For Fans Of
That’s the first and final thought that enters my mind when I listen to Blood Command’s latest record, ‘Cult Drugs’.
As I listen through the recent and upcoming releases I’ve been loving lately – from new Belle Haven, Igorrr, Ulver, aswekeepsearching, SikTh, Fox Territory, and At The Drive In – I’m still thinking about Blood Command and their terrific second album, ‘Cult Drugs’, in some way. Even when I’ve been listening to records that I’ve instead loathed – like the new “efforts” from Paramore, In Hearts Wake, and Kings, for example – there’s a thought angrily tugging away at my mind. This booming, ever-frequent thought screams throughout my skull, echoing the same thing over and over: “Alex, you’re aware you could be listening to ‘Cult Drugs’ instead of whatever you’re currently shoving in your ears, yeah?”
Yes, for like any piece of art that utterly captives you upon first exposure, you cannot help but think about it when you’re not engaging with or consuming said art. Like when you’re on the daily grind at work, when you’re driving and someone else has aux chord rights, when you’re listening to other music, when you’re about to go to bed, when you wake up in the morning, or when you’re doing any other mundane activity of everyday life. Thus, you return to the art in question time and time again, seeking further satisfaction; like a hungry addict craving for their next fix. And that, my friends, has been the euphoric haze my life has been in since discovering Norway’s Blood Command. As that has been the vice-like grip that the loud, slick, yet incredibly engaging and magnificently energetic ‘Cult Drugs‘ has had on my senses lately. Again, the term ‘addictive’ feels so apt here.
Look, if you somehow couldn’t tell by now, I fucking love this record, and it’s one I struggle to fault.
For those not familiar with this Bergen quartet, their previous full-length dropped five years ago in the form of the decent ‘Funeral Beach’, whose cover of The Faint’s ‘Agenda Suicide‘ was and still is an easy standout. Now, that was back when the band were fronted by former vocalist Silje Tombre, who has since been replaced by commanding singer and screamer, Karina Ljone. This vocalist changeover has indeed been for the better as while Tombre wasn’t bad by any means, Ljone is a stronger replacement, a better fit for the band’s overall, and who kills it here with her dual-vocal deliveries; slipping between infectious clean vocals and vicious barks and screams at the drop of a hat.
Vocalists aside, however, ‘Cult Drugs’, is a whole other beast entirely from its predecessor.
With a religious/drug addiction metaphor lyrically discussing people’s self-enslavement to their often warped sense of self-importance, this Norweigan crew have crafted a bolder, tighter, and far more sonically polished record (courtesy of engineer, Dag Erik Nygaard); one whose sonic variation and ebb and flow from song to song makes for such an enjoyable listen. What bolsters this is the fact that the band’s skyrocketing energy levels fill this record to the very brim before breaking the levy and overflowing, in the best possible way, mind you. Because hot fucking damn, each of these 10 songs would easily give a younger At The Drive In a run for their reunion money (‘The Secret Impresses No One‘), as well as matching the sheer unbridled aggression of The Blood Brothers or the aggressive early work of Glassjaw (‘White Shin Tanned_Teeth‘).
However, even with such an adrenaline-pumping LP, Blood Command don’t just rely on frantic pacing, high-octane vocals and loud, careening instrumentals. Even though they totally could do that and get away with it. For on ‘Cult Drugs‘, the four-piece flex their eclectic musical muscles with some delicious genre-mixing.
Across these ten consistently gripping songs, Blood Command tastefully weave scathing hardcore sections, raw punk rock influences, and catchy power-pop melodies into a statement of pure, blistering expression. More specifically, they do this by merging: ravey, neon synths, brief disco elements, Paramore-levels of catchy hooks, anthemic choruses, surging and crunchy bass lines, galloping rock riffs that take a leaf out of Refused’s book and bouncy, yet often busy and bombastic, style-shifting drumming. Then, on top of all of that, Mariachi trumpets even enter the chaotic fray on two particular tracks; ‘Nervous Laughter‘ and the brilliant closer, ‘(The World Covered In) Purple Shrouds‘.
And you want to know the best part? It all works so wonderfully well, both individually and collectively. For Blood Command’s mix of sounds and influences never once feels contrived, amateur nor even messy. In fact, it always feels the opposite way; smooth, natural, well-executed, and effortless.
