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Bruising Elegance – Bellicose Minds’ “The Creature”

Bellicose Minds
The Creature
Black Water Records

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I must say I’ve been waiting to jump on this opportunity for some time now. While Bellicose’s debut arrived in 2013 I somehow missed (didn’t take, whatever) the chance to review it and since then have been perched on the edge of an increasingly eager anticipation just as you all have been for the next album to appear (I mean, have three years ever passed so goddamned slowly?). Now, it’s received wisdom that some extended waits can carry with them a sort of delicious agony, a curious turn of phrase that the wait’s actual end either upholds the gist of, or curdles irreparably. Suffice to say The Creature more than rewards our faithful patience.

Packed to its rafters with one cracking track after another, the band’s second album not only wastes no time making up for lost time but virtually erases the interim altogether. From the off, with the fist punch opening of “The Hordes,” the trio emerges with their signature taut-but-explosive juggernaut of sound fully and immediately intact, the track barreling steadily through its bracing paces, that rhythm section – Mira bass, AJ drums – propelling singer/guitarist Nick forward as if on a perfectly-contained cataclysmic swell, a post-punked tsunami level of punk that very few do quite this deftly.

“Exiled” following on from the eruptive rush “The Hordes” ends on, takes up Mira’s dark punk soul of a bassline and builds over the space of a few measures into a briskly trampling exercise in bruising elegance, the track allowing enough space for both a fair bit of Nick’s feisty precise guitar work and the strategically-placed appearance of a shee-ing synth that seems to suggest the buzzing silence that descends on those forced into the title’s status be it physical or otherwise. Heavy content, accessibly presented, which is, when you think of it, rather a Bellicosean trademark.

“The Creature,” with its haunted constancy of treated drum strikes and a progression that somehow manages to square the melancholy with the hopeful, has a seething restraint to it the melody of which only makes the bite of the phrase “You’re a heartless creature” sink all that much deeper. “The Mask” dispenses with all but the basics and with a beautifully brutal efficiency commences to send the ‘standard template’ – ringingly seditious guitar, indignant bellow of a vocal, a rhythm section behaving as if Martin Hannett just shot them full of amphetamines – ricocheting off the walls before “Orwell’s Troops” hurtles through your consciousness with the kind of sharp-edged gothy drive Sisters of Mercy should have maintained to keep them from slipping into irrelevance, a fate, by the by, not bloody likely for his lot.

 

“Lost,” meanwhile, begins its journey at a relatively subdued pace, a sort of fraught stateliness attending as Nick laments the stasis of a population unable to learn from its, well, lamentable past, before the track flips into full shadow drama mode first chance it gets, which, happily, happens to be just in time for the chorus. Ace cut. As is closer “Villains” with its nimble, suspended curl of a bassline, the tension-building, channel-split drumming – just one of many indications of Evan ‘Mouse’ Mersky’s subtly astute production – guitar work blowing up with more revolutionary zeal the deeper you get into it, but the ace-est may well be the penultimate “A Likely Outcome.” Though The Creature‘s longest at just under five minutes, “Outcome” arrives at its outset thundering at something near full-bore, sounding almost Skids-like in its stentorian vigor. From there, even while settling into what might be called a dextrously martial groove, it was apparently decided that doubling down was the direction to take as it leans into the wind towards the progressively epic, a state of being only amplified by the lonely guitar outro fading away like it’s finally – mortally – run out of breath. A likely outcome indeed.

As mentioned before in these pages, often enough to the point of arrogance or absurdity or both, Portland’s post-punk/darkwave etc scene is in ragingly fine health (even as, in a curious aside, the local media, alt. or otherwise, remain blithely or willfully unaware), the rate of proliferation especially gaining strength in recent years. And while it’s interesting to note that this trend has risen as if in response to the region’s housing stock hitting inhospitable rates of inflation, which would in turn indicate that the form’s frequent themes of displacement, alienation, and a railing mistrust of authority find fertile ground in times of both ragged deprivation – London NYC LA et al in the late 70’s – and in those of (a deeply exlcusionary) prosperity, the fact is, Bellicose Minds have spanned the gamut, having formed around 2009 in the shadow of ’08’s economic near-apocalypse. All theoretical speculation as to cause and effect aside, however, it’s perhaps best to simply state the basic: Bellicose were among the first of this city’s current generation, and, judging by the unerring quality found on The Creature, are, in 2016, still among the best.