There are two things that you really need to know. Firstly, ‘Unhallowed Ground’ is a magnificent debut album by Barnsleys very own, System of Hate.
For anyone who has been watching this group develop since the early gigs in 2013, this is the album that we hoped they would make, but perhaps were unsure they could make. Sometimes a studio environment can stifle, rather than capture bands with a reputation for blistering live shows. No fear here though. Producer Matt Elliss has done a thoroughly superb job at the controls and brought out visceral performances from all concerned. This sounds absolutely huge.
My first listen of this behemothic slab of dark punk provided the soundtrack to a terrifying late night car journey home down the M1 last week. My dashboard lit up like a disco and the car steering juddered, as I sweated and repeated a short prayer/mantra, “Just get me home, just get me home!” over the top of System of Hate. Perhaps not an ideal introduction to this album, but then again, they do like things dark, don’t they? Sadly, the car is no more. It expired. It has ceased to be. I don’t believe that there’s any connection between the two events though.
The album opens with a beautiful, other worldly saxophone melody from guest musician, Andy Blower. I almost visualise an alien sun rising, giving light to a barren planet in a far off galaxy. Then suddenly everything, including the kitchen sink, is thrown at you at once, as System of Hate bludgeon you over the head with an intense riff and vocalist Suty growls ”Serpent Father, bless me, your cobra breath instills, lift my sad existence, give me strength to kill”. This is the opener “Rogue Apostle” and is a perfect introduction to the next 36 minutes and 44 seconds of your listening pleasure.
An essential element to the System of Hate sound is the epic, melodic bass lines of Paddy O’Neill and there are plenty of them. He has an immediately recognisable style and the physical stature to back up such a big sound, as well as being one of the nicest, most genuine souls you could ever meet. Teamed with Carl Gullifords tribal drums, it is an awesome rhythm section. At times on this album, they play with a claustrophobic urgency that literally pins you to the wall. The drumming is just sublime. Don’t put this album on and then settle down with a good book. Background music this ain’t.
“Sanatoria” begins with an 80’s keyboard sound that initially reminds me of Hall and Oates! I wasn’t expecting that, but it actually works. It really works and provides a brief, but welcome chink of light in the proceedings, before the lads kick in and reclaim the mood. When I saw keyboardist Martin Roberts debut gig as part of System of Hate, my jaw dropped. Not a regular event, I can assure you. However, this was what the overall System of Hate sound required to take it from brilliant to a compelling, live event with numerous possibilities.
In addition to this, on the album, Andy Blowers post punk saxophone paints fresh melodic colours into songs like “Zealots Path” and recalls those urgent early 1980’s singles by Theatre of Hate and the Psychedelic Furs, who subscribed to David Bowie’s contention that the saxophone can be stripped of all its jazz connotations.
Now, as good as the previous nine tracks are, they still do not adequately prepare you for the last song, “Unhallowed Ground”. At just over 7 minutes long, it is a tour de force of what can still be achieved within the confines of rock music, dark punk, whatever you want to call it. Opening with a Joy Division-esque majesty, driven by another Paddy bass line, it is almost 2 minutes before Suty enters the fray and if you’re not dancing by this point, you should check your pulse. Carls drums push and drive the whole song, with fantastic gutsy stabs and shards of guitar from Pat Crawford. Every single band member puts their heart and soul into this and it shows. Wow, most bands only dream of achieving a performance like this. This is music with ambition and conviction. Non of that apologetic, “it’s only little old us” bollocks.
I tell yer, if Donald Trump gets the US Presidency and inflames and incites the world to turn in on itself and ‘The Button’ gets pressed, then I’d want to go out dancing to this song ! As the radiation blast tears the flesh from my bones, this is the sound I’d want as my ears melted. Yes, folks, this song really is that good. I can’t wait to hear it live again.
Oh, the second thing you need to know ? – contact Pat Crawford for a copy. Do it. Today.
Words by Steve Dalton.
System of Hate play Blackpool’s Rebellion Festival on Friday 4th August, alongside Descendents, Flag, The Dickies, TSOL, Peter & the Test Tube Babies, CJ Ramone and many, many others.