I think what helps make this all work in perfect tandem is the fact that the band’s guitarist, lyricist, key songwriter, and producer are one in the same person – Yngve Andersen; the taller gentleman seen in the above promo shots. Aside from helping coin the rather cringy “death-pop” term (which Australia’s own Storm The Sky adhere themselves with lately), Andersen is the real core of Blood Command. With the highly skilful performances of the air-tight, show-stealing drummer Sigurd Haakaas, the aggressive bass playing of Simon Oliver Økland and Ljone’s raw shouts and driving vocals, the path is well-paved for Andersen to amply supply the band’s music with solid, gritty riffs.
The results of this potent chemistry are the ten ballsy songs that make up ‘Cult Drugs‘; which really do fit the coveted definition of ‘all killer, no filler’.
The album starts off superbly with the explosive ‘CTRL+ART+DEL‘, but I find the 90-second late game cut of ‘White Skin Tanned_Teeth‘ to be a real microcosm of ‘Cult Drugs‘. What with it’s raging hardcore sensibilities, brisk pace, pounding drumming, angular guitar riffs, intensive screams, uplifting choruses and solid clean singing all barely contained within a vehement minute and a half runtime. Many of these elements are found throughout the rest of the record; from the fist-pumping titular track, the towering choruses of ‘Quitters Don’t Smoke‘ and ‘You Can’t Sit With Us‘, the mid-album banger ‘Gang Signs‘, and the punchy ‘The Secret Impresses No One‘. (I dare you to listen to that intro and tell me that isn’t a Refused riff).
Later on, ‘Initiation Tape #1‘ slows things down in terms of tempo and overall intensity. However, the quality songwriting, mixture of light and heavy elements (the harsh screaming over rigid synths and danceable grooves, for instance) and smooth melodic tendencies all remain steadfast. This penultimate track also gives the listener some breathing room from the band’s pulsating chaos and allows Blood Command’s sonic scope to expand; as the massive space created here via monolithic drums, subtle hand percussion, glitchy electronics, wide synths, and anchoring guitar chords will swallow you whole.
Finally, I think it’s only fair to wrap this review up by mentioning the album’s fantastic six-minute swansong, ‘(The World Covered In) Purple Shrouds‘. The highest peak of this record, ‘(The World Covered In) Purple Shrouds‘ was actually my very first taste of Blood Command and I’ve been completely hooked on it and it’s dynamic and at times dissonant delivery ever since. Sure, the nine songs leading up to this are indeed great tunes but it’s in this finale that the band deliver and nail every element of their sound in perfect fashion. Much like ‘Nervous Laughter‘ before it in the track listing, the addition of horns and conga percussion here gives the proceedings a real sense of character, as that particular instrumentation gloriously races alongside the building and breakneck rhythm section, vocals and riffs so fucking well.
I mean, Christ, you couldn’t ask for a better end to such a grand record than this killer tune.
In her ‘Cult Drugs’ review for Metal Hammer, writer Dannii Leivers points out that Blood Command hails from Bergen, Norway, which is “a city notorious for its black metal scene”, and that “the quartet have eschewed their hometown’s darker fixations”. Leivers is spot on here in her observation. Bergen has produced black metal acts such as Immortal, Burzum and is also where Gorgoroth are now based, and that’s to name but three. Yet Blood Command play music that’s leaps and bounds away from the dark realms of black metal. For in a place whose musical history is more or less dominated by extreme music, controversial figures, and negative stereotypes of the underground metal world, Blood Command’s latest is a brash, eclectic and confident punk-rock sucker punch to those preconceptions.
If you hadn’t the foggiest on who Blood Command was before reading this utterly gushing review and your curiosity is now spiked, then just know that ‘Cult Drugs’ will be a superb initiation; the best you’re likely to ever get. For real, these guys and gal are next level shit and ‘Cult Drugs’ really is the dog’s bollocks! So, swallow that cool-aide and come join me in holy worship.
2. Cult Drugs
3. Quitters Don’t Smoke
4. Nervous Laughter
5. Gang Signs
6. You Can’t Sit With Us
7. The Secret Impresses No One
8. White Skin Tanned_Teeth
9. Initiation Tape #1
10. (The World Covered In) Purple Shrouds
‘Cult Drugs’ is out now. Get it here. I superficially docked a point due to that subpar cover artwork and the fact that Lodz put out a new album this year. Find out why I love ‘(The World Covered In) Purple Shades’ so damn much below with its music video featuring eerie, post-mass suicide file footage of the Heaven’s Gate cult: