In an era where technology has spawned a zealously archivist mentality in pretty much any medium you care to name, hardcore punk culture has taken this to extremes. Perhaps it’s out of the sense of egalitarianism it likes to let people know it has, but nowadays especially, there’s a distinct ‘no band left behind’ attitude; a combination of nostalgists, opportunists and plain decent folk have ensured that if there’s a hardcore band from the Eighties (especially an American one) whose stuff you can’t find on disc, they’re the exception, not the norm.
So it is with bands in the here and now, and as it happens, there was an (un)timely wrinkle in London straight-edge four-piece Never Again’s plans to document their first twelve months of recording – June 2009 to June 2010 – on 12 really nice inches of vinyl, no less. (If you want Year One but are slumming it without a turntable, it’s available for download from Holy Roar, but you have to buy the LP regardless.) Five releases down the line, cumulatively spawning the view that these guys are basically the apogee of British hardcore since lord knows when – and then they went and split up while on tour last month. There’s certainly nothing in the sleevenotes to suggest that this was at all planned, and it was presumably a surprise to Holy Roar as well, although there’s only 500 copies of this fucker so it probably won’t need a road warrior’s touring schedule to shift them.
No need to pour one out for Never Again, really (there’s probably a tortuous joke about edgers knocking drinks out of people’s hands in the offing here, but… ah, maybe not): most of the band will probably continue to thrash the good thrash in some band or other, and they can shut the lid on this one knowing that they didn’t drop the ball at any point in their admittedly brief tenure. Unless you’re of the mind that their allegiance with Holy Roar constitutes some sort of act of betrayal vis a vis DIY hardcore, in which case it might be worth treating this as some sort of dry run for when something actually bad happens to you. Don’t forget to link this review on Facebook and refer to me as the website, either, that’s always great.
The 22 songs and 29 minutes of Year One showcase a band who, as far as the idle listener can tell, emerged fully grown. From the mid-'09 demo tape to the split 7-inch – only a few weeks old as I type – with Cardiff band Ironclad, there’s no real suggestion that Never Again were mindful of trying out anything but ballistic, forehead-vein rage. Fortunately, they were exceptionally good at it. For all that they imposed stylistic limits on themselves, though, they’re pretty difficult to pin down to an identifiable sound. Infest, the late-Eighties LA band whose brutalising of Boston and NYC hardcore styles made the powerviolence subgenre what it was, cast a swelling shadow over Never Again – ‘Pressure II’, ‘Watered Down’ and their two original tracks from the split single with Austrian HC band Mind Trap all revel in it. There’s a streak of Cleveland hardcore nihilism – Integrity or Ringworm, say – tossed in there too, albeit of a less metallic bent (the guitar wheedle on ‘Will It Ever End’ notwithstanding). Most of their inspirations, though, appear more recent: Coke Bust, xfilesx and myriad other purveyors of fast HC who simultaneously celebrate and pick apart the most hackneyed tropes of sXe ideology.
This is the only aspect of Never Again that sticks in the craw, really – they are not great lyricists. Even allowing for the fact that hardcore doesn’t often lend itself to Leonard Cohens, you have to get on board with the notion that the condensed turns of phrase barked out by Luke Overton are a conduit for a message, not the message itself. With that in mind, they are fiercely effective. As edge bands go, they’re not all that preachy, you understand. ‘Poor Excuse’ is a lyrical rerub of Minor Threat’s ‘In My Eyes’ – “Say it helps you / I don’t care / it’s your escape / I despair” – with added hardline triumphalism: “You laugh at me / I laugh when you’re dead.”
Aside from that, the angriest anti-narcotic message is delivered by a sample of the “you smoke crack, don’t ya?” scene from the film Lean On Me, acting as the intro to ‘Iron Youth’. Given the other connotations of this phrase, if Year One ever gets to be heard much outside hardcore’s hardcore, one can imagine a few alarm bells ringing. Of course, it’s just a histrionic way of lauding those who sack off lash and gurners, rather than anything to read sinister intentions into. “Iron youth rise above! This one’s for you, the iron youth, forging our own way.” Maybe you’ve just gotta know. Maybe you should.
8Noel Gardner's Score