Meryl Streek’s 796 begins, appropriately, with The Start, a collage of news clips about child sexual abuse at the hands of priests within the Catholic Church in Ireland, and that sets the tone for what’s to come rather definitively. It’s in the grand tradition of working-class heroes throwing themselves into the fire of modern political climates designed to rend apart rather than bring together, only now with the incendiary might of a man witnessing the effects of such corruption on a borderline unprecedented scale.
Thus, 796 is relentless in its intent. It’s about as true to the punk ethos as you’re likely to see, rough and unkempt without even an attempt made to hide its deliberately artless confrontation. But even compared to others in a similar vein, Streek’s vision is undoubtedly forward-thinking rather than resting on the laurels of past incarnations. It’s the benefit of a singular creative force that’s holding this album aloft as high as it is, allowing for an even more gnashing, uncensored body of work, but also in painting Streek as the fearless individual ready to tear down whatever stands in his way.
He’s one hell of a frontman when it comes to embodying that figure, and it’s almost all down to his delivery. It’d be an overstatement to say that he sings on this album, as he instead speaks through street poetry with a clear axe to grind that informs some pretty unparalleled intensity. Especially on Suicide, the building rage and bile is palpable, heavied by an Irish accent that makes his volleys sound all the more venomous. Meanwhile, Death To The Landlord plays out like a manifesto for uprising carried by the weight of its sentiment and delivery, and Educated Mates even dips into bits of gallows humour, albeit not so much that its vicious intent is compromised.
He’s an ideal presence to deliver material like this in the way he does, on an album that revels in its tar-thick gloom which looking for solace in beating down those who’ve propagated it. The Church regularly circles back into focus, on False Apologies and the title track that recount their attempts to paper over the atrocities they’ve caused, trying to make amends with little to no action taken to get there. Pulling out even further back though, 796’s greatest target is the Irish government as a whole, not only protecting the Church but doing so at the expense of the working classes who continue to bear the brunt of austerity. That’s present on No Justice and Educated Mates, in snapshots of normal people beaten down by a system deliberately designed to oppose them.
It’s no wonder that 796 is as militant as it is then, though musically is where it’s at its least compelling to analyse. Granted, some of that does feel by design, with a lot of the droning punk bass—especially on the longer tracks—being there more as a means to magnify Streek’s own performance. Again, he can do a lot to make this particular instrumental palette work more, with lyrics that regularly feel off-the-cuff and hone in on the more primal end of punk, or even dalliances with more industrial soundscapes like on Matter Of Fact. Outside of the lilting, soulful horns on the title track—one of the very limited instances of true musical levity—796 operates more through the cold and the oppressive in terms of sound, though it’s practically impossible to say that’s not earned. In what’s encroaching on an hour as Streek trudges through the broken, grey landscape around him, what’s portrayed on this album is the perfect soundtrack for it.
Of course, 796 isn’t concerned with mass appeal when that’s the prevailing image it gives off, though that’s to its great benefit. Streek isn’t lacking for unrestrained intensity, and that translates into a thrilling, pummelling listen without even a lick of artifice among it. This is as raw and real as it gets, delivered by an artist on no one’s wavelength but his own, to his tremendous effect through and through. One of the most worthwhile listens you’ll come across in a long time, if only to see true artistic rigour at its apex.
For fans of: Witch Fever, Crows, Ho99o9
‘796’ by Meryl Streek is released on 4th November on Venn Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall