Change is afoot in all corners of this release. The title itself is about as un-grindcore a title as one could ever conjure up. The album is being released by a magazine’s new venture into the label biz (Decibel Records, spawn of Decibel Magazine). Drummer Danny Herrera (Napalm Death) is out, Carl Stokes (ex-Cancer) is in. Bassist Shane Embury (Napalm Death, as well as a Jolly Green Giant-sized handful of others) has picked up a guitar to create a killer tandem with John Cooke (Napalm Death, live).
Embury can also be heard singing alongside Kevin Sharp (Lock Up, ex-Brutal Truth). And when we say singing, we don’t just mean he is simply opening his mouth and forcing noise and hot air out. He does a top-shelf emulation of Killing Joke‘s Jaz Coleman and New Model Army‘s Justin Sullivan on the wondrously life-affirming post-punk of “Fractured.” That’s not to say that Sharp is exclusively barking with the familiar ferocity he has since his Brutal Truth days as he channels his corrosive throat towards a sonorous flair on “Flowers Bloom.”
So there are plenty of moving parts on The Good Ship Lollipop, but the biggest step has the band making the move from candy corn blasts of grind to a more canorous and resonant, post-punk, hardcore/punk rawk outfit that now has a flawless album in its back pocket.
If you’ve been following the irreverent progress Napalm Death have made since 2012, the moves Venomous Concept have made here are similar, with more drastic maneuvers towards making melodic worlds work overtime in the dilution of any strict definition of extremity. This is done in such a way that it’s initially shocking how the brooding and hypnotic SLAB!-like industrial plod of the album opening title track doesn’t just showcase a different introductory methodology, but sets the table for an entirely diverse offering that only casually references what Venomous Concept have been best known for the past 20 years.
Mid-paced, down-picked chord swings and lots of Killing Joke are two big pieces of this brilliant puzzle. “Pig” and “Clinical” both blur the sounds of the NWOBHM and English miner’s strike post-punk — i.e. sound like Killing Joke songs Metallica could have covered — by accenting simple dynamics within simple riffs, energetic vocal refrains that sway the songs between crimped-hair new wave and dirty street rock as delivered through Molotov cocktail guitars.
“Voices” combines the Ramones‘ punk doo-wop — complete with a “Hey, hey, hey!” chant poking at the lowest common denominator — with an uncomplicated riff that undulates between palm-muting and strumming in a show of old-school punk song writing smarts a la early Raw Power.
Never fear, the nitrous octane switch is flipped on tracks like “So Sick,” “Timeline,” “Slack Jaw” and “Humble Crow.” The former is actually the most Raw Power sounding song here, both musically and lyrically, while the latter sucks on the tail pipe of the hot-rodding sounds of The Dwarves and New Bomb Turks.
The majority of “Timeline” plays off a herky-jerky stop-start riff when not sinking into a goddamn ear worm of a chorus that summons punk rock royalty, bend-heavy ‘70s rock soloing and Sharp’s ability to carve out anthemic vocal lines with his lung butter. “Slack Jaw” rips along with a similar sort of halting staccato, throwing shimmery Fat Wreck-type guitar lines and flash-bang bass noodling to add to these artistic class rallying cries.
The glowing centerpieces of this album, however, are the previously mentioned “Flowers Bloom” and “Fractured.” Sure, the members of Killing Joke might want to look into their back catalogue and stake possible copyright claims (the dudes from Gorilla might want to dust off their Outside EP and do the same), but there’s no denying both songs are utter masterstrokes.
The pair of tunes are rooted in movement between classic UK ‘80s alt-rock strumming and spidery arpeggios backed by choruses that should have thousands of festivals attendees bounding in unison. Additionally, it will blow your mind when you realize that is goddamn Shane Embury and Kevin Sharp doing those gossamer-gruff vocal trade-offs and dual harmonies!
There are 13 tracks in total here and not a single bit of filler on any of ’em. Even deep cuts like “Can’t Lose” and “Everything is Endless” drive the diversity point home with their casual use of taut precision from the Helmet school, blackened crust, nut-hugging punk rock swagger, a bit of a nod to Hawkwind with the bass work and, in album closer “Life’s Winter,” ridiculous hooks and a captivatingly catchy chorus.
The Good Ship Lollipop may be a drastic about-face away from expectation based on the past, but the way its sweeping agglomeration of elements have been lassoed and genuinely presented stands as a brilliant redefinition of the many shades of punk rock and its family tree.