Think of someone who’s used raw talent to get to where they are today; odds are, Frank Carter is better than 95% of them. Leaving Gallows at what was essentially the peak of their success was a real ‘jump the shark’ moment, and when Pure Love tried a similarly ambitious tactic, they were left dead in the water. Few would’ve predicted that Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes would’ve yielded different results, but their debut album Blossom took Carter to new career heights, from appearing as a mainstay on Radio 1 to his first performance in any band on the Reading and Leeds Main Stage. And bear in mind, Blossom was by no means a compromise in sound, melding searing hardcore bile with an anthemic sensibility that Pure Love had leant too heavily on.
With all that in mind, the initial listen to Modern Ruin may be slightly disorienting. For one, the ratio between melody and white-hot fury has been shifted in favour of the favour of the former, with considerably fewer of the hardcore snarls that characterised their debut. But before anyone goes throwing out that ‘S’ word they so love to use whenever a band pivots towards a more melodic sound, Modern Ruin is anything but a straight listen. If anything, this is a much weirder album that Blossom ever got, twisting the rage of that album into something a lot more sinister. Lullaby is a primary example of this, with its mangled alt-rock gallop and Carter dropping into the scratched half-croon that careens through most of this album. If that’s not enough, there’s also the spaghetti western guitars and chanting in the bridge of Vampires and the slab-dragging blues of Real Life to show that, while the traditional touchstones of punk are essentially foreign concepts here, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have tapped into something that’s a lot more sonically colourful and expressive, but no less exciting. Even in its lowest ebbs like on the tapping, synthetic drums of White Flowers or the almost psychedelic passages on Acid Veins, the instrumental expressiveness is huge, all tied together with Carter’s natural charisma.
But when taking into account the stripping back of Blossom‘s core sound for this album, the area undoubtedly under the most scrutiny comes in the lyrics, and whether the unfettered rage of the band’s debut has been scrapped altogether to fit the sound. And really, Modern Ruin is not as angry as Blossom, partly because of the higher prevalence of actual singing, but also because the anger isn’t as concentrated here, rested at the back rather than front and centre. It works damn well too, played with more tact and restraint rather than taking wide-angle shots at anything and everything. It’s the reason that I Hate You was the best song on Blossom, with a bluesy lurch that delivered its bite with less intensity but with a more longstanding impact. It’s the same structure that Modern Ruin is built around, and with the thematic nucleus of this album being love and relationships, it leaves the anger and bitterness to curdle in the background in a way that really sticks. There’s an undercurrent of throbbing anxiety that lies beneath the failed relationship of Wild Flowers, and the self-interrogation and loathing of Snake Eyes and God Is My Friend are bellied by Carter’s breaking vocals and the closest dances to screams without really picking up on them.
But for anyone who still isn’t convinced that this is still the same Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, draw your attention to the album’s dual centrepiece Jackals and Thunder, the former being a 55-second long blast of energy that adopts the detestable, poisonous rhetoric of anti-immigration lobbyists (“If they make it to the shore / Don’t hesitate, just kill them all”) while the latter outlines the consequences of believing such ideals – violence, war, hatred, death and the unwarranted fear that spurs all of this on. Put together, the tracks work as a microcosm for both of the band’s albums – the short-term effects of hate, brusque and bludgeoning to get a point across, but over time, even though that cloud is still resonant in a dormant state, a more thoughtful and rational approach to dealing with it yields the better results.
And yes, that is saying that Modern Ruin is better than Blossom. That’s not to denigrate the quality of that album by any means but, for as excellent as it was, it could sometimes feel like a smidge too much of a Gallows throwback. On Modern Ruin, the sound that Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have slipped into is not only defiantly unique, but one that carries through the same power and personality with even more nuance. Topped off by being the most compelling vocal performance that Carter has put out in years, and you’ve got 2017’s first essential listen right here.
For fans of: The Bronx, Pup, Tigercub
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Modern Ruin’ by Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes is out now on International Death Cult.