Album Review: The Fierce And The Dead – ‘Live USA 17’.

Welcome to The Fierce and the Dead. Welcome to RosFest, 2017 – a vast progrock festival in the heart of Pennsylvania, USA. But strip out those notions of 70s pomp ego, ignore any ideas of naval gaze behemoths that noodle through decades long double A-side albums, we’re as far from that gumf as it gets. These are short blast intellipunk tracks that flirt fast and loose with California punk, grunge and stoner/postrock. You can almost hear the dirt of the Desert Sessions calling amongst all the gumption and grit.  

In gentler moments we’re folk psychedelic, loose and unwound, almost gentle. For the rest there’s a network of reincarnations; Black Flag, Queens Of The Stoneage, Fugazi, Shellac. Rusted cast iron sections jerk on into each other with the squeal and the grind of collisions, and every now and then, just to add to the patchwork, some 80s hair metal creeps in. All this and no mess and it works, at their best these songs work like a coiled barbwire spring as they catch, snag and tear and evolve. ‘Let’s Start A Cult’, ‘Truck’ and ‘I Like It, I’m Into It’, these all breathe that manic aggression.

‘Let’s Start A Cult’ begins restless and raw with a paint stripper bass sound that grinds into life. Twin guitars kick at and caress each other as they build, break and split in direction. This might be live but make no mistake, asides from the occasional talk break and chatter this clings to Albini production. Drums come out dirt-dry and pummelled, every inch of each squeal comes out separate and sterile, there’s no big room reverb to soften the slides between these seared notches and textures. In under three minutes we lurch through a tight run of miniature structures, we mess with the rhythms, we AOR shred, we launch through the volumes and swells. Then we break and bleed into the next… Almost all of the album’s been stitched into one but each track works as well on its own.

If ‘Let’s Start A Cult’ whetted punk’n’grind appetites, ‘Truck’ slams in some thrash for good measure. Tight, wrought, bust gearbox crunch riffs, feedback and slabs of distortion. Those guitars that sparred with and matched with each other now compete and slug face to face. Again there’s the sections and segments, the tough pull of push and release. But this is The Fierce and the Dead at their fiercest; a monsoon of prog metal drummed down in showers with gaps of soft light in between.

Away from these highlights, we play with the grains of new sounds and genres. ‘Flint‘ could be an early Public Service Broadcasting workout of cosmic tinged loose postrock jams. It spirals and swirls and coalesces around a reoccurring centre point riff. It’s busy and frantic, atmospheric and smooth, almost calm in its frenzy and twitch. ‘Spooky Action’ acts like a bridge between fancies, one half of the song longs to reach that high thrash while the other treads softly in shoegaze. These are perfectly fine and impressive, each song preciously maintained and crafted, but after the crunch and the crush of their best I find myself starting to drift.

As a showcase of all of these Fierce and Dead touchstones, as a statement of all they combine, that mid album track that got mentioned above reaches every shown off aspiration. Not a trick that appears anywhere else on the album doesn’t show on ‘I Like It, I’m Into It’; Glam metal wails over psych-garage riffs, stoner rock slog-outs and pulverised rhythms, spaced out dreampop flecks that glance off groaning basslines, krautrock repetitions and impatient switches… it’s a wonder to watch it unfold.  

New instruments have been added since 2017, there’s new albums, new samples, new ranges to play with. But this is a singular live point in time that might mark out a band’s evolution.  

‘Live USA 17’ from The Fierce And The Dead is out now to purchase and stream.

As always highlights of these tracks and other featured artists are right here on Rats On Run Radio.