Punk can try to act allergic to gimmicks as much as it wants, theatricality suits it. Even since its infant heyday we’ve seen the birth of leatherclad clothes-pin fashion, horror and B-movie aesthetics, anti-political slogans and activism, rockabilly, hooligans, you name it. Maybe punk’s simplistic and riling sound demands a USP. For Philadelphia’s Poison Ruïn, that means tales of medieval strife and hardship, without dragons and capes.
And why not? As lyricist Max Kennedy pens, harkening back to old legends only remodels the dark sides of Arthurian Romances, Icelandic Sagas and The Canterbury Tales for modern times: satirical slights at the ongoing oppression from ruling classes. Kennedy’s a fan of the Dark Ages’ drab yet mystical allure—the “interactive, almost magical realist element”—which doesn’t detract from our ongoing existence all that much. We can try to think we’re not warring factions trampling on others and depleting reserves for financial gain, like the distant gnashing and barbaric soundscapes of Härvest’s introduction, but nothing changes. “Rot, face down, in the gutter covered in flies”, as Kennedy yelps over string bends and old school punky stuff, is a visceral way to put it, but the scene of feudal peasants and money grabbing lords playing out on the title track is an only slightly-OTT way to describe the way of the world. Very much so, “there’s a pox on the land the manor demands, but the sickle is in your hand”. The high cost of living sucks for us all; hearing it clamour metaphorically over fist-pumping punk “woy-oyys!” makes it sound the perfect time for raucous revolution.
The four certainly play fully into their imaginary ye olde days realm, just without the need for dressing up as knights. You almost expected it from their LIVE FROM THE OUBLIETTE show, but still, its grainy black and white The Seventh Seal intro card and retro throwbacks brought the fun factor along with this package of music. Tome of Illusion is speedy woodland hunt with indiscernible vocals and the best display of short ‘n’ sweet Danzig-era Misfits simplicity. Resurrection I & II are the centrepiece of what they’re trying to do: a wicked, folkloric punk train in vain. On Bastard’s Dance, a macabre line dance announcer instructs to “grapple a partner ring, ring around, whirling in pain”. It’s a take on the Midsommar scene that overflows into the ring, ring circle pit and Iron Maiden shred of Torture Chamber where, duly, Kennedy wails “torture chambeerrrr!” into a fade out.
That’s not to say this is a staple School of Punk chord thrills; their lo-fi production makes for an ice cold rendition Fenriz and Nocturno Culto would be proud of. It fits most appropriately on Frozen Blood, with Nao Demand’s crunchy tremolos and broken-sounding cymbals from Allen Chapman filling out the scene of bodies “piled high, in the unturning hourglass, cries from the tundra”. Slowly Through the Dark is instead a meditative instrumental closer which laments the dire fortunes of figures portrayed across Härvest’s runtime. There’s also a document that serves close to home—Philadelphia marks the location of spoken word-led Blighted Quarter “left overgrown, left to the cold but still, an ember glows”.
For all the song’s story of dilapidation, it serves to best present a creative spirit that’ll never leave. The area’s thriving scene of punk and hardcore (also home to Arthur Rizk who mastered the record) puts the city on the map, and shows collective empowerment in troubling times. The element of the fantastical gives it an edge that’s as beguiling as it is (on the surface) silly, but Poison Ruïn’s Relapse Records debut still marks a seismic wave in retaining punk’s much-needed antagonistic front toward the state of it all.
For fans of: Devil Master, Bootlicker, Hüsker Dü
‘Härvest’ by Poison Ruïn is released on 14th April on Relapse Records.
Words by Elliot Burr