This is a review of "Swords" recorded by Blacklisters. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2009.
The debut single from Leeds' Blacklisters, is also the debut release of Leeds-based record label Best Enemies Records. Despite the Best Enemies connection, Blacklisters performed a set for Brew Records at Live at Leeds 2009 and, three seconds into this single, it's easy to understand why. Their ranted vocals and obscure, ever-shifting soundscapes means they'd have slotted seamlessly into a line up of Brew Records' current roster, although Blacklisters can't yet deliver the sonic density of Kong and Castrovalva.
As seems to be the fashion with this brand of avant-garde prog, the vocals play second fiddle to the music. Frontman Billy Mason-Wood's voice is permanently obscured by distortion, and occasionally you'll suspect a robotic, crackly edge has been added to his vocals. What he's singing about, is anyone's guess, and his impenetrable background ravings are something you'll either love or hate. On 'Swords' he's sometimes lacking in the demented aggression that's usually characteristic of these sort of raging vocals, and too often he's content to just rave harmlessly away in the background. However, Mason-Wood does brilliantly up the ante on one occasion, splattering some genuinely nasty vocals across bursts of spasmodic drumming and riffing. This is easily the high point of a song that's too often all random, unharnessed energy.
On one occasion, Blacklisters do manage to reign in their demented enthusiasm, and become genuinely and subtly unnerving. When 'Swords' lays a quivering guitar line over a brooding bass groove, the atmosphere is tangible. 'Swords' needs more moments like this, and less free-wheeling energy that confuses and challenges the listener, but doesn't deliver that densely suffocating sound that makes it all worthwhile.
Following the hit-and-miss A-side, Blacklisters take a more bass-centric approach. B-side 'OK47' is underpinned by a doomy bass line that acts as a unifying groove, holding together the flailing guitars and drumbeats, whilst also filling in the gaps between 'OK47's eccentric flourishes.
Blacklisters graft all manner of random and tortured-sounding guitars onto the bass, but there are a few reoccurring features, which give the song the vague shape it needs to sound like coherent chaos. These take the form of a reverberating guitar that merges with the bass to form a solid wall of sound; and long, ringing riffs that contrast nicely against the swirling bass undercurrent. There's also a predominance of thumping drum rolls that periodically boost the song's drama levels, and keeps you interested in the song. 'OK47' is like a more intense, harder-hitting version of 'Swords.'
In addition to a download single, 'Swords' is being offered as a vinyl release, which comes complete with a CD version, and two additional tracks: 'Minutegun' and 'Again.'
'Minutegun' follows closely in 'OK47's footsteps, relying heavily on a bowel-troublingly deep bass line. Everything about 'Minutegun' seems to emphasise the ponderous weight of the bass. From the lurching drums, to the languid guitars, to Mason-Wood's drawled vocals, 'Minutegun' is a song that's dragged down by its own weight. Arguably, it doesn't make for particularly invigorating listening, but it's a steady, art-rock grumble of a song that couldn't possibly sound any heavier. You'll either love it, or believe it's the most boring thing you've ever listened to.
The verses of final track 'Again,' are also all about the bass. This time, it's an innovative, stop-start bass line that infuses the song with a quirky energy; in addition to gelling together the jangling drumbeats, lurching guitars and Mason-Wood's lunatic vocals. The choruses (or what counts for a chorus in Blacklisters' land) is a looser collection of sounds. When heard next to those tight, bass-driven verses, they can't help but feel a little directionless, as though Blacklisters are just keeping things rolling until they can plunge into the next verse.
Oddly, A-side 'Swords' seems to be the weaker of the four tracks. It's the most eclectic and least coherent song, and as such it isn't the easiest introduction to Blacklisters, but this release is worth sticking with, because the other three tracks are weighty, art-rock mind-benders that usually get the balance right between creating a twisted and confrontational racket, and sounding coherent. If you go in for this sort of complex, musically-driven prog, then it could be worth making a note of the name and checking out Blacklisters' forthcoming full length.