On paper, it makes a lot of sense for Grade 2 to signed to Hellcat, the imprint of Epitaph run by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong. He’s got a predilection for roughshod, rabble-rousing British punk that’s been made rather apparent over the years, and at a time when that particular description seems to be surging in pertinence not entirely unlike the underground explosions of the ‘70s, Grade 2 are clearly being positioned among the next crucial voices to come from that particular scene. After all, early days of playing covers of The Stranglers and The Jam would suggest a band at least somewhat in touch with their roots (which, although fairly minimal, is more than can be said for some in their position), and support slots with both past and present Hellcat alumni in the Dropkick Murphys and The Interrupters respectively puts the onus on a band for whom the Armstrong Seal Of Approval feels all too natural.
More so than that though, Graveyard Island gives the impression that Grade 2 could well be the next band to bring a wave of charged, irrefutably catchy punk to a mainstream level in the wake of Idles and the doors they’ve opened, such is the mark that it leaves. This is far from complex or mind-bending music, but with its attitude and quintessentially British snark, it hits every other mark damn near perfectly. The classic punk sensibility is one thing, but there’s nothing overly basic or archaic in Grade 2’s approach, and given that it never overstays its welcome, Graveyard Island ultimately feels like essential listening for a dose of feisty, to-the-point punk.
And again, this isn’t complicated stuff, but the rapidity and fat-free way in which Grade 2 set the scene and lay their points down replaces that with a much more efficient and effective tactic for punk like this. The British landscape they talk about is familiar, ravaged by violence and austerity on the title track, Murder Town and Bowling Green Lane, while invasions of privacy on Tired Of It and increased unemployment on Johnny Aggro and J.S.A remain as real issues. Thus, there’s a necessary amount of grit and grime that comes through in the writing, hitting each piece of imagery and descriptor with enough force to hammer home the point, but never lingering on it for too long. It’s a succinctness that draws one of the clearest parallels to classic British punk, but stands distinctly within the modern day in by the glimpses of positivity that lends just the right amount of balance, like on Look UP or the sense of community on Dover Street. Its simplicity is enormously effective even though there’s nothing all that technically impressive, and while that could certainly be a knock against it, there’s enough cycled through on Graveyard Island to work regardless.
Perhaps where Grade 2 shine the most, though, is when they combine those British punk sensibilities with a playing and production style that’s clearly rooted in the American punk of the ‘90s and 2000s. That’s not really surprising considering Armstrong’s role as producer, but in stepping away from the ragged, grainier style that, in a lot of cases, hasn’t aged that well, Graveyard Island more tightly balances its speed and condensed track lengths with rousing anthemia to hit all the harder. For as obvious as the touchstones to particular bands can be (i.e. the opening bassline of Don’t Look Back having an almost uncanny resemblance to that of Green Day’s St. Jimmy), Grade 2 seem particularly comfortable in leaning into this sound, with the likes of Tired Of It and Murder Town having the chunky melodies well-suited to their sense of pace and vigour, while Look UP brings in horns and pianos in what’s pretty much a customary move for a Tim Armstrong-associated project, but they’re fantastically integrated to give a real sense of levity that the more positive lyrical content benefits from.
None of this is particularly startling or showing an inventiveness superior to what’s come before, but in terms of working with the pieces they’ve been given and knuckling down to create a great, straightforward punk album, it’s hard to think of a better example in recent memory than Graveyard Island. It’s about as classic in execution and mindset as it comes, and for a genre like punk that’s had a bit of an identity crisis within the mainstream in recent times and has only just begun to get back on track, the potential that Grade 2 have to advance the scene in the UK is hugely exciting. There’s a lot more to come here, and off the back of a release this strong, it’s going to be enormously exciting.
For fans of: The Clash, Green Day, Rancid
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Graveyard Island’ by Grade 2 is released on 11th October on Hellcat Records.