Since unveiling mini-album, The Young Knives…Are Dead, back in 2002, Young Knives have continually stretched their sounds and imaginations which in turn has just as dramatically stretched the equivalent of their fans. Across four subsequent full-lengths, the trio has preyed on particular human seeded themes to breed tracks and releases as memorable as they often are startling. After seven years Young Knives return with a new proposition which quite simply is their most unsettling, extraordinary and irresistible yet.
Barbarians is a collection of songs and thoughts said to be seeded in the book Straw Dogs by philosopher John Gray and a humanity across the world which just seems to want to live up to the album’s moniker with often a seemingly infernal glee. There is an intimacy in its songs which suggest that there is an inherent inhumanity and callousness in us all; as the band themselves say, “we are obsessed with self and social improvement, but we don’t get any better as human beings. What if cruelty to others is just part of who we are? How do we live with that?”
The album is a clamour of noise and imagination, each song set in the space between emotional disorder and clarity within a release as schizophrenic as it is nihilistically enlightening. Its sound defies exact description as Barbarians stands simultaneously harrowing and arousing, its light sinister and darkness traumatic but from start to finish it is the most riveting, refreshing and addictively exciting proposal heard in many years and the full pleasure starts from its very first breath.
Swarm is an immediate clang on the senses; its melodic discord a compelling radiance as psych breathed vocals join the enthralling invasive post punk smog. The Dartnell brothers, Henry and The House of Lords with drummer Oliver Askew alongside are no strangers to holding court on ears and eager attention but maybe never quite as voraciously as in the first minutes of Barbarians. Tenebrific electronics add to the throng from which contagion woven grooves and tenacious rhythms burst, the trespass only escalating in temptation and impact.
The outstanding start is swiftly matched by Society for Cutting Up Men and its portentous rumble. Prowling ears from its first throb, the song is as much temptation as warning, Henry and Lords united in dextrous temptation as their words weave rich intimation within similarly potent industrial punk scented sounds. As guitar threads entwine the constant electronic hum and the senses chipping of Oliver, captivation was thick and undiluted and swiftly echoed in its successor Jenny Haniver. Its initial melodic caress is soon shaded by a darker breath, a seduction of voice as quickly igniting thoughts upon the track’s fictional carcass of suggestion. There is an XTC like hue to the attraction, its lure warm yet fateful as the shadows infesting the imagination.
Red Cherries saunters in next, its catchy body sway though soon revealing a deceit and shelter for an infestation of noise and turbulence. Even so, within the eruption melodic and vocal luminosity glows as noir lit dub and experimental prowess grips attention, In no time the song becomes a cauldron of invention and magnetism which ebbs and flows in its challenge without ever lessening its ravening times feral, temptation.
Rising up upon the imagination next is I Am Awake, its growth calm and tempting around the again compelling vocals of the brothers. There is a tempestuousness suggested within its blossoming but a shadow which keys and enterprise embrace, each offering Fad Gadget-esque hues to the rapture before Holy Name ’68 sparks the imagination with its sepia toned oceanic choir, another awakening of intrigue before the album which is soon a lustful recipient of the album’s title track.
Even with the glories around it, Barbarians is easily our favourite track. From its opening Fight Club like street combat the song gripped attention, only tightening its hold second by second as noise and melodic causticity shape the emerging drama; the song stalking the listener throughout and around breaks into an eager contagion of energy and intent as its hunt bursts with zeal. Hooks and barbs litter the infestation of imagination; hip hop, rock, and art punk all entangled in its rapacious triumph across an unrelentingly eventful landscape and its echo of a persecution of life by a stronger protagonist.
Sheep Tick is another tapestry of sound which wonderfully festered under the skin in quick time, every electronic and vocal incitement sparking bolder off-kilter propositioning which equally enslaved. Haunting like an inescapable nightmare yet seducing with a temptation which barely hides its threat, the song just beguiled as it trespassed while the following Only a God enticed with an almost somnambulistic drone and air. All the while though it is building a turbulence which breaks with a PiL meets Girls In Synthesis like antipathy that smothered as it ignited the senses for another particularly fascinating and thrilling clash of sound and creativity.
What I Saw brings the album to a close; the track a web of threat and commination presented in a similarly entrapping swirl of noise and discord. Deep within its sonic tempest though, melodic suggestion and vocal intimation stake their hold, each raw in their touch and captivating in their appetite drawing bait. It is a magnificent end to a record which from its first touch had us trapped and lustfully devouring and only heightened its victory by the listen with each subsequent play revealing new depths and greater imagination within a glorious encounter which is not only the Young Knives greatest moment but creatively maybe this year’s.
Barbarians is released 18th September via Gadzook.
Pete RingMaster 03/09/2020