Return To Hell - The Sonic Race (Krypta Records)
What with them scheduled to support Chris Masuak (“The Australian Rock Festival - The Legacy of Radio Birdman In Spain”) for a show in Spain being filmed for a documentary, I suppose it would be polite to review the Sonic Race’s CD.
The Sonic Race are from Spain and play high-energy, exuberant rock that keeps rocking. They don’t stop for no-one and you need this album in your house - and on your car stereo - right now. Oh yes, magic phrase:”Twin guitar assault”.
No-one can turn back the clock. The impact Radio Birdman had on Australia has often been described, and I know that, while many found the news that Birdman had split on the eve of their second LP’s release (never touring the source of their roots) utterly baffling, there were many closer observers who said, sadly, ‘Yeah, well, that figures’.
Whether Birdman could have “made it”is one of those hoary rock questions which will echo down the years (I mean ditto The Saints, obviously, but don’t get me started, it’s a long list.
My favourite disappointment would have been The Lizard Train. Birdman’s distant impact was still felt only the other weekend at the Big Boss Benefit gig here in Adelaide (it was packed, by the way, raising over $14k for a worthy and much-loved man - go here if you want to help out). The number of (rather new) Birdman shirts was significant. The fact that one band, The Plague. were actually reforming (much against their preference, I gather) was enough to bring out many bugs from under their rocks (including me). They even did a version of “Descent Into The Maelstrom” which was, curiously, their weakest song that night.
Now, as we know, it wasn’t Birdman alone that turned Australia’s music scene upside down, but their influences, and the slow increasing impact of the violently changing music scenes of the outside world. That period, in terms of the years it took to develop, was like a rather smelly, glorious flower blooming by millimetres.
By the time of the New Race gigs (1981), Birdman had been claimed by the hairy heavy-metallers in the northern suburbs as well - the first (and, hopefully, the last) gig I ever attended where at least 90 percent of the crowd were bent over, nose-to-knees “head-banging”like the servile minions of an ugly, primitive god in a Robert E. Howard story. I’m fairly sure that most of the crowd hardly saw New Race at all.
The Sonic Race are a very well-listened, literate, aware outfit. They celebrate life, the joy of existence, rail at those who threaten it. Their Bandcamp page lists a few unusual influences (for an overseas band) including Birdman, New Race, and The Lime Spiders. And it shows; you’ll hear echoes of Roky, for example, and the early Saints and also, if not in particular, Chris Masuak’s guitar playing and structures, with or without Birdman. They’ve also been clearly inspired by Masuak’s relentless attacking style; not just Masuak, but his solo bands as well.
After listening to “Return To Hell”several times, I realised they’re using a lot of techniques very, very few bands use these days. Fascinating really, that yet another band practicing the twin-guitar assault is out there flattening awed crowds, along with The Dark Clouds and Leadfinger (and if you haven’t heard the latter two bands, you deserve to be excommunicated).
Incidentally, I gather that The Sonic Race are one of several new bands over there who, fed up with the bland, conventional music piped into our every waking moment, are learning to kick out the jams. The real, visceral power of the MC5, and Birdman, and The Saints, live and ferocious on a stage, may be myths these days, but The Sonic Race are doing their best to find that original monster wave and ride it.
I’ve taken to listening to CDs like this in the car while driving - which may explain a few new-looking scrapes to the bumpers, I’m not sure. Anyway, Antunez’lyrics and vocals are as constant an instrument as the guitars, bass and drums, so I take that to meant that Antunez is in a kind of competition with Bajo and Gonzalez, Fraga and Torero as to who can make the most racket the longest. Antunez’phrasing is dynamic as all get out as well. The rhythm section is superb, and the guitars …well. These guys are learning fast.
One word of caution: English is not The Sonic Race’s first (and probably not their fourth) language, so expect a few mistakes. But that produces bluntness and a fresh form of expression which I rather enjoy, particularly since Antunez is singing in English. There’s an innocence here, as well as a determined purity. At a guess, from reading Antunez’ lyrics, he’s a well-read chap, possibly with a tendency toward older literature; he certainly understands “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” better than most, for example; I always thought “Descent” sounded like someone had been reading a bit too much Arthur Conan Doyle.
Now, I’m going to skip musical references which may or may not be here; that’s not the point. Just listen to “Return to Hell”. After a deceptively melodic opening, “New Friend" surfs down the stairs, bursts through the doors and we’re off on a very noisy magic carpet ride with plenty of grandiose flair, rush and explosion.
