Hellbastard - Feral

Isn't it curious that just when you think you know something or someone inside out, they still manage to surprise you in ways that you never expected? Hellbastard are a band I've grown up with from a rather young age, and though I'm a fan, they never seemed like much more than an excellent genre-coining crust band until their last release. Sons of Bitches, was a work of pure progressive-thinking genius, and as such, I'd expected much of the same for the bands next record. But Feral is... it's bizarre. In a very good way. I mean, who would have thought that the band that coined the term 'crust punk' - notorious for its noisey, no bullshit approach to extreme music - would ever write an album that was so melodic, progressive, varied and technically proficient?

Don't let such descriptive terms fools you, though - Feral still delivers frontman Scruff's harrowingly accurate observations on social ills and the fact that us, as a race, are just utter bastards. If anything, I'd argue that Scruff wasn't hard enough with it considering how badly we've let this planet down and how much harm we've done, but it's the underlying sense of hopeless yearning that really ties it together; this is music that's been made by people whose very existence is pained by the injustice and stupidity of their surroundings in so many ways, and it's all genuine. There are a great many bands that will write about personal experience and opinion, but Hellbastard are one of extremely few acts who don't only hit the nail on the head, but never feel like they're putting on a pantomime. They're distraught over what's happening in the world right now, and their response is the biggest 'fuck you' ever. And nobody can blame them, because deep down, you all know that they're right.

But enough about themes... you want to know what the music sounds like, right? Once again, don't let the terms 'progressive' or 'melodic' put you off; Feral is a record that lives up to its title. There are still extremely heavy and fast sections (Feral, Social Hand Grenade) and some fantastic mid-tempo riffs (Shame On Us, We Are Coven) to quench your lust for the 'old school', but it's interspersed with some of the best guitar harmonies and layers that I've ever heard. Ever. And while the album is a somewhat lengthy one; a few four to five minute tracks and one at eight; Hellbastard are wise enough to know that repeating the same riff for three minutes doesn't work, even resulting in songs such as the aforementioned We Are Coven being made up of three distinct 'parts'. Thrown together with a few cleaner melodic sections and songs, such as We Are Coven's intro and the absolutely heart-wrenching 4 Paws - the latter of which actually reduced this critic to tears - and you have a recipe for a masterpiece. There were numerous instances that reminded me of something I'd write (though they've done it a lot better!) so call me sentimental, but there's definitely a part of me that feels like I 'get' Feral in a much more intimate way as a result. The way that the fury and the hurt is intertwined with the music isn't something that you can come across so easily these days.

I'm going in circles now. Though Scruff will probably call me a ponce for saying so ("The next one will be much better!"), Feral is the best thing Hellbastard have ever done... possibly the best thing they ever will do. We all have some nostalgia for Heading to Internal Darkness, some of us like arts of Natural Order, and there's no argument over how great Sons of Bitches was, but Feral is an album that is going to be so difficult to top that I almost don't WANT another Hellbastard release, lest it fail to live up to this. To write fantastic music is one thing - to present logical and flawless statements in doing so, for the better of the human race, without coming across as a tantruming meathead in the process, is another. Doing both at once, especially this well, is nothing short of impressive.

...Fuck it, I'm going to say it. Feral is the best album to come out of the UK in years; I may have said that about a few albums and EPs in recent years, but this is majestic. And with the CD version having a bonus track, only the most despicable of fleshy man-things would pass it up. Hellbastard have created something that deserves the utmost respect, and I'll be absolutely shocked if anything else this year comes close to this.

1. In Praise Of Bast
2. Feral
3. Outsider Of The Year
4. We Are Coven
5. Shame On Us
6. And The Point Of Your Being Is...?
7. Wychcraft
8. Social Hand Grenade
9. 4 Paws
10. Engineering Human Consciousness
11. All Our Sorrows