Ah, the spectacle. Some artists only aspire for this most beloved illusion, the sight of a social 'happening', often contrived to convince the audience that they’re taking part in something greater than themselves. From T-Rex sauntering in capes, to ELO’s flying saucers and the wall around Pink Floyd, to the fireworks that blazed around Whitesnake, rock has been a slave to spectacle for ages. All those pinwheels, stage dives, pelvic guitar thrusts, and what have you maintain an image that’s larger than any one band could ever be – a mythos, if you will, of the archetypal RAWK STAR. If the music behind that image can engage the listener some way beyond mute hero worship, then maybe a real cultural shift is in progress. But where admirers only clamour to praise the image, the spectacle engulfs its spectators.
When you watch the band formerly known as Baby Godzilla storm the ArcTanGent on YouTube, you can see the classic rock theatre in motion: Matt Reynolds prowls in the crowds as guys crash around him; Jonny Hall drops to various one-kneed poses before falling on his back; Paul Shelley mounts the barrier to compensate for his relatively static behaviour. But what are we listening to? 'Noise' would be a compliment: sometimes the guitars just sputter, the occasional lick blurred by what sounds mostly like fumbling. When the band emerges as Heck at Tramlines 2015 at the University Arms, they blast two songs and then get the boot, after one of the two guitarists slings their axe into someone’s head.
That last misstep emphasises my key point: Heck have spent so much time preening this in-yr-face rock persona that they’ve neglected to develop any real talent of their own (or, for that matter, how to hold a guitar properly). Instructions bludgeons the listener with a very limited form of hardcore, the kind which aims straight for the gut and rarely deviates from that dynamic.
And frankly, what with the scratchy screams and overblown machismo, I can’t tell if I’m supposed to take these guys seriously, like the Dillinger Escape Plan, or not at all, like Future of the Left. But they’re nowhere near as precise as the former, and nowhere near as devious as the latter. TRY AS YOU MIGHT, I WILL NOT FIGHT, goes the mantra of 'Mope', which does sound fairly ridiculous from the top of yr lungs at 200+ bpm. Then 'The Great Hardcore Swindle' goes all Rage Against the Machine into one of those anti-industry rants: ”Throwing money at the problem just won’t stick”…“Don’t put a price on this, your integrity. Form-wise, it’s one of their best songs (and whoever has that non-shouting voice in the chorus should totally sing more often); but given that Heck have signed to a label, and hired publicity, AND had professional videos shot for them, are they really the ones to lament?
A few progressive tendencies emerge – namely, the ISIS-ish floating waltz stretch break thrown in the middle of 'Don’t Touch That Dial', and the quiet oasis tucked in the 16-minute long closer. Yeah. Sixteen minutes. Most of these songs seem to stretch longer than they ought to – even the minute-long “Fastback” should’ve stopped thirteen seconds in, at “DON’T WASTE A FUCK / YOU FUCK” (if they’re trying to be funny, anyway) – but this really wears the patience thin. However, someone in HECK unleashes the only glorious guitar solo of the whole album at the tail end, so that makes the ordeal worthwhile. That title, though: '(i) See The Old Lady Decently (ii) Buried Although (iii) Amongst Those Left Are You'. Sounds proggy enough, but honestly not much threads the narrative together except the usual unrequited revenge mood.
Oh. How bad are these lyrics? The sausage-fest 'Breakers' contains the line “GOD IS IN MY BALLS” (I think). That’s how bad.
To conclude. Some sparks of brilliance fly in Instructions, but not enough to distinguish the spectacle of Heck from their recorded output. Instructions sounds light-years better than their Baby Godzilla days, but the band still have legwork to do to catch up to the image they project.
5Lee Adcock's Score