Album Review: Alien Weaponry – Tū

Alien Weaponry Tū
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Mythical Māori figure Tūmatauenga is known as the god of war, among other things. That should give you a fair idea of what to expect when considering that metal trio Alien Weaponry have named their debut album after him.

 commences with “Waikōrero”, a haunting welcome recorded in some Waipu caves. The air hisses and hums as a purerehua [Māori bullroarer – literally translates as moth/butterfly] spins around overhead, while koauau [traditional flute] pierces the atmosphere with shrillness. Henry de Jong recites a welcome in his native tongue. This is how you set the mood.

Which makes the hard-hitting aggressive nature of first song “Rū Ana Te Whenua” all the more powerful by comparison “Listen up!” they cry: hear our message! Cue savage riffs and frenetic blast beats as they chant about the forces of nature unleashing. Death is coming! They reference caves where the dead lie resting, possibly similar to the caves where they recorded the “Waikōrero”. All this mention of death and destruction works in well with the heavy nature of the music, especially considering the warrior-like cries that the band emulate. The boys derived inspiration for the track from the stories of their tupuna [ancestor], Te Ahoaho, who fought the British at a notable battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) in 1864.

I should mention that most songs on this album are not sung in English. New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori, and NZ Sign Language. [Surprisingly English isn’t an “official” language of NZ, although may as well be considered so by default]. Obviously sign isn’t going to feature in audio music recordings. And Māori is criminally under-represented.

Which makes Alien Weaponry unique, even within New Zealand. Sure, we’ve got a few token songs sung in te reo that charted here and there. Taika Waititi’s film Boy brought “Poi E” back to public conscious in 2010. I still remember the goosebumps I got when watching Tiki Tane perform “Tangaroa” at the NZVMAs as a teenager. Personally, the only use of reo I had in my music collection before Alien Weaponry was Kerretta using a karanga on “Kawea Tātou Ki Ngā Hiwi“.

This is obviously a big point of difference for the band. And it’s done with authenticity. The haunting mournful cries reflect karanga, and the strong chants could be compared to haka and war songs. They even use traditional instruments, which are effective in setting the tone as well as adding cultural value to the music.

Don’t let this put you off. You may not understand it all (I don’t), but this does little to detract from the music. I think it enhances the music by adding unique elements. Half of the tracks on the album are written in English anyway, with many songs also featuring dual languages.

Alien Weaponry

Lewis de Jong playing in Porirua on Waitangi Day. Image: Joseph James (Will Not Fade)

They touch on some heavy themes. “Holding my Breath” looks at struggling with anxiety, “PC Bro” explores the effects of social media, and how we can create false realities through it, and “Nobody Here” also explores the addictive nature of it. Fighting racism and retaining cultural identity are themes woven all throughout.

There’s also more than a few nods to their whakapapa [family history], with references to pre-colonial times and New Zealand historical events that happened once the European settlers arrived. “Kai Tangata” – the name a reference to war parties and cannibalistic practice – looks at how one Ngapuhi iwi [tribe] slaughtered another iwi with the use of muskets, which obviously outmatched traditional weapons that Te Arawa possessed. “Urutaa” tells a tale of how Europeans brought illness that Māori had no immunity against, which led to misunderstanding and paranoia.

“Raupatu” – the standout track on the album – is heavy, memorable and features a brutal breakdown. It translates as “Confiscated”, and discusses how the colonist government stole the lands from the native peoples, and set about trying to destroy Māori rights and identity. For many years Māori children were beaten at school for speaking their own language, the language that Alien Weaponry sing. But the message from the bridge is unmistakable:

“You take and take 
But you cannot take from who we are 
You cannot take our mana – (dignity)
You cannot take our māoritanga – (cultural identity)
You cannot take our people 
You cannot take our whakapapa – (family heritage)
You cannot take, you cannot take 
Raupatu!”

One criticism (if you can call it that) is that the sample at the start of “Whispers” is an interview with prominently racist politician Don Brash. The problem with this is that he is a lazy and ignorant man, and mispronounces the word ‘Māori’. I just wonder if international listeners would think that this is correct pronunciation, considering that they’d have no reason to know otherwise.

The production is decent. Tom Larkin from Shihad played a part in production, which earns them bonus points from me. I could certainly see an extra guitar coming in useful for filling out the sound, but they trio sound damn good for just a a three piece. And although it is thrash metal, they use dynamics well, as well as the traditional Māori instruments already mentioned, so it’s not all just a chug-fest that gets tired quick.

Put simply – this is an incredible release. A strong statement both musically and thematically, and all the more impressive when you consider that three school boys are behind it all. I am proud of Alien Weaponry for what they have achieved to date (including raising over USD $12,000 to record this album, and signing to Napalm Records), and can only see them gaining more success as they introduce their strong cultural identity to the world.


Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com

Bandcamp: https://alienweaponry.bandcamp.com/album/t-2

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlienWeaponry

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alienweaponry/

 

Joseph James

See also:

NGĀ TAMATOA WAIATA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALIEN WEAPONRY (November 2017)

Live Review: Royal Blood at TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Royal Blood Wellington
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Royal Blood

w/ Dead Favours

TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Friday 4 May 2018

It’s weird to think that it was just over a week ago that I last saw Jared Wrennall onstage. The Dead Favours singer had joined Skinny Hobos during their set when they opened for Biffy Clyro in Auckland last Tuesday.

The Hobos had done well, but this opening set that Dead Favours played in support of Royal Blood in Wellington tonight was heads and tails above it. The sound wasn’t even that great – TSB Arena is notorious for poor acoustics. The singing and guitar struggled to feature above the heavy low-end mix. Despite this, Dead Favours still managed to do themselves proud.

The crowd response was unbelievable. It was a big turn out for so early in the night – roughly 1700 people at that stage – and they were lapping it up, clapping along without prompting, cheering, and encouraging the band. I attend a lot of gigs and to see this kind of crowd support for a local opener is unheard of. Well done Dead Favours!

It’s hard to believe that Royal Blood have risen to this status on the back of just two albums. In fact, they’d already earned a lot of attention from their eponymous début, and latest album How Did We Get So Dark? only helped to cement their place in modern rock stardom. I was out-of-town when the duo last played Wellington three years ago, but they were already a much hyped-about band back then. The packed out venue tonight goes to show how popular they are. In fact, the crowd started up a chant “Royal Blood, Royal Blood!” after the first song, showing the strength of their collective enthusiasm.

“It’s a shock to come so far from where we live and see so many people here” singer Mike Kerr confessed, “We count ourselves lucky.”

I review a lot of solo projects on this blog, and the odd two-piece. But the fact remains that I’ll always be impressed with what just two talented musicians can pull off. I’d say the standard rock band has five roles: a singer, drums for the beat, bass for the low-end, and two guitars – one for rhythm and another for lead. And often you can get by with fewer players if they are talented enough, but creating a full sound from just two players is quite the feat.

Kerr employs a lot of technical wizardry to pull of the tones he creates with just a bass guitar in most of his songs. He’s like the swiss army kit singer, filling a range of duties, providing singing, banter, bass, guitar sounds, even playing a Rhodes organ at one stage.

Drummer Ben Thatcher is no slouch either. He came across as super casual, wearing a Slayer t-shirt and snapback cap, and spending as much time supping tequila from a red plastic cup as he did playing drums. He only spoke once during the set, coming forward to recite a poem, just to demand that we party with him when screams from the crowd interrupted his prose. But when he played you knew about it. A thunderous back beat, with deft playing that remained unbusy. He had interesting mannerisms. He threw his sticks high into the air as he played, just as he frequently threw his red cup off to the side between songs, only to fetch it and fill it, just to repeat after the next song.

The duo treated us to their arena rock with a hint of danger. A touch of blues, a sinister vibe, a noticeable swagger. Hard hitting, with crunchy riffs and clearly defined beats. They’ve clearly been at it for a long time. I noted that during the breakdown of “Lights Out” they managed to play as a tight unit, despite various tempo changes.

