Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Harsh Heads - "First Hated Then Forgotten" Review!!

It's time for our 36th monthly local metal/hard rock CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and it's of defunct local hardcore band The Harsh Heads' posthumous CD "First Hated Then Forgotten"! We were originally gonna tie this review in with The Billy Bastards' planned concert tonight with Maximum RNR (as they share two common members), but despite their withdrawl from said show, the review will go on as planned, as this album deserves a look no matter what! The recordings on this album were originally made in two different demo sessions with G. Ingram in late 1994 at Dysentery Studios, but the songs were not formally released at the time, with The Harsh Heads disbanding the next year. However, band members decided to formally release the material via a free CD distribution in 2005 (though it was properly packaged), meaning that this is the third posthumously released album we've reviewed on the SMS in the past 4 months. The Harsh Heads' lineup consisted of singer/bassist John Conway (now of The Billy Bastards & Destroilet), guitarists Bob Bromley Jr. (now in the London punk band Gatgas) and Hugh Merz, and John's current Billy Bastards bandmate Aaron Gibbs on drums.

This album is now out of print, but personal inquiries should be able to help score the mp3s of the songs, especially knowing it's initial free distribution. However, I have uploaded the whole album onto our YouTube channel for free streaming, so click here to check it out, or click each song name throughout the review, as I've linked each song individually here too. (Note also that four songs are streamable on the band's MySpace page.) With 13 songs coming in at just over 37 minutes in length, this may be shorter than you'd expect, but let's begin this review with the first song, "Violence"!

"Violence" starts with a slow ominous guitar intro before unloading into a blisteringly fast hardcore fury with aggressive yelling from John Conway and equally speedy backing music! The song more or less stays on the same wavelength of hardcore fury, only breaking from the same sort of sound and lyrics for some quieter and slower instrumental interludes, including an alright guitar solo midway through, but the choruses are full blast and extremely moshable! Knowing the age of the guys when they recorded this album, it's well done, and while the fast paced hardcore assaults are repetitive, the song's short & entertaining enough that you don't really notice. Very solid opener to "First Hated Then Forgotten", and old school hardcore fans should get a kick out of it! Next is "We Stand Alone", which begins with 16 seconds of feedback before unloading into a fast paced hardcore song that has clearer singing and a less repetitive structure. Catchier sound overall too, and I like Aaron's drumming a lot here! The guitar work here in the verses and main riffing is more varied, but the end of the song isn't fantastic. The slower section sounds like a different track altogether, and the spoken lyric tradeoff doesn't jive to me. Still, the bulk of this song is an improvement on "Violence" and well worth checking out! Maybe not as fast as "Violence", but the catchiness and rhythm puts it mostly over the top!

Third on this CD is "Seal Bashing", and while I won't judge the song on it's subject matter, it bursts into some more fast paced hardcore fury after a soft instrumental intro and it shows their speedy old school hardcore sound well! The two main stretches with vocals are reminiscent of "Violence" in intensity, but I'd have liked to have seen it shaken up a bit, as it's broken up into four distinct parts and it could have been a bit more creative in structure. I really enjoy the music in the fast hardcore parts, but the soft intro and the slower interlude later in the track do drag it down a bit, but it'll satiate any old school hardcore need! That's followed by "Carolly", which has sort of a messy opening before moving into hardcore territory, and this one has more variance and different paces and sounds than some of the earlier tracks! John's singing is clearer, there's different speeds and tempos in play, and the bass lines are a bit easier to hear at times, along with some solid guitar solo work at the end of the song! Though not the most consistently fast song on the album, I like the different stuff they did on "Carolly" to make it stand out, and it's an early favourite of mine on The Harsh Heads' album!

The fifth track is "Insane", which is the album's shortest track (just over 90 seconds) and the first of three straight songs under 2 minutes on the CD. Immediately starting with a heavy full band assault, the vocals don't actually kick in until over halfway through the song, but the second half is full of blistering hardcore intensity (and a tiny bass solo!) Given it's length, there isn't a lot to say, but the first half has some solid instrumental work, and the second half stacks up with many of the earlier tracks in aggression, so it's an entertaining little track! Sixth is "Chantelize", which launches right into a fast hardcore sound like many of its predecessors, but with more scattered singing throughout this also short original. The guitar riffing from Bob & Hugh has lots of different flourishes going on throughout, and Aaron's drumming stands out well, but it's not as consistently fast & heavy as some of the earlier songs. Still solid though! Then we have "Wasted Life", which doesn't relent from the start with heavy riffs, nice & clear shouting vocals, and some nice guitar rhythms from start to finish, though the fade out at the end is a bit abrupt, and I was curious to see where this song would go if it lasted 2 or more minutes. It's definitely one of the most consistent songs for it's sound despite it's length, and pound for pound, "Wasted Life" is definitely one of my favourite songs on this CD!

