“…a flurry of furious guitar shredding, hoarse-throated vocals and inhuman blastbeats…” MacDara Conroy reviews This World Is Dead from French grind freaks Blockheads
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: this isn’t Ian Dury’s backing band we’re talking about here. French quartet Blockheads may share a name with the ‘Rhythm Stick’ funky bunch, but that’s about all they share – something you’d grasp the moment their incredible noise attacks your ears. These Gallic grind freaks have toiled in the continental underground for more than 20 years (with the usual label-hopping such an existence entails) and now land on Relapse for This World Is Dead, their fifth full-length effort and a deservedly higher profile release.
Despite being a US label probably best known for very American acts like Mastodon, Relapse also has a knack for plucking some excellent grindcore from relative obscurity overseas, whether it’s Polish blasters Antigama, Belgium’s Leng Tcg’e, Finland’s long-serving Rotten Sound or – of course – the late, lamented Swedish legends Nasum. The latter’s influence resonates strongly among grindcore’s current crop, as Napalm Death surely did to bands in the 1990s, and not without good reason, but at the same time it can appear an inescapable spectre looming over the genre. It’s hard to listen to otherwise remarkable records like Murder Construct’s recent LP Results – firmly in the post-Nasum school of technically proficient, cleanly recorded modern grind – without hearing the ghosts of those gone before.
Whether or not that’s actually the case, Blockheads show few signs of being haunted. This World Is Dead leaps out of the gate with ‘Already Slaves’, a flurry of furious guitar shredding, hoarse-throated vocals and inhuman blastbeats that sets the tone for the next 40 minutes. There’s only four of them in the band – Xav, Fred, Erik and Nico, on first-name terms – but they sure know how to whip up a whole crowd’s worth of noise, a dizzying cloud of intensity that refuses to relent even when it dips into the odd breakdown (‘Deindividualized’) or suddenly pivots on a tempo change (‘Final Arise’).
Apart from the sombre yet lead-heavy doom denouement ‘Trail of the Dead’ that closes the set, most of the 25 tracks here drive forward on a single speed – hyper – yet there’s still variety to be had, with strains of death metal (‘All These Dreams…’), black metal (‘To The Dogs’), noisy hardcore (‘Buenos Aires S.C.’) and old-school Napalm Death worship (the 17 seconds of ‘Sell Your Flesh’) coming through, and you don’t have to delve deep to detect melody within the maelstrom (‘Hidden Terrors’, ‘Media Warfare’). The vocals might be harder to decipher (aren’t they always!) but with song titles like ‘Follow The Bombs’, ‘Crisis Is Killing The Weak’ and ‘Pro-Lifers‘, and a cover image that leaves little to the imagination, it’s pretty obvious where they’re coming from.
Indeed, Blockheads’ brand of politically conscious grind fits neatly into the mould shaped by Nasum, Napalm Death, Brutal Truth et al. Perhaps a little too neatly, it could be argued. But you know what? Sometimes that’s exactly what I want from a grindcore band: a solid set of blastbeat bangers that doesn’t care for reinventing the wheel. In that respect, This World Is Dead delivers in spades.