I could draw comparisons from other notable blues rock duos, but that’s just lazy. That said, I did see another two-piece, 21 Pilots play this same venue last year.

21 Pilots are great showmen. It’s all gimmicks and theatrics. They get away with playing as a two piece because they rely heavily on backing tracks. But hey, it makes for a great show. Royal Blood, however, are more straight up. No messing around with backing tracks, video screens, and odd stage costumes. They play hard, and they play well. And I respect them for it.

Royal Blood take notes from top-tier rock legends. The stark lighting show of vertical light bars and blinders could just fit in at a Nine Inch Nails gig. During “Little Monster” they paused, launched into a spellbinding drum solo, built the intensity, and came back to finish the song five minutes later. It’s the kind of move that Foo Fighters used to pull back in their prime.

Two backing singers came on for a handful of songs throughout the night, dressed in glittery black outfits. They were barely audible for most of it, but their haunting coos certainly enhanced “How Did We Get So Dark?”, from the album of the same name.

One of the key attractions is that Royal Blood make things things appear simple. Obviously it isn’t – getting those tones from a bass guitar isn’t normal at all – but it seems simple. Good riffs, fairly straightforward beats, stark lighting. It’s minimal, efficient – even down to the amount of people on stage. No-nonsense rock and roll. And it’s all damn good.

Joseph James

Buried Treasure: The Nerines – Owls

The Nerines Candle Claps
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Buried Treasure is a semi-regular feature that explores some hidden musical gems – the rare and forgotten B-sides, covers, hidden tracks, live versions and alternative takes that deserve some recognition.

I don’t remember how I first heard of The Nerines. They were from Palmy, and fit within a punk/indie scene. I saw them once playing an opening slot for Title Fight and it was super fun.

They got overshadowed when one of their members, Benny Tipene, entered on of those singing shows. Idol or X Factor or something like that… I was a fan of Benny’s and loved his folky solo work. He had a few lo-fi demo EPs up on bandcamp and they were great. He came to Wellington once to play at Mighty, Mighty, but I missed it because I had work that night. That was pre-fame days.

He ended up in the finals of the singing show, and although he didn’t win, the boosted profile did wonders for his music career. That’s the way it is in New Zealand – once you’ve been on television you’re bonafide celebrity until the wind changes. One of the pop anthems he wrote soundtracked Coca-Cola’s ad campaign that summer. I don’t begrudge him for his success, but I wish I had been able to see him play a small folk show before he blew up.

Anyway, back to The Nerines. They’re great. This song, “Owls” is my fave, due largely to the fun singalong outro.

It’s a fun tune. Strong bass lines that really stand out, bouncy drums, jangly guitars – these guys know how to play! A stop/start pre-chorus makes the chorus sound full of life and energy by comparison. And then it all cuts out.

Cue palm-muted strumming. The chant starts: “Everything looks shit in the sewer”. Talk about articulate! It just builds up and up and up – throbbing bass, then drums, than layered vocals, and soon enough the whole world is having a party. It’s so fun and you can’t help but shout along about how everything is shit but there’s no way you can actually mean it because you’re just caught up in the moment and life is so fun and this song is great and oh my, I’m out of breath, but what a ride!

 


The Nerines links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheNerines/

Bandcamp: https://thenerines.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Exclusive Track Premiere: Barracks – Lovestay (Acoustic)

Barracks ACOUSTAY cover
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It has been quiet on the Barracks-front for some time, but now the Bay of Plenty band have returned with a different sound. Taken from the 2016 of the same name, Lovestay has been re-recorded acoustically. This stripped back version showcases Jared Ipsen’s stellar singing abilities accompanied by tender piano playing stunning guitar strumming.

The sparse new arrangement contrasts against Barracks’ usual post-hardcore style, but works well. Moody, chilling, and incredibly well produced, it serves to highlight the introspective nature of the song.

Will Not Fade has a wickedly funny chat with Jared and Tom to learn what Barracks have been up to lately, and get a better picture of how the world looks from their point of view.

‘Lovestay (Acoustic)’ recorded by Barracks at C&T Studios, 2016. Mixed and mastered by Nathan Sowter. Streaming video by Joe O’Connor. Cover art by Conor Coleman.

What have you been up to over the past few years?

Jared:​ At the end of 2016, we released the criminally underrated EP, em>Lovestay. Early 2017, we played a couple of big shows with Baroness and Alexisonfire in Auckland, and will probably ride those sweet waves for a while. After that, we were drummerless, so Hunter (bass / vocals) started learning how to play. We offered Jin an $1,000,000 advance to play guitar for Barracks. We weren’t interested in playing traditional guitar solos anymore, but there shouldn’t be, like, a rule of no solos.

Obviously opening for bands like Baroness and Alexisonfire has earned you someawesome bragging rights. Do you think you’re ever likely to go on tour with an overseas act as the support band?

Jared:​ I mean, that would require going on tour, wouldn’t it?

How do you make it work, with band members living in different towns?

Tom: ​We make it work like any family in an indifferent universe. But we still want to be there for each other… The occasional birthday card. A text sent to say “are you alive?” Or just a simple drum beat tapped out and recorded in the car at the traffic lights for the others to make a song out of. Regular people. Doing regular things.

Tell me your thoughts on music piracy. Is it even a thing anymore, now that streaming is so dominant? I ask because you featured predominantly on the Bittorrent site a few years back.

Jared:​ I think if someone is the type that doesn’t pay for music, they’re never going to pay for music, no matter how much they like it. For me, it was really the difference between people hearing our music for free or not hearing it at all. As far as piracy goes, one of the main ways that people rip music these days is straight from YouTube – we don’t have things like Limewire anymore. If people are just gonna do that, I’d rather them have a good sounding version that it be compressed to shit. Our last royalty cheque from streams was $6.79 for the quarter. Which then has to be split between five people. So you could say we’re doing pretty well.

This acoustic version is quite different from your other material. Are you officially
sell-outs now, or did that happen long ago?

Jared:​ I think there’s an episode of The EPening where you can see the exact moment we sold out.

Tom: ​I’ve always wanted to sell out. I had to wait until the others gave up on their artistic integrity before joining me in the creative slums. But it’s nice to finally have company.

But in all seriousness, why an acoustic version of an old track, rather than a completely new song?

Jared:​ Last year we played a few acoustic shows and a live to air on bFM, and people really seemed to enjoy it – or at least they didn’t tell us they hated it, so it seems fair to make that assumption. We thought it would be cool to record a few acoustic versions of our songs because it’s easy and doesn’t take very long. We have around 10 new songs that we’re working on at the moment, we just haven’t quite gotten the bass tone right.

Lovestay was written a few years ago now. Do you still identify with the person you were when you wrote it?

Jared:​ Yeah, definitely. I’ve tried to keep a theme running through all the Barracks songs, so Lovestay is really just an extension of the ideas from Ghosts, especially in tracks like Fallaway. The EP is about growing up and my pathetic attempts at being as an adult, and I still suck at being as adult, and probably will do for quite some time.

Conor Coleman has his finger in a lot of pies. I can’t even keep up with all the musical
projects that he is part of. He’s currently doing trap music. How did it come about that he did the cover art for this release?

Jared:​ My sister took the original photo for the Lovestay EP over in France. I had been thinking about cover art for Acoustay when I scrolled past Conor’s photo in my Instagram and it was a perfect fit. Then, I slid in to his DMs and asked if we could use it. He said yes. Then I gave him my email address, and he electronically sent me a copy of the photo in the original resolution. After that, I put it in to Photoshop and cropped it into a square.

I adore your social media presence. Do you brainstorm funny things to post, or does it
come naturally?

Jared:​ It comes naturally, unfortunately. All of the vlogs we’ve made have just come about from pointing a camera at each other while we hang out. It seems funny from the outside, but when you have to spend any amount of time with us, it can get pretty old.

