By Joseph Marshall
Scottish act Mogwai are back with their most unfriendly album title to date, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this record, as having only listened to a few loose tracks some time ago, I was for the most part uninitiated. The first play tells me that this is an album of dynamics, with a stark contrast between soft and loud parts being one of the main themes they play on. But as I listen further I discover there is much more to it than that…
When you first read ‘Mogwai’, it’s unlikely you thought of ‘math rock’, a form of music characterised by angular guitar passages, heavy riffs and rhythms with unusual time signatures. But there are certainly some strong elements of that here. The very first notes we hear have been produced to perfectly match the tweaking of Battles, a math rock outfit whose single ‘Atlas’ became a hit a couple of years ago. But is this a respectful pastiche, or are they making fun of Battles?
Mogwai are known for their mischievous antics towards other musicians. Going back fourteen years to when they headlined the T in the Park festival during the same time slot as Blur, the group distributed t-shirts bearing the provocative slogan, ‘Blur are shite’. They then went and repeated the same stunt in 2008, confirming their stance in relation to Damon Albarn and friends.
The opening song, ‘White Noise’, is composed of a limited palette of guitar refrains, which ring out alternately many times over to great effect. It sounds like a conversation between each part, with the most evocative moments punctuated by heavy drums that sprawl across the recording. Percussion like this is a common feature for the band, and indeed in post rock music, another genre within which they are often placed. There is a positively euphoric feeling to this album. I can imagine almost every track accompanying the uplifting end scene in a film, just after it becomes clear everything is going to be all right.
This record has an overall cinematic feel. Even with no words, the music is so compelling you feel as if you’re being told a story. Like in a lot of films, there are a number of false endings on here too, each track building to a crescendo fit to play just before the final credits role, each one more epic than the last. In its heaviest moment, ‘Too Rage To Cheers’ is as formidable as any metal song. But it’s not a patch on the amusingly titled, ‘You’re Lionel Richie’, which has a devastatingly thrash breakdown of crashing guitars, the gain turned all the way up to eleven. The sample at the beginning of the same song momentarily transports us to an old spy film in the alps, much like the ambient artist Biosphere does with his uncanny use of sampling.
‘How To Be A Werewolf’, which comes in at around three quarters of the way through, breathes new life into the proceedings by beginning with a seasick humming, familiar to fans of Boards of Canada or Neu!. The part in ‘Rano Pano’ where the music thins out, leaving only the twisting and turning of the main melody, sounds like it would be great performed live. All that’s missing is the sound of whooping from enthralled audience members.
‘Death Rays’ features a reverent but not overly sentimental or drawn out organ. Presumably this is played by Mogwai’s keyboardist. It’s not the only interesting instrument they use either. ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ has lyrics filtered through a vocoder, which blend well into the song, as opposed to sounding garish, something you’ve probably come to expect from that particular effect. The most memorable lyrical content though is the delivery of the chant ‘keep running now’ on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’, which has been changed so that it sounds like a female robot. It’s recurrence alongside the more steady drum playing makes it the most danceable track of the album.
My only problem with this release is a lack of variation in the song structures. Nearly all of them begin unexpectedly, peak in intensity at around three quarters of the way through and then peter out. Other than that, all things considered, Mogwai have concocted an album which is exciting in the scope of emotions that it deals with, as well as being quite aggressive and hard hitting. The different sonic elements complement each other very well; this is clearly a skilled group of musicians. They create a consistently epic atmosphere, as if this were the soundtrack to a long and arduous struggle, ultimately fought in the face of defeat. ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.
9 OUT OF 10