I started off this review with one of the most annoying questions in music: "But, what is ____?" In this case, the blank was "progressive hardcore". Citizens, a Glaswegian trio, were originally described to me as 'hardcore'. I didn't know if I was getting a band like Minor Threat or a band like While She Sleeps. Or you know, it could have been something off Clubland X-Treme. And, a quick google of "progressive hardcore" gave me a fan-made compilation with Avenged Sevenfold, Killswitch Engage and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Scared and confused, I did what I was here to do. I actually gave the "progressive hardcore trio" a listen.
Habitual Smoker Blues, the opening track of semi-self-titled album CTZNS, starts off with a DIY Punk staple - lots of noise and feedback. The band kick in and it's strange. The song isn't overly distorted or bad quality, which is brilliantly surprising for live recordings. I put this down to the album's engineer, Bruce Rintoul of Lofi Studios. The guitars have more of a 'crunch' than a distortion, and the bass has wonderful tone. Instead of hardcore's famous fast-as-a-hamster-on-crack strumming, each part of this song feels like it's been thought out and carefully calculated, whilst keeping a raw energy that anything with 'hardcore' attached to it is best at. With a short blast of screamed vocals the song goes in to something that sounds like it may fit in well in an old Biffy Clyro song. With a massive instrumental part before the ending to the album opener, Citizens changed me from confused to amazed.
The next few tracks are hard to describe. Well no, I can describe them, and I will, but they are all quite complicated. Woollen Mammoth starts off with a guitar part that might find it's place on an indie track, before the bass and drums come in and completely change the tone of the song. Changing from indie to progressive hardcore, it feels completely natural. These songs are really just a description of the "progressive" part of "progressive hardcore". One thing I noticed was, each song is at least 3 minutes long, which isn't very hardcore at all. Apart from one, which funnily enough has the word 'Punks' in the title - New Punks. Parts of these songs fit in with bands I love; I could imagine some of it in a The Chariot song, or an old school punk song, and one song reminded me of local boys Dweller. But together, it sounds like nothing I've heard before. Maybe I live a sheltered life, just me and my cats, but this is beautifully new to me.
After the 48 second punk track, the band have their progressive hats on again, with track Heavy Breather. At 5 minutes long, I felt it was a little long. If I'm honest, I found myself on Facebook about 3 minutes in. Luckily the ending was both heavy and somewhat quirky, so I came rushing back with my proverbial tail between my legs.
Old Flame and Penance held my attention better, the former actually reminding me of Pulled Apart By Horses. Oblivion opens with a baseline that sounds like it was lifted straight from a crust song. It's horrendously dark. When the guitar and drums kick in they keep up this darkness. Yet, due to the guitar parts it fits in amongst the rest of these songs. The next two songs confused me, not only because one had lyrics on bandcamp even though there were no vocals, but because it was two instrumental tracks back to back. The first, Hats Off to Phil Differ, has the name "Philip Richard David Differ" written 18 times listed as lyrics. And I was pretty disappointed when I didn't hear some sort of chant of this name. The instrumental interlude, aptly named Interlude is the most laid back, and light, track on the album. Putting it after another instrumental track seemed a little reckless, but making it the penultimate song of CTZNS was genius. I was relaxed when I should have been bracing. The final track of the album, Distance Blues, brings back the darkness, and the trio come full force. This song is another long one, but it doesn't feel as drawn out as Heavy Breather, even though it's 2 minutes longer. This is due to a middle section which is actually quite mellow, before the song comes steaming in like a drunk horse with a massive, aggressive finale.
I was going to write that Citizens took me by surprise with this album, but I can't, as I wasn't surprised - I had nothing to expect when I opened my ears to them. But what I can write is: I'm glad I did. This album is full of chops and changes that run smoothly together. It's full of raw passion and aggression that don't compromise the quality. With music and vocals that fit together perfectly on each track, CTZNS is a dark, tense, and heavy album, without being a chore to listen to. It's influences are familiar, but it's songs are original.
CTZNS by Citizens is out NOW via citizens.bandcamp.com