When a line-up change occurs, it’s usually a new vocalist that causes a radical shift in direction. Fans will be glad to hear that Million Dead vocalist Frank Turner is back, and still on top lyrical form and with his social conscience turned right up to eleven. They also, however, have a new guitarist in Tom Fowler (ex Pale Horse), and they’re heading firmly in a new direction that will challenge a lot of expectations.
Fowler clearly likes arpeggios and chorus units, and right from opener Bread And Circuses he brings a mid-’80s Johnny Marr touch to the sound. With Turner’s vocal delivery and superb lyrics already inviting Morrissey comparisons, there’s more than a touch of The Smiths about this, along with a good helping of The Cure, Sonic Youth and Joy Division along the way.
Second single After The Rush Hour dives even deeper into the new (dare I say ‘indie’?) sound, and is easily the most conventional song on the album. Carthagio Est Delenda has a great Peter Hook-style bass riff that builds up to an anthemic guitar climax reminiscent of Radiohead, and To Whom It May Concern is the most Morrissey-esque of the lot with fantastic lyrics to boot – starting with “Tomorrow will be the last night of my record-breakingly successful run in the lead role of the greatest play of our century”, it moves on into a diatribe about HR departments and ends up with a sing-along refrain of “I’m only working here ’cause I need your fucking money!”
In fact, this is often a damn fine album. Some of the more melodic stuff does start to be a bit samey, and the two songs that follow first single Living The Dream seem a little dull after that song’s fantastic energy and spiky drum breaks.
However Achilles Lung is the best anti-smoking song in a long while, listing a fairly comprehensive range of diseases ready to destroy the puffing masses, and Engine Driver has a great ostinato riff that hangs way past the end of the song like an angry sea just before the storm hits.
But, in case you hadn’t guessed by now, this ain’t hardcore. Now that’s not to say there isn’t any – Plan B is a furious blast of whiplash-inducing noise, and Bovine Spungiform Economics even feels like a slice of classic Suicidal Tendencies, with Frank doing an ace Mike Muir over the top. But that’s it, and by inviting comparisons with some of the bands mentioned above they’re already setting their indie standards very high indeed.
So Million Dead have set themselves a mountain to climb. They’re releasing a brave and largely excellent new album, which should help them climb it. Will they take their existing fans with them though? And will they get the attention from the potential fanbase that the new material could bring them? More crucially, will they find themselves hidden in the enormous shadow of the System Of A Down juggernaut that’s coming in the very same week?
Let’s hope not. As with so many bands, it looks like the third Million Dead album is going to be the one to watch. Despite that, Harmony No Harmony is great album, with some absolutely fantastic lyrics – but can you put Mesmerize down long enough to give it a listen?