It is probably fair to say that most punks know the history of, impact, and importance to the genre UK’s Rubella Ballet has made since forming at a Crass gig in 1979. Built around the nucleus of Sid Truelove and Zillah Minx the band brought intensive colour musically and visually to an anarcho/gothic punk scene. Their subsequent course saw the band perform two John Peel sessions and release from the first dramatic Ballet Bag cassette only unleashing of 1981, a trio of albums, and a mass of singles and 12” encounters as well as numerous collections. Live the band toured and supported the likes of Crass, Death Cult, and the Poison Girls amongst a great many whilst helping upcoming bands such as Ritual, Sex Gang Children, Ausgang, and Skeletal Family. As said most know the background to Rubella Ballet and their presence, the band summed up recently as, “They were the band who bridged the gaps between The Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex, and Crass.”
That is history though, important but belongs to the past. What is relevant to the now is the release of their new album Planet Punk, the first release of new material since 1986’s album If, an album declared by the majority as their finest moment. That was until the uncaging of Planet Punk, a quite extraordinary and fascinating provocation which sits boldly on the frontline of the pinnacle of punk releases in recent years. A release which provokes thought, passions, and feet like an ingenious puppeteer; a sonic devil which sits on the shoulder inciting and teasing until it has wormed under the skin and is riding the psyche in an irrepressibly diverse punk rodeo. Sid Truelove and Zillah Minx have conjured one of the most riveting and invigorating rebellions to sit alongside the likes of the recent Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Visions album When…? and the new Waging War full-length from The Duel as important propositions within punk rock.
From the opening title track the London band and release strikes at the heart of world and social wrongs, the like of banks, the illuminate, and the Hillsborough Stadium disaster amongst many things under a spotlight in the fifteen track creative tempest. The songs never preach and shove opinions down the throat though, just inform, inspire, and give their own premise. The first song instantly takes the listener and imagination back to the band’s early days, its old school stomp and breath a pervading suasion entwined with middle finger bred grooves and combative vocals which have a modern day eyeballing maturity. With sharp hooks and fiery dynamics, the song is a glorious spark to set Planet Punk off, its title track an instant trigger to the agonist dormant in us all.
The excellent start is swiftly matched and pushed to a new plateau by both All Potential Terrorists and Run Run. The first, spawned by 9/11, thrusts angry riffs and rapacious rhythms at the ear as the magnetic tones of Minx ripple with intensity and antagonism. Clad in contagious resourceful sounds, the track rampages irresistibly but then twists the scenery into a delicious darker incitement as Truelove adds his vocal suasion into a mix now coursing with warnings and sirens as well as startling enterprise. It is hard uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll at its best, guitars flaming with a reserved yet bright flame within the imposing scenario. Its successor stalks and prowls around its victims, the banks. Again samples as in the previous pair colour the landscape, their information courted by throaty basslines and predatory riffs which Minx manipulates further with her vocal confrontations. There is a raw air to the song; every aspect ablaze with a caustic glaze which only adds to the narrative whilst within the unrelenting menace the essences of bands like Fatal Microbes and The Molesters only enhances the pleasure.
The album continues to get stronger and more dramatically thrilling as each track infests senses and imagination, the next up Killuminati climbing another step with its voracious heavily weighted riffs which ooze ravenous hunger. The rhythms are just as full of rabidity but as ears succumb to their pressure the band suddenly explodes with a kaleidoscope of invention and ingenuity, the imposing Truelove vocal lead joined by soaring flumes of Minx’s symphonic seduction. At its core the track is an antagonistic brawl but with all the riveting twists of invention now at play equally soaked in the predation which drives the song from the start, the encounter is one of those moments you can only use the word classic for.
The bewitching Pandora’s Box has its designs on that mantel too, and achieves it with a sirenesque portentous hymn. It is a song which seduces and slowly swarms all over senses and passions, a mix of Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Duel, but as in all cases any references are just a hint to the startling originality. The album’s greatest offering, the track is as sinister and compelling as the science it is prowling, Minx at her glorious whilst the songwriting and invention of the band could be best described in literary terms as Frankenstein meets Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Both the equally chilling and ominously glazed Anonymous and the insatiable Hellbilly Heroin fire up body and emotions next, the first a captivating slice of bleak cyber punk and its successor, a track seemingly looking at Truelove’s own health problems and issues with drugs, their effect and ownership, is a honest and uncomplicated punk rock roar which pulls no punches. Both songs without matching the previous tracks, a level always going to be hard to maintain, easily ignite another wave of hunger in the appetite for the album which Bio Hazard instantly reinforces with its accusing web of sonic enterprise aligned to the temptress tones of Minx, its bait and lyrical canvas enthralling.
Through the absorbing stark infectious lure of Silver Or Lead, a song with aspects of calling All Astronauts to its presence, and the heavy rock smog of Wonderful Life, the album continues to find new impressive ways to light the passions, the second of the pair an incitement thick in intensity and robustly smothering sound which is speared and lit with the oppression tempering croon of Minx. It is a mouthwatering intimidating mix which is equalled in success by the coarse pop punk vivacity of You’ll Be Sorry and then the crunchy charred sound of Sedition. Both tracks in their unique ways embroil sounds of the late seventies and modern multi-flavoured punk into an irresistible uncompromising proposition. It is fair to say that the album is not as strong in its latter stages as its blisteringly inventive start, the songs at this point, more direct and straightforward then strikingly dramatic but still wholly addictive.
The final trio of songs are a mixed bag starting off with the outstanding Victory For The Victims. The imposing heavy bass within seconds flicks the switch to return the imagination to the heights which opened the album, quickly contradicting our just mentioned thought at that point. It is a minimalistic song in many ways looking at Hillsborough, but stunningly effective as it enslaves and invigorates thoughts and emotions. Its triumph is then matched by the brilliant Vampire Wedding, a dark gothic waltz equipped with Sister Of Mercy like rhythmic seduction and Sunglasses After Dark shadows which is then transformed further with bloodlusting angelic charm and vocal imagination.
The album concludes with Starship Transporter, a spatial flight of acidic colour and celestial sonic weaves narrated by Minx. It is a decent enough song but fails to come anywhere near the other tracks on the album though admittedly it still makes a provocative and skilfully sculpted end to an exceptionally tantalising and thrilling release. There may be a vast amount of time between new material but Rubella Ballet has not been resting on laurels instead designing and honing an evolution of presence and sound which in so many ways sets a new template for punk bands and fans to been inspired by. Planet Punk is the band’s best release with ease and a definite album of the year contender.
Planet Punk is available via Overground Records on all formats now!
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