When you hear people bandying around names like The Gun Club and Gallon Drunk, you can shiver with excitement or quiver with fear… as, inevitably, bands that are compared to legends are often disappointing or relentlessly derivative.
The Amazing Snakeheads are neither. Their molten punk rock takes plenty of sidesteps and brings a dollop of interesting newness to the dance. The gong hit that opens the first track I’m A Vampire kicks off a record packed with classic deathrock and putrid punk flavours, built around rockabilly rhythms and crypt-kicking grooves. Needless to say, this kind of thing is sorely needed in modern British music.
I’m A Vampire is a riot – imagine your favourite unhinged squall coming at ya full pelt: The Birthday Party? The Flesh Eaters? No matter what angle you come at it from, the track is filled with pleasures sure to satisfy your ghoulish desires. The squealing guitars are razor-sharp; the drumming goes from martial precision to thunderous groove; and the track has heaps of what has become something of a rarity these days – silence, space, room for the caustic sound to seep into the listener’s consciousness.
Second track Nighttime is another winner – it’s a gleaming slice of zombie punk that digs the same graves as folks like Jim Jones Revue and The Cramps. Dale Barclay’s roar has a distinctly Scottish twang, and is all the better for it. His riotous vocals invoke both Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave, and my god is it refreshing to hear someone barking at you with a crackling intensity.
Despite its name, Swamp Song is dry as a bone – the piercing, screeching guitar tone and lurching bass are likely to make you reach for some brothel-creepers and a leather jacket; the sheer noise created by the Snakeheads is none more impressive than on this number. The drums, bass and guitar are wandering and completely locked-in simultaneously.
Here It Comes Again is another cracking track – it’s one of the more ‘classic punk’ sounding numbers on the record, featuring as it does some choppy chords and wobbling bass. Other highlights are casually dropped throughout: Where’s My Knife is an off-kilter cut with an increasingly sinister vibe; Every Guy Wants to Be Her Baby mimics the languid, fucked-up vibe of Iggy Pop’s jaunt through Kill City (and you can’t miss the slowed-down Teenage Kicks chords going on all around.)
Memories’ killer hook “Take it by both hands/And shake it if it needs it” will hang around in your brain for ages. The Steve Mackay-aping solo and Tracy Pew-inspired bass paint a bloody picture. Barclay’s howling is astounding – just listen to him bellowing the title if you need convincing.
Album closer Tiger By The Tail is a lush, rich acoustic dirge that sounds like a cross-pollination of Henry’s Dream’s vivid colours and Leonard Cohen’s darkest blacks. It’s a reflective, pensive note with which to end an album of such ferocity, and it works like salve to a burn.
When the record’s over, one thought is likely to pop into your head if any of the bands mentioned above tickle your fancy: “Fuck me, that was good,” for The Amazing Snakeheads are, quite literally, amazing. Their jaw-dropping blend of graveyard boogies and electric-burn punk tendencies are staggering, especially seeing as Amphetamine Ballads is their debut record.
While Amphetamine Ballads is as exciting as any debut record in recent times, it’s also a reminder that the British ability to conjure depth from a sparsely coloured palette is as strong as ever. If this is their Hee-Haw, we can only wait with baited breath for their Junkyard. Big things are surely coming from this band, so get on the wagon.