COPE’s leap into releasing a full album comes at a strange juncture, as it’s one of those cases where it never really seemed like it would actually happen. They got some ears pricked up with a pair of EPs in 2016 and 2017, as a ferocious, conscious hardcore band deeply embedded within the modern sound of the time, but besides a couple of singles in the interim, one could easily be forgiven for thinking that they’d gone the way of so many other fledgling bands and just been unable to keep up. The Shock Doctrine, then, carries a certain amount of weight to it, not only as their first body of work in three years and arriving in a rock scene that’s effectively unrecognisable from that of 2017, but also as a debut looking to establish COPE among those bigger players they’re clearly eager to mingle with. The relative quiet has it coming into view with few expectations, positive or negative, but COPE’s contributions to modern hardcore have almost always felt vital enough to do a lot for them.
But that’s also the problem as The Shock Doctrine proves, with that being all that they really have. It’s albums like this that serve to emphasise how important dynamics can be, even in the heavier, rampaging variety that COPE align themselves with, and when that’s taken away, it makes for a listen that’s volatile but ultimately limited. Even for the nice ideas that The Shock Doctrine has – and the fact that COPE are able to keep pace for its duration – it’s not the sort of album that warrants repeat listens, and for an album that’s looking to zero in on politically-driven rage in particular, it doesn’t hit as hard overall. It’s certainly good for a blast of gnashing fury, but it’s when The Shock Doctrine wants to be more than just that and struggles to reach it that can disappoint most.
Though among all of that, one thing that COPE deserve to be praised for right from the jump is keeping this album as tight and concise as it is. This is an album that clocks in at around twenty-five minutes, arguably the optimum way to ensure a sound as blistering as COPE’s can mitigate burnout, with the unnecessarily extended outro on Influenza proving why such conciseness is the best way to go about. And again, COPE’s particular stripe of rage is one with a lot of potential to connect – there’s plenty of meat to the guitars, almost akin to Every Time I Die or other bands in that vein; the pace is kept even more sweltering thanks to drummer Soloman Radley for whom double-time sits as a consistent standard; and Tom Walker has a meanness to his snarl that really ups the savagery on the likes of I’m Alright, Jack and Empire. Other than the rather perfunctory but harmless interlude Territory Missing, that’s the standard that COPE set on this album, and there’s a guttural sense of power coming from it that’s hard to deny. Add to the a brevity and production that both magnify the band’s very direct sense of operating, and The Shock Doctrine manages to do fairly well when judged on a more blunt hardcore basis.
But as mentioned previously, COPE are looking to be more than that, and while there’s legitimate fury stemming from socio-political ills, it’s not articulated the best here. Life In 3D and Jailbird just about get there with themes that can be generally pieced together amongst the carnage, but it’s ultimately the reliance on that carnage that limits The Shock Doctrine that most. Modulation is in incredibly short supply here, and that turns what are supposed to be enormous, biting messages into just another source of noise that’s a rallying cry by volume and little else. That seems to be rectified more on Influenza where there’s a more prominent hook that anchors everything around it, but other than that, The Shock Doctrine comes down to little more than flurries of adrenalised aggression where the consciousness is in the context and can occasionally be parsed out further. There’s no deny that the incendiary nature of the execution has a lot going for it, but the need to step back and let the message ring out on its own is just as necessary, and it’s not something that COPE strike upon too often.
If that balance could be hit, COPE would have something really potent on their hands here, an album that feels relevant and righteous combined with a sound that’s equally so. But when the focus shifts more heavily to letting the pure power rage across the album with little restraint, that makes it seem more one-dimensional than it actually is. And that’s not what The Shock Doctrine is; there’s a good, potentially great album somewhere in here, and COPE have shown in the past that they’re perfectly capable of weaving more melody into their work. That hasn’t happened here though, and it does sadly lower the quality to something that’s only pretty alright instead of more definitively strong. It’s still worth a look, but perhaps there won’t be as much gained from that as there could be.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, Feed The Rhino, Gallows
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Shock Doctrine’ by COPE is released on 22nd May on COPE Music.