As far back as Josh Scogin’s musical lineage spans – serving as the original vocalist for Norma Jean before breaking away to front The Chariot – he’s never really gotten the recognition he deserves. Even with The Chariot’s end bringing about the typical posthumous appreciation, Scogin himself still remains a notably low-key figure, providing vocals and guitar for ’68 alongside Michael McClellen on drums to little fanfare. To some extent, it’s easy to see why – Scogin’s outfits have always had very abrasive and technical tendencies, and ’68 is no different, even with stripping down to the two-piece dynamic of ragged, raw noise and warping it even further.
As such, sophomore album Two Parts Viper is a weird listen, taking that recognisable blues-rock backdrop and contorting it into weirder shapes, driven by Scogin’s obtuse lyrics and a voice that’s caked in filters and distortion to fully compress it into grimier territory as it drones along in its sleepier, slightly sinister tone. It’s perhaps not a surprise then that the weakest moments here come where these attempts at diversity don’t really work, like the bare-bones guitar setup of No Montage that only ever chases its own tail, or The Workers Are Free which grounds itself in greater shades of hard rock but pushes the already flat and unimpactful vocals too far back in the mix. It’s easy to see what ’68 are going for here, injecting copious shots of more adrenalised, off-the-cuff variety into a typically careful blues-rock sound, but there are parts where the quality control could’ve been tightened a bit more.
That being said, when Two Parts Viper works, it works exceptionally well. It’s definitely one of those cases where the riffs are of greater importance than the lyrics (particularly considering how they’re masked under a layer of fuzz most of the time), and they’re in no short supply, capturing a loosely-tied version of this sound; if Every Time I Die took Royal Blood on a pub crawl, the result would probably sound like this. This Life Is Old, New, Borrowed And Blue alternates between passages of feedback-sodden riffs and swampy blues grooves that might feel a bit bitty in the crossover, but the raw, shouted vocals work brilliantly in both contexts, while the snarling, molasses-thick torrents of guitar on No Apologies and Death Is A Lottery sand off some of the sheen of the Royal Blood formula to let their rawest impulses burst through, especially in the latter with the clanging, discordant sounds ringing in the background. Even in the closer What More Can I Say which is a lot calmer and less wild, there’s still that bloodshot intensity in Scogin’s vocals as the track builds from its gentle guitars with looming clouds of feedback into a sweeping full band outro. It’s definitely the glitziest track on the album with a smoother mix and smatterings of strings and horns, but it never feels mawkish or overdone, and maintains that rock-solid core of ferocity and vigour.
In terms of this, ’68 are the sort of fantastically real act that are never likely to pull any major buzz, but never need to. This is a band that survive on their own exhilarating presentation and nothing else, and with Scogin as the dynamic, unhinged frontman that he is, there’s pulling power across the board. Two Parts Viper might struggle with a similar consistency on a level of quality, but in its best moments, there’s the sort of firebrand power that has almost boundless appeal. Not essential in its entirety, then, but easily worth a few listens on its own.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, Royal Blood, God Damn
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Two Parts Viper’ by ’68 is released on 2nd June on Cooking Vinyl Records.