Eighth on "First Hated Then Forgotten" is "S.K.U.D.D." , a 4 minute+ instrumental that may appeal the most to straight punk fans based on it's pacing and style, while still having lots of heavy moshable parts! If anything, this song is the best showcase on the album for The Harsh Heads' musical skills in the mid-1990s, and they do make the most of it with some nice guitar solos, audible bass lines, and fast paced drumming, but there are definitely parts of the song that sound like vocals were intended to be there. I don't know what "S.K.U.D.D." stands for, but this is a nice instrumental glimpse into how talented these guys were way back when! Vocals return on track number nine, "Sk8ter H8ter", which is definitely the fastest song on the album so far! The vocals sound distorted, it's so fast, and I doubt this song would ever go without a moshpit live! It's just a fast relentless (and short) hardcore song, and it's hard to judge compared to some of it's earlier counterparts given the speed and length, but I was entertained by it! My only major gripe is that the end sounds like the song crashed and burned, which is abrupt and dragged out too far, but the bulk of it works very well!

Tenth on this CD is "Social Disease", a more downbeat sounding hardcore sound that even has a bit of a grind essence here and there! The song picks up into familiar faster and energetic territory in the second half, and it flows together well, though the spoken word portion didn't flow with the song's style too well. It's not the most memorable to me of the songs on this album, but it's got some heavy touches and nice late aggression, so it's definitely worth a listen! Then comes "You're Pawning Your Mind, Asshole", which is the longest song on the album at 5:30 in length. After a slow minute long intro, this song kicks into familiar aggression from earlier albums, but the tradeoff between yelling and spoken parts seems to work better here than on earlier tracks, and the choruses have a nice brutal ring to them! 3 minutes in, things get very slow and soft, though well played, before building to a return of the old school hardcore fury of the first half. Honestly, this song is stretched out too far to me, and I'd have slashed the softer parts at least in half or combined them, as this doesn't feel like a song that's best suited to a 5 minute length, but other than that, it works well and has a catchy heaviness that I can appreciate!

The album's penultimate song is "Sunday Morning Fag Fund", and while I again won't judge the song on its title, it opens with a nice bass intro before getting to fast paced hardcore business, with solid fast drumming and aggressive singing, though the vocals do sound strained at times. Honestly, by this point on the album, you've heard stuff like this before, and nothing about it really stands as original compared to earlier tracks (especially given its under 2 minute length), but if it's intense and fast hardcore you crave, this song does deliver, and it's not bad at all! The album closes with "D.M.F.", which opens creatively with some guitar distortion and backing shouts before fading into a drum intro and some familiarly fast and brutal hardcore stylings, including some slightly distorted singing, and it definitely has some more original touches than some earlier tracks, especially with it's scream filled ending that sounds almost like the band's being set on fire! This is a nice end to the album and will suit any lust for The Harsh Heads' brand of music, while showing more variance than some earlier tracks!

So, how do I grade The Harsh Heads' only album? Well, aside from the thanks to the band for finally releasing these recordings after a decade or collecting dust, it's definitely an entertaining album of old school hardcore originals! John Conway's singing was aggressive and suited the material, as did his bass work, while Bob Bromley & Hugh Merz' guitar riffs and occasional solos helped drive each track pretty well! And though better known now for his country/punk singing & guitar work, Aaron Gibbs' drumming was often blistering and he proves his multi-instrumental skills here well! Songs like "Wasted Life", "Violence", and "Carolly" showed them at their aggressively creative best, while "S.K.U.D.D." is a fun showcase at their collective talents as 16 year olds, but this definitely isn't a perfect album (which the band acknowledged in the liner notes.) My main complaint is that, after 13 songs, the overall sound of the album just got very repetitive and many songs tended to sound the same as ones earlier and later. The songs didn't tend to drag, but you really have to appreciate and enjoy hardcore punk to stay into the whole disc without feeling that some songs are the same thing repeated. Luckily, I enjoy this style of music, so I enjoyed the album, but I have a feeling that this material may have played better live, where you could get the full experience of it all.

Also, the spoken word parts didn't work well for me, I'd have liked to have heard more guitar solos, and there were some abrupt stops and occasional mid-song flubs, but for what this album is, it works very well as an old school hardcore punk album from four talented local musicians in their youth! Destroilet fans in particular might enjoy this material, but if this genre is A-OK with you, you'll definitely wanna check The Harsh Heads' only album out, which you can do at the above links, and who knows, maybe we'll get a reunion at some point in the future? That's all for now, but stay tuned for my Hallows Die concert review hopefully tonight, and I'll see you guys at The Rockstar Bar TONIGHT for Maximum RNR & openers to be determined for more hardcore punk mayhem! Oh, and remember that next month's CD review (saying it comes out next month as scheduled) will be of Sault Michigan classical metal band Theatre of Night's new album "The Dawn's Early Light", so be on the lookout for it! Thanks everyone!

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