Hard Cold Fire by Therapy?Release date: May 5, 2023
Label: Marshall Records
Coming from Northern Ireland I’m always keen to write about my local heroes if I can. In my ten or so years of writing for Echoes and Dust this is the first opportunity I’ve had to review a brand new album from one of the country’s finest bands, Therapy? Incredibly Hard Cold Fire is their sixteenth studio album and has once again been produced by Chris Sheldon (Feeder, Biffy Clyro, Foo Fighters). The ten tracks on offer are all done and dusted in just over half an hour making this album a concise and compact collection that you can fire on the stereo, turn up loud and enjoy.
The band wanted to capture the live energy of their shows and be less claustrophobic with the sound. They’ve certainly achieved that with an album that is for me, their finest since the perfect pop punk days of Troublegum. As bassist Michael McKeegan explains “We wanted this album to be one that felt good to play live, almost a release after this period of stasis, but then also not dwelling on the whole situation – we’re moving forward and we wanted that energy to be there”.
Andy Cairns sounds like he’s spinning tumultuously down a drain as he roars out the chorus that starts the head cracking opener ‘They Shoot the Terrible Master’. The song is a typical rip snorting opener that Therapy? specialise in. Based on a snappy urgent riff and drummer Neil Cooper’s rolling snares it’s a prime Therapy? cut and sets up the album nicely. That chorus, all violence and fury, is a seriously addictive earworm. The pace doesn’t subside with the turbo charged ‘Woe’, a quickfire verse lurches into a singalong chorus that plays neatly on the word “Woe” as “Whoaaaaa!”. Bound to be an absolute belter played live. Killer bridge? You got it, Cairns has always had a way with melody (aside from some of the mid-period albums where the memorable tunes were less prevalent) and it’s glorious to hear the band in this imperious form. Masters of pop punk.
Admittedly, I felt a little flat on first hearing the lead-off track ‘Joy’ but subsequently found the song more joyous after repeat plays. The chorus once again is a big buster of melody and will be sang back with gusto to the band on future tours. The riffs come thick and fast all underpinned by the brilliant bass and drums punch from Michael and Neil. In ‘Bewildered Herd’ Neil fires out a snappy military beat and Andy’s guitar chisels out a start stop riff. Michael’s bass is grizzly like a hungry bear and the track is as bilious as the band have ever sounded. Andy’s wordsmithery has always been uniquely observant and full of ire. When they drop in a sample of David Thewlis (from Mike Leigh’s harrowing film ‘Naked’) it’s a jaw dropping moment and is reminiscent of the band’s earlier material.
The grinding chugger ‘Two Wounded Animals’ playfully lays out a malevolent groove like prime Jesus Lizard. The mammoth chorus erupts in a frenzy of feedback and whipcrack drums yet ends with a tender “All I want is my dignity to feel human once again”. It’s not quite ballad territory but is a more stripped back affair from the previous tracks. Andy rips out a searing and acerbic solo and it’s fucking superb. The dirty ‘To Disappear’ is all fuzzy guitars and is the most metal moment on this ass kicking album. Like some of their early material, Michael plays a bloodied beast of a bass line as Neil pummels the drums with murderous intent. The track has an edgy mid-section and gets really scuzzy before reeling itself back in with the soaring chorus.
Another song that is like a rabid dog on the rage is the punky ‘Mongrel’, Andy growls and spits the verse before yelping out a killer chorus. “I like darkness, and darkness likes me back” he roars, and you can’t disagree. The riffs that end the song escalate with springy brilliance and by this stage you’re out of breath. Therapy? have always had a knack for coming up with great song titles and ‘Poundland of Hope and Glory’ is another example. Having said that, it’s the one track I struggle to just enjoy as much, I think that’s down to the chorus line of “It’s not Jerusalem, Jerusalem’s a city in the middle east”. Eh? What? Tune wise, all good though, catchy as ever.
With a frankly absurd squibbly guitar tone ‘Ugly’ is indeed a powering punk rocker that wants to inflict a little pain on the listener. “I’m ugly if you touch me, I’ll pass it on to you!” threatens Andy. Stabbing shards of feedback permeate the furious riffs and there’s a Kurt Cobain off-kilter solo to contend with too. The most downbeat of all the songs ‘Days Kollaps’ ends the album, as a melodic guitar line spins a web of melancholy over the sad vocal melody. There’s a quirky change in the chorus melody that jars a little, but is there a law that says it has to go the way you expect it to? Nah. Compared to the other tracks on the album, this is actually quite a tender number and the soaring backing vocals at the end find Andy at peace.
As I mentioned in my review, I nearly passed over this album as ‘Joy’ hadn’t completely grabbed my attention, but that would have been a regretful decision. I’ve been blasting this album for a few weeks since receiving the promo and the intent of making a record that will be a blast to play live has definitely been accomplished. Every song on this album has potential to be a real crowd pleaser with hooks and choruses in abundance. Crowds will get to whip up mosh pits and pogo like eejits as the band add these spiky gems to their already bursting back catalogue of great music. Now in their fourth decade of existence Therapy? are still knocking out melodic and fiery short sharp shocks. Hard Cold Fire is an absolute triumph.