Brutality can be beautiful
So I Could Have Them Destroyed – The Hard-Ons (Music Farmers)
We need to talk. Oh, yes, we do.
There were doubts about this one. I’d seen the songs played live. Whether it was unfamiliarity or just an off night, to these ears the set didn’t gel. It cried out for more light and less shade. Ease off that pedal-to-the-metal thing, baby. Not in a greatest hits way, but maybe with the odd well-chewed pop bone thrown in. It wasn’t bad. Just not earth shattering.
Then the album arrived and hit the disc player.
Crunch and melody. Brutality and beauty. Yin and yang. Power to burn. Unbridled joy from a bunch of guys playing what they want to play together. Energy oozes from each song.
Call it pop-punk-metal-proto-rock. Whatever rocks your boat. It defies easy pigeon-holing - just as the Hard-Ons have defeated expectations that they could never reach a new audience. They’ve done that and also delivered one of the strongest records of their long career.
This is the first new Hard-Ons album in five years and the first as a four-piece. You probably know that original vocalist-drummer Keish is back and he’s ceded his old engine room job and now hangs off a centre-stage mic. Murray Ruse is driving things from the stool and doing a mighty fine job.
Blackie still sings the odd song and is a monster on guitar. Ray is peerless as both a bassist and conversationalist. No easy feat at the same time. Seriously, he plays the bass guitar role to pefection - meaning that at times you barely know he's there because he's so deeply ingrained into the band's sound.
The Hard-Ons’ strength has been an innate ability to genre-hop and marry melody to power. Punk’s never far from the surface of the songs but the Hard-Ons’ have never recognised musical boundaries. They’re as likely to chow down on some monstrous chugging hard rock riff as check out that pretty pop-punk girl in a sweater.
Not being a big metal fan, some of the Hard-Ons’ deviations into the Land of Sabbath have rankled at times. Maybe the Sab reference isn’t quite right, but you dig the drift. The brassier guitar tones and showy runs that the Hard-Ons have explored never did it. It was me, not them, although the odd bit of filler and spotty production stiood out. No such issues here. On opening track “Made to Love You”, for example, the band has embraced the metal genre’s excess and welded it to hardcore’s brutality. Oh, wow.
“Float” occupies similar sonic territory, hurtling down twin hot rails to hell on distorto guitars and treated vocals. Murray Ruse’s death metal background (that sub-genre is a stab in the dark) comes into its own on htis one. The singalong chorus that plays tag with the guitar at the end will confound and delight. C'mon, you know you want to join in..
The yin and yang mentioned earlier is a dichotomy that bobs up constantly on these 14 songs. This is a lot of the attraction. You’ll never die wondering where “So I Could Have them…” is going. There are places where it touches on the experimentation of Blackie and Ray’s other band Nunchukka Superfly, but it’s mostly a platform for the collective and broad tastes of them and their bandmates.
“Not Just For a Day” might seem like a well-placed pop respite from all this sturm und drang and a little inconsequential at first blush, but repeated plays reveal it to be an understated sleeper with its nuanced lyrics and capivating melody that both recall simpler times. Soulful guitar-work is the icing on this cake and it’s the sort of tune that Andy Shernoff could have written.
The pop-flecked paintwork of muscle car “Midnight” is splattered by guitar licks that sound positively new wave, aided and abetted by some jagged Blackie soloing and a sweet vocal. “Harder and Harder” ups the punk-pop ante and aces it. It’s an obvious choice for a single. Nobody else plays this stuff so well.
This is probably yhe best sounding Hard-Ons album, too.
“So I Could Have Them Destroyed” is 38 minutes of world-class rock and roll. No punk, metal or pop tag needs to be appended. Get it.