'Common Sense Holiday' - Haggard Cat / Turned Up Louder
There is a lot in this world to be angry about right now. Be it the rise of far-right extremism, our absorption into the intoxicating vanity of social media, or the tightening of borders and a toxic sense of hyper-nationalism. These are issues that affect us all- though it is hard to imagine many of us confining ourselves to a concrete tomb for 24 hours in order to demand a change. Yet that is exactly what hardcore punk duo Haggard Cat did, livestreaming their entire ordeal to showcase the restrictions that Brexit and other conservative political movements will have on musicians, and society at large. It is clear, therefore, that this is a band who aren’t afraid of tackling their frustrations with the world head-on - and their latest record, ‘Common Sense Holiday’ does just that. Following on from 2017’s ‘Challenger’, the recording of which saw the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President and the fallout from the Brexit referendum, Haggard Cat continue to air their grievances with the current socio-political climate – all wrapped up inside thrashing tunes that will rouse the disenfranchised punk rocker in us all.
Thundering into life with a great scything wrench, opener ‘First Words’ is packed full of industrial, mechanical grit, and a dense, revving velocity. The intro ploughs on long enough that the listener is swept up in the prickling heat before frontman Matt Reynolds even has to utter a word! When the vocals do make an appearance, they are buried deep in the mix, which makes them less gut-punching than one might hope, though it does mimic the thematic tropes of a society whose voices are silenced, unable to speak out about the injustices they see and face themselves - a key lyrical focus across the entire rcord. The chorus then blasts out in a white-hot burst- from the off, it is clear that this is a record not be messed with! The stereo effect guitars on ‘European Hardware’ give it an infectiously catchy chorus that makes refraining from headbanging a considerable challenge! The track had its live debut at 2000 Trees Festival last year, and the utter carnage it caused even on its first outing reflected the palpable anger that permeates this record, and the legions of fans whom are also consumed by it- this album is as cathartic as it is motivational, and just a whole lot of fun besides!
This record is at its potent best when it is kicking you square in the teeth. Growling, and with a guitar tone stickier than treacle, ‘Time’ is a big stonking bruiser of a track, where the vocals are allowed to take a more prominent role in the opening verse, allowing their deeply-rooted scorn to shine through. ‘Human Animal’ boasts off-kilter rhythms that slide just at the fringes of an indiscernible cacophony, as unchained screams lick at the song’s fringes, and the cantering crash of the drums in the bridge rattle and thunder. The suggestion of gang vocals on the titular refrain means this track begs to be blasted at full volume from a crowded festival stage!
On ‘Threads’, the distorted stereo guitars hit you in the pit of your stomach, bringing some of that glorious classic punk grit to the table. This is offset by the cleaner vocals, which float between spoken word and being sung in the opening verse, the enunciation carrying a meaning all of its own. The relentless drum beats clatter away in the track’s underbelly, mashing blast beats of the bridge plunge downward with the force of falling boulders. An eerie synth then creeps in at the back, making the swooping hook into the final chorus all the more anarchic! The grumbling rise to the crescendo of ‘Pearl’ is enough to bring a flicker of excitement into any seasoned mosher’s eyes- for no crowd could find themselves standing still with a call to arms that adrenaline-inducing! And the wanton chorus does not disappoint, the final encore of which hangs you in suspense for barely a second before raining back down, making this an anthem of release for the downtrodden and used.
Though this by no means a record with all the punch and none of the substance. ‘Ghosts Already’, as the title may suggest, begins mournful and creeping, the guttural drone of the bassline labouring along paired with vocals that recall those of M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold. Expounding on the theme of delusion by social media, this track is a stark warning to those living their lives purely through the glass box of a phone screen. It’s polar opposite in sound, but its twin in theme, ‘Show Reel’ blusters at breakneck speed, shredding a riff that Metallica would be proud of! Its lyrics speak of the falsification that comes with attempting to live a perfect existence online, illustrating ever more powerfully that this is band tired of phatic talk, who are ready to strip back the bullshit!
Yet at times, the pace of this record is slower, and more deliberate, allowing Haggard Cat more time to explore some new musical elements that are further outside their wheelhouse. Calmer and more derisive than its predecessors, ‘Rational’ carries a theatrical swing to the melody, highlighted in the organ that drones plaintively in the background, before breaking into a full-blown metal ballad, with static-filled guitar tones and grandiose, mid-tempo drum beats. Passion that is driving the vocals is still tangible, as the second half is more of a return to form, with strained screams driving the melody along, peppered with gorgeously noodly guitar solos. With an opening that is softer and more haunting than any of the previous tracks, a reverberating sound akin to that of a hunting horn echoes amongst the slow, deliberate guitar notes and heartbeat-esque drums of ‘The Natives’: this could easily be the soundtrack to a panther’s slow crawl through the jungle undergrowth. The atmosphere builds so slowly, that it is a full minute and a half before the vocals make an appearance, with the immediacy of a bulldozer ploughing into the aforementioned jungle scene, bringing with them scything metal guitars and drums with all the potency of hailstones.
The fiery funk returns, and it perhaps most beautifully showcased, in the ticking cymbals of ‘Cheat‘, which pave the way for guitars that swing wildly back and forth. It might not be rushing toward you at whiplash-inducing speed, but the intense weight of the track can be felt in the beat of silence before the chorus, placed to incredibly powerful effect. A stark juxtaposition to the soft, floating sax in the bridge, an intentionally charming lull into a false sense of security that showcases this duo’s musicianship, as when the scything guitars return alongside the baleful saxophone, the pairing melds together perfectly- not unlike the members of Haggard Cat themselves.
‘Common Sense Holiday’ is every bit the gritty firecracker of a record that fans of Haggard Cat were hoping and praying for. It takes the issues at the core of modern society by the horns, interrogating them through the lens of jaw-rattling post-hardcore. Yet it also shows glimpses of a band who are willing to experiment, take risks and play with musical structures and concepts, which can and do create some amazing results. This is a record for those who are confused, those who are lost, and above all, those who are fucking angry, and ready to shout about it from the rooftops.
'Common Sense Holiday' is out on the 13th of March via Earache Records.
Check out the video for 'European Hardware', which documents the band's time in their concrete tomb, below:
Haggard Cat will be touring across the UK in support of 'Common Sense Holiday' this March- dates can be found below and remaining tickets are available here: