Released: 28 September 2018
Label: Good Gear Records
Birdhead’s second record Massive Aggressive does exactly what it says on the tin, but fear not, it offers some breathing space too
Published in The Skinny
Cryptic album titles exist in abundance. These can have the power to cause prolonged periods of contemplation, or just plain perplex to the point of cerebral contortion; seldom do they convey the sound contained within as accurately as Birdhead’s second full-length Massive Aggressive.
David Nicklen and Stephen Donkin have been sculpting the follow-up to their debut Pleasure Centre for the last five years. Evident is the craft employed by the Edinburgh pair, as the album manages to be eclectic, unorthodox, considered and brimming with a beastly creative vigour without sounding overstuffed. The simplest way of harnessing them would be krautrock by Nintendo. But the ferocity and confidence that governs their sound snap any conventional genre leashes and allows them to run rampant.
Their affection for the wailing riffs of classic rock is very much alive and well here, but upped is their penchant for electronica which presents their sound with a greater 80s sheen than they've had before. Lyrics are generally sparse, or non-existent throughout, however, tracks of the latter allow them to exhibit their solid stranglehold on soundscape.
The first taste of the album came in 2016 with the release of single Custom Muscle. It serves now as the opening cut and is a prime way of being ushered into the latest expansion of their world. Droning distortion and grizzled electronica meld with Donkin’s animated and angered vocal. Sabre-sharp guitar solos duel with a whipping snare. The track’s burly crackle and fuzz is a motif that links much of the album, notable other mentions being Sunsleeper and Massive Aggressive.
Autostrider’s blend of plodding synths and squealing reverb could have been plucked straight out of a cop show from a decade where neon shone eternally. Equally, if you were to dust off a retro console and fire up Out Run, this could provide a soundtrack with a higher dose of torque. And if John Carpenter ever tires of penning film scores, menacing throbber Tweak proves these lads should be first on the call sheet.
Lulls in this sonic skirmish do exist. After the destructive ditty of Tesseract lies minimalistic Incidentals, its slow tempo and spacey signals allow for a pleasant interim of reflection. It also serves as an ephemeral cushion before Science Eye erupts with thrashing percussion and the inaugural line: 'I fucked it up when I met you!' But the track’s mid-point shift of tone and time signature finishes the tune with a jangled guitar melody that provides further assuage and grants an opportunity to drift off into a lolling daydream.
The interim between their debut album and here was long, but if haste had been employed it would have resulted in a lesser product and this product lives up to the promise of its tin. It is massive. It is aggressive.