Idles tackled the potent themes of white privilege and the state of the NHS in their 2017 breakthrough Brutalism, while their Mercury Prize-nominated follow-up, 2018’s Joy as an Act of Resistance, probed toxic masculinity, Brexit and the benefits of immigration.
Ultra Mono is no less angry, or political. And it could be the most vital album we’ll hear all 2020.
It doesn’t get more urgent than the furious “War”, which melds descending licks and post-punk rhythm guitar with a cacophony of distortion, rolling drums and frontman Joe Talbot’s full-throttle battle-cry. Like all the songs here, it’s finished with sharp precision; the Bristol band’s tightness helps to hammer their every message into the core of the listener.
There are some surprising guest performers here, not least the combination of Jesus Lizard’s David Yow and Jamie Cullum, whose piano opens “Kill Them with Kindness”. The dance-punk-heavy “Grounds” – taking an aggressive stance with a riff you’d find in hip-hop – features Warren Ellis, whose famously vigorous playing has been known to turn his violin strings into spaghetti.
There is raw energy bursting from every track here, matched by lyrics that tell it how it is: “There’s nothing brave and nothing useful/ You scrawling your aggro s*** on the walls of the cubicle/ Saying my race and class ain’t suitable/ So I raise my pink fist and say black is beautiful,“ Talbot sings on “Grounds”.
If there’s a caveat, it’s that the album is, well, ultra mono. It’s a one-tone listen. But that shout-in-your-face directness is exactly what makes Ultra Mono so powerful. This is rock music that compels you to pay attention. EB
Deftones have gone back to what they do best. Compared to the sparse experimentalism of 2016’s Gore (which frontman Chino Moreno recently admitted was “rushed”), Ohms is full of the metal band’s classic textures and heavy tones. “I feel like fire, but my heart is cold,” Moreno intones on “The Link is Dead”; he crawls through the sludgy riffs of “Genesis”. On “Urantia” he’s left with the impression of someone no longer there: “I slipped into the cloak you left/ I fiddle around in the ashtray to find your cigarette pinkish/red.”
There’s an obvious catharsis to be found in these mind-melting walls of sound that comes crunching down; onslaughts of juddery guitar collide with Abe Cunningham’s pummelling percussion. Occasionally, the debris left behind makes this record feel cluttered (the strange seagull-and-synths outro on “Pompeji” is too avant-garde for the band’s otherwise straightforward approach). Best of all are the impressively deft explorations of desire, from the biblical imagery of “Error” to the bewitching “Spell of Mathematics”, coursing through the album. An intriguing addition to the band’s canon. ROC