Last year London punk band The Duel set the pulse rate racing with their impressive feast of nostalgic yet completely fresh sounds on the album All Aboard The Crazy Train. Now they return with an adventurous and intriguing release Soundtrack To The End Of The World (The Zak Splash Story), an album no less impressive or captivating. Admittedly it does not have the more instant engagement which marked the previous release, its songs like old friends with a modern outlook, but the new album is arguably a deeper and more expansive creature. It takes its time to seduce and charm the senses, its sounds at times surprising and ideas refreshingly inventive, but the end result is the same, the captivation of the heart with the fullest pleasure given along the way.
Since its beginning in 2001 when vocalist Tara Rez and keyboardist / bassist Andy Theirum linked up, The Duel has gone from strength to strength. From its debut gig supporting the Dead Kennedys, through the supporting of the likes of Buzzcocks, The Vibrators, Vice Squad, Peter Hook, UK Subs, The Slits, Sham 69, and Angelic Upstarts, festival appearances and across its albums Let’s Finish What We Started and Childish Behavior, 2007 and 2009 respectively,plus of course All Aboard The Crazy Train, the band has reaped and incited enthused acclaim and a growing loyal fan base. The new release arguably will have many stepping back a little as its sounds sink in fully but it is imaginable that many will not be fully enamoured by it.
The track simply called Intro immediately lights up the senses, a fiery instrumental with a sharp melodic enterprise and steely attitude which is a delicious treat for the ear. Sounding like a cross between the instrumentals Rondo (The Midgets Revenge) by The Dickies and the Buzzcocks track Late For The Train, the piece is an absorbing and infectious companion and sets one up eagerly for the following song Invincible.
With guitars flashing their sonic sparks and a heavy bass swaying in between, the song lifts off with the vocals of Rez, her tones as pleasing and compelling as ever. The production means the strokes of guitarist Thanos Oscar Pap dominate the sound of the track though not to any real detriment. The vocals and bass of Chris McDougall, as well as the keys of Thierum and drums of Pumpy, are meshed together to create a grazing intensity yet still hold their clarity. It takes a second play to understand how it works but it does, the slightly bruising energy of the song leading the ultimately electric charge.
Less Everyday is the first song to venture away from expectations in sound, whereas its predecessor was a punk cored gem this song has a more teasing new wave caress to its still bristling breath. There is a resonance which appears throughout the album to the vocal sound of Rez offering a warm and mesmeric flavouring. To be honest one did not expect to say this but there is a definite Altered Images feel to this song and other moments later on in the album. It is a great aspect to the sound though, the glowing pop charms aligning easily and skillfully with the bristling attitude driven heart of the band.
The magnetic Fake Like You has the same gait to its swagger whilst sitting between the two, You Can Do It is a rock n roll stroll which flares with tight melodies and belligerence. As these and subsequent songs light up the senses, and the slight surprise at the evolution of sound from the band ebbs away, the pleasure only goes deeper. Songs like the excellent Love Me Do, bringing a brew of Penetration and Animal Alpha to its midst, and the slightly abrasive and raw Splash On You featuring Max Splodge (Splodgenessabounds), ensure the treats keep coming, whilst the closing gem of When The Fire Goes Out is sonic radiance. It burns but soothes the wounds with crafted rays of melodic warmth musically and vocally. Infectious and vibrant with coaxing whispers upon the ear, the track is a delicious smile of post punk invention and pop punk grace.
Going back to the beginning of the album and it is not the track Intro; it opens with Zak Splash Story. A forty minute tale of the fictitious Zak Splash narrated by Max Splodge, the track merges all the songs on the album into the narrative proving the songs work as part of dare one say a ‘punk opera’ or individually, though one suspects the latter is how the majority of eager listens will be made.
Soundtrack To The End Of The World is a credible piece of imagination with its tracks nothing less than satisfying and enthralling. The Duel has been to the fore of UK punk for the past few years and shows no signs of leaving their position to anyone else as the album proves.
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