Really not music to listen to when you have a hangover, The Blood Brothers have taken a healthy dose of punk and thrash sensibility, particularly when it comes to repetitive guitar licks, and combined it with vocals that sound like a mix of an adenoidal Geddy Lee and cat torturing. The result is very, very shrill indeed.
The opening track of their new album, Young Machetes, opens with Set Face To The Face On Fire (much screeching of Fa-yah, Fa-yah, Fa-yah) which leaves you rather limp after just two and a third minutes of cycling guitar and bass. But it has nothing on the frantic vocal stylings of the third track Laser Life, or the delivery of the strange, neck/nipple-nuzzling lyrics of You’re The Dream Unicorn. Every time you think it can’t get any higher or more fraught, lead singer Johnny Whitney shows that you’re very much mistaken. Sometimes songs start off deceptively tuneful and open, but more often than not they soon accelerate into a scream fest.
On slower numbers they can sound a bit lumbering, inventive tunes not really being their forte, but these are very few and far between. And as the album unfolds you begin to hear beyond the sheer aural assault and appreciate the vocal interplay between falsetto king Johnny Whitney and Jordan Billie’s deeper voice, occasional faux-prog choral moments (very much tongue in cheek), and even echoes of cute New Wave tunes, particularly Blondie on tracks like the anthemic Spit Shine Your Black Clouds.
The forces pulling at The Blood Brothers seem contradictory. There’s their roots in hardcore, providing negative imagery and brisk approach to getting through a track, not to mention the tendency to scream at the top of your lungs. Then there’s a strong New Wave ethos, providing bursts of electronic pop, spiky guitar playing, and occasional Jamaican rhythms.
Finally there’s those nods to prog, so fashionable since Muse came on the scene, with songs about necromancers, swans and riding skeletal lightning, not to mention the happy facility of shoving several different rhythms and tunes into one number, simply lurching from one to another at will a la Bohemian Rhapsody. 1,2,3,4 Guitars is a great example of this approach, a chopped up rollercoaster ride that jerks you around, winding up and slowing down until your head feels woozy with its crazy mix of rhythms and switches between ponderous bass-led sections and sudden bursts of energy.
However it’s the album’s standout track, the finale Giant Swan, that owes most to the past. It’s an atypically slow number (at least in places), full of lazily twanging guitars, falsetto musings and striking imagery, shot through with manic bursts of thrash. With Young Machetes The Blood Brothers are definitely making a play for the title of Thinking Man’s Hardcore. They’ve come a million miles from their earlier recordings, moving from simple beginnings towards being able to acknowledge their influences openly and exult in them, without losing that combative edge. It’s not going to be a smooth or comfortable ride as they continue to develop, but I’m starting to hope that it’s a long one.