By: Rich Buley
The Battles of Winter | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on September 23, 2016 via Bandcamp
I’ve always loved the darker side of what you might still want to call, if you’re an old fart like me, ‘indie’. Back when I was in short trousers, and way before Britpop and terrace anthems and (I am sorry) the godforsaken Pigeon Detectives stole the term seemingly forever and made it stand for insipid, beige, cannon fodder lad-pop, ‘indie’ was wry, windswept and wounded, and so much more interesting.
It is therefore immensely refreshing to spend time in 2016 with a band like The Battles of Winter. I can only think of British Sea Power and I Like Trains as contemporary artists, born around the same time, of similar thought and deed, with all three steeped in story-telling and melodrama, and soaked to the skin on a desolate British hillside. But where the other two’s very British eccentricity has seen them go from bucolic to political to cinematic and back again, The Battles of Winter plough an altogether punkier, spikier and consistently deeper furrow.
A going concern as far back as 2005, their debut album Standing at the Floodgates only arrived in 2013, after an apparent myriad of setbacks and complexities. The barnstorming opener, ‘A Blackout for the Bloodsuckers’, with vocalist Alistair Gale sounding brilliantly like equal parts Nick Cave/Peter Murphy, while the band build and soar in epic, propulsive fashion all around him, had many, including me, beguiled. While the rest of the album failed to reach the same colossal, thrilling heights, there was enough ambition and scale to suggest that the band could be the UK’s more abrasive response to esoteric US acts like Interpol and Death Cab for Cutie.
Follow up album At Once With Tattered Sails now arrives in relatively quick order, and again, opening track ‘Falcons’ is immensely strong, both in lyrical content/delivery (“Should I return to the sky, or am I already floating in space?”) and melodic construction, with an infectious, burbling bassline, glistening, overdriven guitar and Gale’s turbulent, anguished vocal.
‘Wrong Port’ sees the band at their most combustible, a 2 minute riot of exceedingly fine post punk, with Gale again to the fore with an arcane tale of high jinx and regret on the high sea. The poetic art within the lyrics, the bulk of which are penned by bassist Graeme Dinning, is a compelling feature throughout the album, calling to mind more than once the stream of consciousness world painted expertly for decades by Gerard Langley and The Blue Aeroplanes. Although how on earth Gale manages to fit “Once a grand entrance, now only weeds mark out the threshold” in a single line during ‘Death in a Lemon Grove (Part II)’’s tumultuous outing- well, listen for yourself.
The pace is brought down several notches with the melancholic, initially introspective ‘Hare Hunter Field’, which eventually breaks down and builds to a compelling, multi-faceted climax, and the short-lived ‘Death in a Lemon Grove (Part I)’, which sees our protagonist waking up barefoot and bloodied on a dusty road, smelling death in his nostrils.
In addition to those already mentioned, the other band that I would compare The Battles of Winter to is long lost Californians Thin White Rope, and their brand of emblematic alternative rock. ‘Slow Burning Country’ and the already covered ‘Falcons’ would certainly at least find a comfortable home on their superb 1991 album ‘The Ruby Sea’.
The album closes with the lead single ‘Love’s White Thread’ and the brooding, cavernous ‘Sainted Galleries’, with an accelerating rhythm section, bleeding guitars and Gale pondering ‘what legacy we left’. Well, if The Battles of Winter’s recorded output was to end with this record, their legacy would be well and truly established. They have produced a post punk record of exceptional quality, made highly distinctive within the current trends of independent music by its inviting darker hue, immaculate production and the band’s wonderfully curious lyrical imagery.