Flats are a band defined by anger and aggression; it is an inherent anger that fuels them and their fierce commitment to making music that pays absolutely no heed to trends, styles or hype. Flats’ music is uncompromising, chaotic and, on their debut album Better Living, frequently thrilling.
Since forming in early 2010, London four-piece Flats have been outspoken and unafraid of controversy. A prime example is the repeated lyrical refrain to early track Rat Trap that simply repeated “Paul Weller is a cunt”. Led by singer and lyricist Dan Devine, Flats seem to view contemporary UK music – certainly alternative indie guitar music – with disdain, influenced as they are by UK and US hardcore, Black Sabbath and the speed metal of Anthrax. Their debut album is a relentlessly brutal showcase of their incendiary snarling punk.
Produced and recorded in the band’s own Hackney studio and featuring new guitarist Dan Djar, who joined in 2011, Better Living clocks in at a brief 35 minutes, yet there is not an inch of fat on an album that keeps up its intensity from start to finish. Opening track Foxtrot is the longest track here at four and a half minutes and it is a crushingly heavy piece of sludgy metal. Slow and portentous, it pulverises its way to its finish carried by Devine’s coruscating howl. The lyrics are almost impossible to decipher as Devine stretches every sinew of his voice, although some choice lines can be picked up that suggest dark themes: “Are you hanging off a window ledge?” Devine screams at one point.
The album progresses in similarly breakneck fashion. Tango and Shuffle are both examples of careering punk; visceral and direct, they both combine powerful riffs with raucous vocals. It is a very simple template but one that suits them very well. The music always sounds on the point of collapsing in on itself under the sheer crushing momentum, giving a real, disorienting sense of chaos. You feel Devine’s rage; he comes across as in incredibly angry man. Unfortunately we don’t find out why, as any lyrical nuances are buried beneath the power of the guitar, bass and drum attack.
Slam is white-hot punk featuring perhaps the album’s best riff, while Crucifixion is a cover of a track by metal group Hellhammer, indicative of the band’s influences when making the record. There are also echoes of early Bleach era Nirvana at their heaviest in the catchy riff of Buzz and Macabre Units’ big dumb rock. There is a sense though, as the album progresses, that it does begin to suffer from a lack of variety. But it certainly does not lack in conviction.
Final track Mambo is the third that is intriguingly named after a form of dance, though there is nothing on this record that you could dance to in the traditional sense. Mambo works as a bookend for the album, as it returns to the sludgy, doomy rock of the opener before Devine shouts himself completely hoarse and the music finally collapses in a heap.
As opening statements go, Better Living is comprehensive and, as a hardcore punk album, it is extremely successful. It does beg the question of whether there is a little more to Flats than the relentless extreme aggression shown here. Nevertheless, Better Living is certainly a striking debut album that perfectly encapsulates the band and their ethos.