuity. The album’s title could mean many things, but it would seem to refer to the melodic and chordal intervals the band choose to use. This is rock. Hard rock, yes, but rock nonetheless, and rock is rooted firmly in blues. Were this album to be charted out sheet music style, one would see the pentatonic basis of most of the songs. There are more than just minor thirds and perfect fifths present however. There are enough pointed semitonic shifts from John and Kim Scott (guitar and bass respectively) and rhythmic change-ups from drummer John Stanier to keep it more than interesting.
The overall sound and production is reminiscent of their earlier works, but it’s far thicker and chunkier. There is some rumbling bottom end present that will certainly challenge your speakers as well as your ears! The Scott brothers’ loyalty to Rickenbacker guitars and basses certainly contributes to their signature sound as well. Said guitars are not at all synonymous with hard rock or punk and they really make a statement, both sonically and visually.
This album is a remarkable return to form from a band who have been out of action for so long. The entire thing is bristling with energetic, hard-hitting inertia, yet also melodic sensibility and rhythmic complexity. All these components and more, combine to create a work that is of a consistently high quality from start to finish. So much so that it’s difficult to name standout tracks. They’re all very good, but the brilliant opening track “Barkhammer” gets my vote as the highlight of the disc. Don’t for a second think that it’s downhill from there though. The rest of the record stacks up extremely well, even after the thrill of the first track has worn off.
Kudos TMOC. Aussie release of the year so far…(for me anyway)…and to answer the third question I asked at the beginning of this review….YES!