This keeps up for the entire CD by the way. The Sonic Race understand the heavy rock dragster, know how to take it so close to losing control (when it might verge into either a crash or parody, as other bands amply demonstrate) …which they never do. The Sonic Race are completely ‘at the controls’, and each song has moments which pause momentarily, before returning to the fray with renewed vigour.
Hypertension drumming kicks off “Fight for a New World”; try this for a quote: “Deep inside a huge hole/ Diving into the dark/ The system fed a crisis/ We aren’t able to understand.”
That’s so perfectly expressed it beggars belief no-one seems to have come up with that before. I put this down to the fact that the way Europeans interpret the world is somewhat different to our own goldfish viewpoint. Apart from anything else, I can readily imagine a large crowd dancing at length to this band. Around two-thirds the way through there’s a rather lovely lead break …
“You are my Addiction”is thunderous, like a cross between The Dead Boys and AC/DC. “The Devil is jealous ‘cause he will never make/ the things oh baby that you make”, so obviously it’s an enthusiastic, effervescent paen to what Sydneysiders will understand as rooting.
They really know how to do beginnings. “Nothing to Do”opens with a tight, note-perfect train-ride down a mountain, sliding along cliffs before slowing to a series of drifts, the constant changes in tempo handled with dexterity and aplomb. The Sonic Race are tight as your cat’s bumhole.
“Return to Hell”is the title track, and it’s a stand-out …winds blow over whatever the Spanish call a prairie beneath a nasty moon…like the beginning of one of those vengeance Westerns, really. End of side one, I suspect, it’s a huge slab propped up, as with all their songs, by the interplay of the two guitars; one surfs, the other strikes; one supports, the other looks great; every now and again they’re both in lock-step like a pair of jackhammers. I bet The Sonic Race are a sight to see.
“Voice of Night”: pinch yourself. Could this be a lost Saints out-take? Not with lyrics like “your natural instinct eclipses your mind/ and drags you to a new sin”…but it’s a close call…
A glorious feedbacky opening, then ’Magic Things’stuffs the loot into its sack and we’re off out the window on another trip in a stolen Porsche …pinch yourself, could this be a Masuak out-take? “In my life I need nothing/ That makes me feel like an unhappy man/ I only need these simple things.”
“Mr Hyde" has a brilliant opening comes from either a radio or film version of the famous story. “I’m sorry for all the things I’ve made/ But tonight I will betray myself again”; yes, I’d say Antunez gets what Stevenson’s allegory was about; if you’ve never read the original, film versions make it seem far more exciting. It’s not a thriller, but it is plain unpleasant. Because it unveils a reality in all of us. Sorry, can’t type, too busy dancing…
“Snake Girl”is one of those rocking songs which hair bands across the world should cover (particularly American ones) …it is of course, about dangerous women and how men in tight pants, make-up and tall boots fear them. The big difference is that Antunez envisages a life beyond the lies; ‘I need to save my life from you’is as poignant as it gets, and hair bands don’t comprehend shit like that, which is why they should cover “Snake Girl”: so they don’t always sound like Mr Floppy.
Do The Sonic Race have any crap beginnings? “Revolution Seed”is no exception, and if you’ve paused for breath you’re soon up dancing a hole in the carpet again. “We kill all that makes us living/ Makes us really rich”…and then comes the kicker. “But tonight a new race is coming down…”Given that the twin guitar assault crown is up for grabs these days, I’d say The Sonic Race have more than a passing comprehension of the Australian interpretation …I’d love to see just how powerful Mr Antunez is on a stage as well.
Incendiary beginning to “Radiation”, then, one of those complex series of chord and rhythm changes charge us down; if The Sonic Race are about anything, they’re about the celebration of the human spirit over adversity, the adrenaline rush of living a real life instead of a boring one fretting over tax brackets and ugly antiques, and fighting against the stupidity all around us.
When they responded to me, their: “The Sonic Race here in Spain trying to do our humble tribute to the great Australian bands that have influenced us ever”, I can only reply by saying, “Gentlemen, you’re doing a lot more than a tribute.”
Dig ‘em, The Sonic Race are young, they’re relevant, and they’re on fire.
Although we’re not quite in five bottle territory, we’re well and truly over four. You figure it out. Either way, bang it on and bang it out, brothers and sisters…you need The Sonic Race.