Quietly and confidently, Therapy? have become true standard-bearers for rock music with its own sense of purpose. They’ve never succumbed to trends, nor have the felt the need to masquerade as something cooler than they are; for over four decades now, they’ve simply gotten their heads down and plowed on. 1994’s Troublegum remains their glittering jewel as an amalgam of alt-rock, grunge and alt-metal that’s still instantly recognisable as Therapy?, but it’s also the sort of album that draws in the entire weight of their legacy to itself. It is their classic, undeniably, but you don’t get up to your 16th album if all your effort has been spent so early on.
But often, you also don’t get up to your 16th album and have it be as good as Hard Cold Fire is. It’s where that sense of purpose comes into play, and how a complete disinterest for bending backwards for industry games is what’s ultimately driving Therapy?. When the sound remains all theirs and the execution through big, bellowing alt-anthems is still the most easy-to-like thing in the universe, it speaks for itself. The consistency that Therapy? have been entrenched in for decades has come good once again, arguably more than most would expect.
That’s the factor worth keeping in mind, though—expectation. For Therapy? especially, you’ll find them propagating nostalgia lists where Troublegum will field most of the gushing, without acknowledging that they are still good. It comes with the territory of a band who’ve so consistently kept to themselves without ever really slowing down, and Hard Cold Fire arrives as the sort of suckerpunch that can land from even a cursory dip back in. Everything’s back in place and as sharply hewn as ever—the guitars and bass are low-hanging and loaded with beef; there’s a faintly metallic clang to the percussion that’s really chasing that ‘90s alternative touchstone; and Andy Cairns has the distinctive, soured vocal timbre that sounds as good as ever.
It’s the culmination of Therapy? having the freedom to grow as they wish, which has largely come in the form of a band still firmly in line with their heyday. Untainted by wider industry cynicism or ennui, Hard Cold Fire never feels any less than exactly what it wants to be. There’s still an excitement to make music like this, illustrated by how raucous They Shoot The Terrible Master is as an opener, or how Joy and Poundland Of Hope And Glory are so committed to being undeniable earworms. All the while, the shots of melody that flash through are perfectly placed; a song like Mongrel can still anchor itself in charging, choppy alt-metal riffage while breaking into a chorus that’s borderline pop-rock, and still feel wholly cohesive and satisfying.
It’s the direct way that Therapy? make music that’s so good, and how there’s barely a trace of fat or superfluous overextension to be found. That in itself is a notable ‘90s rock mindset to embody, where the importance—and often the self-imposed challenge—of standing completely independently in the scene didn’t have to be at the expense of bangers. In Therapy?’s case, they’ve maintained the disillusionment broiling in the era’s grunge and metal right up to now, and certainly not without merit either. Set to the backdrop of capitalistic decay and a society adamant on making its citizens feel the physical and mental brunt of it, the gritting-teeth attrition of Bewildered Herd and Ugly is all too fitting, and exactly as explosive as you like. A band who can build their album’s premier hook around the line “Jerusalem’s a city in the Middle East” has to be doing something right, after all.
All of that’s to say that Therapy? have unequivocally still got it. They never really lost it, mind, but if there’s an album that could easily redress the balance of their legacy and shine a light on how wildly strong they’ve been for decades, Hard Cold Fire could well be it. In going against seemingly every stigma attached to bands in their later years, it really does deserve a ton of praise, on top of the fact that it’s just yet another slam dunk for a band fully accustomed to delivering them.
For fans of: The Wildhearts, Helmet, Skunk Anansie
‘Hard Cold Fire’ by Therapy? is released on 5th May on Marshall Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall