Those underwhelmed by Frank Turner’s return to hardcore with Mongol Horde, step this way. EXES are, to these still-ringing ears at any rate, the best ‘new’ band of their ilk, of British birth, to have exploded into life since those red-raw early Million Dead recordings.
The foursome counts amongst previous (and present) credits bands like Tropics, Narrows, Bullet Union and Meet Me In St Louis. It’s the latter two that exhibit the most notable presence across these 10 tracks – drums (Paul Phillips), bass (Lewis Reynolds) and guitar (Oli Knowles) all called MMISL home before that twisting-and-turning post-hardcore crew called it quits, while vocalist Jodie Cox fronted London punks Bullet Union, whose 2005 LP ‘Ruins Domino’ remains an underrated gem of home-grown heaviness.
So the name EXES makes sense, for there’s certainly proof of past successes on ‘Phantasmaboring’ – but, evidently energised like never before, the band of right now absolutely smashes any and all expectations born of such highly regarded heritage. There’s so much density here, such depth and delicious discordance that it doesn’t take long for this collection to begin nudging (soon-to-be-former) favourites from their perches. It’s the best work these musicians have ever committed to record.
Now, full disclosure: I’m friendly with the band. I was on a stag do with the singer only a few weeks ago. But that hardly affected my enthusiasm for EXES, as – again, honestly – I didn’t even put ‘Phantasmaboring’ on properly until this morning. It came out on Monday, so I’m a day late – much more than that actually, given how long I’ve had the songs on my laptop for. So, apologies to the band for my tardiness. But let me say, hand on heart, to anyone now doubting the score below: these guys could be complete strangers, and I’d still have played this album five times in a row.
Which is exactly what I have done. And now it’s on a sixth play. Since starting work, it’s all I’ve had on, loudly, in my headphones. When I write, up there, “still-ringing ears”, they really are, right now. I should probably give myself a break – but then, sleep is for the week, right? (Nudge, wink.)
‘Nations’ opens, all depth-charge bass and circling guitars with knives for teeth. When Cox comes in, it’s like he’s deliberately setting himself up as the party pooper, as he just doesn’t sound capable of matching the menace of the music around him – until, inevitably, he does, just seconds after you’re ready to chalk him up as a weak link. I’ve been hearing this guy sing for, what, 10 years? He sounds absolutely fantastic here. He switches from intimate tones to beastly bellows with rare poise. Come the end of the first track, bass isn’t so much channelling British influences as the beautiful Swedish brutality of Breach’s ‘Kollapse’.
Which sets the scene for the percussive turbulence of ‘Forge’ and ‘In The Eyes’, tracks that lean towards Refused over more down-the-line punk predecessors. The dizzy riffs of MMISL past come into focus on the latter, while they’re strangled into haunting screeches for ‘Bottle Green’, another effort from the heaviest end of this band’s pretty bloody weighty spectrum. ‘Lightless’ is rather more Hot Snakes than ‘Snakes For The Divine’, but stops short of that band’s sprightlier characteristics. ‘Shining’, meanwhile, is a black hole at the album’s penultimate spot, threatening to swallow everything that’s come before, six-and-a-half minutes of celestial annihilation.
After that, the wild thrash of ‘You’re Welcome’ is a welcome refresher, but slightly anti-climactic after what immediately preceded it. But it’s hardly a downer, guilty only of sounding the slightest bit meek by comparison to rather more malignant arrangements it shares a sequence with.
So, yeah: this is brilliant. Basically. I’m totally made up for the men behind it, because it’s a pretty definitive document of their abilities. That they’re friends might mean I get a pint bought somewhere down the line (yeah, right) – but it won’t be for this review, which comes guilt-free, with absolute sincerity and complete transparency. ‘Phantasmaboring’ is one of the best hardcore albums you’ll hear all year. It’s got light and life, aggression and control. And it’s on for a seventh time.
Words: Mike Diver
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Listen to the album in full, above, and buy direct from the band here.
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