What is the band’s consensus on Tenacious D? Is it good or bad to own multiple copies</strong of their CD? [Full disclosure: I’ve seen the D play live three times]

Jared:​ I mean, they’re fine. Say what you will about Jack Black but that dude has pipes, and obviously Kyle is a genius. I had one or two copies of their debut back in the day – it’s just one of those CDs no one remembers buying but every household seems to have a (two) copy(ies), like American Idiot. They’ve been nominated for Grammys and made movies and shit so it’s kind of hard to hate on them when they’re just doing their thing and having a good time. Wonderboy is a jam.

Tom: ​Personally, if somebody was in my car, going through the oooool’ CD Wallet looking for bangaz, and they stumbled across two copies of the ‘D, side-by-side, in the same wallet, I would be proud. Not only proud that I managed to convince someone to get in a car with me, but also that the lucky passenger could not only listen to the ‘D on non-stop rotate, but also hold the ‘D in their hand and appreciate the craftsmanship of that wee devil.

Barracks 2018

Why do you hate drummers?

Jared:​ They take too long to set up, they’re always playing around with other bands on the side, and you have to stop yourself from getting close in case they leave you again.

Tom: ​I wish Jared was a drummer so he would leave, too.

Do you prefer playing R18 or AA shows?

Jared:​ It’s a different vibe. As someone that’s been sucking at putting on AA shows for about 10 years now, I’m probably a bit biased toward them. R18 are usually pretty wild though, the only downside is making money for the Illuminati alcohol industry. The hard part of all ages shows lately has been getting people through the door – there aren’t too many young bands kicking around, so sometimes you just play to the other bands that are playing. We call it ‘communal band practice.’

Do you feel that the new Facebook react emoji things have helped you to express your
feelings better?

Tom: ​It’s a step in the right direction, where people have kind of given up on written and spoken communication. Print is dying, nobody uses phones for talking anymore, and the average age level of spelling and literacy is decreasing. So it’s nice to see emojis step up to the plate and let people know how they feel – with zero effort given (either by actually expressing themselves in well reasoned, thought out sentences or, god forbid, letting somebody actually see their face). I’m rather looking forward to the next step in communication evolution where nobody does anything out of fear of being embarrassed or having their overall life rating decrease.

I think that something that helps Barracks stand out is the focus on melody. Is this a conscious effort to eschew the clichéd approach within the genre of trying to sound as heavy as possible?

Jared:​ I don’t think it’s been a conscious choice as such to be more emo – I’d say we’ve always been a post-hardcore band that have lumped ourselves in with heavier bands, out of necessity more than anything. With the size of our scene in NZ, it doesn’t really make sense to split all the bands up into single genre shows. Also, screaming is hard and hurts my head.

Does this new single signal a wave of new material to come?

Jared:​ Nah, probably not.

Tom: ​Jared’s overall nihilism gets me pretty jacked up, so I’m hoping to work with that and try disappoint him further with the doomiest riff ever created and maybe made into a song. Stay tuned. Just don’t hold your breath. Like, tune in… But keep the volume low so it doesn’t distract you. Then when you least expect it, maybe, just maybe…

What’s next for Barracks?

Jared:​ We’ve just started an alliance in Contest of Champions, so we’re going to be going really hard on that for a while, see where it takes us.

Tom: ​A new song. Please. Just anything. If anyone in Barracks reads this… I miss you guys.

Jared:​ If anyone would like to replace Tom as the guitarist for Barracks, flick me a text on 0279038596.


Get Lovestay (Acoustic) here – smarturl.it/LovestayAcoustic

Barracks links:

BANDCAMP + MERCH | www.barracksmusic.bandcamp.com
INSTAGRAM l instagram.com/barracksmusic
FACEBOOK l facebook.com/barracksmusic
TWITTER l twitter.com/barracksmusic_
TUMBLR | www.fuckyeahbarracksmusic.tumblr.com
YOUTUBE | https://www.youtube.com/barracks

 

Joseph James