Thursday, May 30 2024

There are few times, as a writer, that you’re genuinely wowed. As you get older the ‘wows’ are fewer and farther betwixt, but when Gender Reveal Atomic Bomb landed on my ‘desk’ my scepticism turned to unbridled joy within 90 seconds. You see, I remember the changing landscape of music in the early ’90s; it was the second coming of punk. In many ways this was just an extension of the ’80s hardcore / crossover period, but had a wider appeal. It was politicised. It was angry. It was beautiful and then the marketing executives saw the potential and turned it into something grotesque; a commodity, a hairstyle, an image. And they all got rich, sucked the life out of it and discarded the carrion for the buzzards. 

Gender Reveal Atomic Bomb (GRAB from this point on, as it only benefits my word count otherwise!), are from Belgium; the brain disease of American siblings Beau and Blaise Ramsey. They’re young, raw and have enough attitude and talent to elevate the topography of the Flemish region to a height exceeding Signal de Botrange (694m in case you’re interested). ‘Who is the Alien?’ is merely their fifth release and they’re already pushing themselves into more expansive soundscapes. This, dear reader, is prog-punk.

Before we get into the mechanics of that however, I want to touch upon their previous work. To set the scene. To offer background and perspective in a retrospective manner. ‘Generation Atomic Bomb’ is as close to a Riot Grrrl! vibe as you could possibly get, without the ability to time travel; think ‘Cherry Bomb’ meets ‘Rebel Girl.’ Blaise’s vocals are all attitude. A heady mix of Kathleen Hanna and Cherie Currie and a Jennifer Finch growl. ‘Killed by Death,’ is a time slipping, Black Sabbath meets Rage Against the Machine assault, that has been run through a Beck Hanson weirdizer. This offers enough ‘Easter Eggs’ to suggest GRAB were always destined to be something more than just another post-punk band.

‘Party Animals’ is a fun 3-minute, modulating insani-core piece, with elements of early Suicidal Tendencies and Mr. Bungle. “It’s a big White House and the mobs inside it,” repeats Blaise in her characteristically unhinged tones; suggesting that the narrative could be a tongue-in-cheek piece of social commentary. ‘Abducted by Aliens’, was written by Blaise at 13. 13!? I never even got my first guitar until 17. Beau and Blaise played this in front of their High School during a talent show. It’s raucous. Rancorous. And I can’t help but imagine that Huey Lewis popped up in a cameo capacity with megaphone and said, “Sorry guys, you’re just too darn loud!”

The major takeaways from GRAB’s early work are; they can write songs, they can write riffs, they’re not afraid to take risks and they’re wonderfully unhinged. It’s hard not to love them. Sure, production wise they could do with a little polish here and there, but nothing too glossy. Nothing too clean. You don’t want to kill the energy and temper the chaos by ensuring there’s decent separation and clean up the guitars, brighten the bass etc. That’d be terrible and frankly unnecessary.

What we have with, ‘Who is the Alien?’, is an inspired and evolving 6-minute plus prog-punk monster. It showcases their nuanced song-writing and growing confidence in expressing their ideas lucidly. They’re taking risks and asking questions of their audience and of themselves; and that’s how you grow as an artist. 

The opening montage features an almost funeral-paced D natural minor progression from D to G and is mirrored by the vocal line with a distinct air for the theatrical. No intro. Drop D. It’s a huge risk. There’s nothing to prepare the listener. No indication of what’s about to unfold. How very avant-garde. I like it. It’s ridiculous. The accented bridge sequences are simple and stay within the D natural minor key. This sequence is repeated, before the first breakdown to a chugging open D that resolves with a quick E, Bb, G pass. 

Cue Blaise and her screaming higher register and a variation of the breakdown riff, delivered with a more double-time hardcore-esque abandon, before evolving to a staccato variant with half-time drums. This pulls the listener back and allows the song to cycle back to the opening theme effortlessly; after a brief pause and bass slide. The second incantation however, is a more stumbling and muted variant of the first with the addition of slightly off-kilter accents and occasional time-slips. 

There is a further interlude garnished with some lovely guitar lead fragments harmonised in 3rds, before a sample from a Donald Trump rally plays over a stop / start riff.  This develops into a call and response sequence between bass and guitar, before the second section concludes.

The next section opens with a palm-muted quasi-Rage Against The Machine riff with the repeated vocal, “Who is the Alien?” In fact, there is a distinct RATM flavour throughout this short section before we return to both double and half-time hardcore riffs from the opening section. The circle is complete with the song ending as it began with the funeral-paced D natural minor progression.

On occasions it does appear, for all intents and purposes, that the song is likely to fall apart at any moment, but that doesn’t detract from what is a brilliantly entertaining and brave piece of songwriting. Sure, it’s not without its issues, in terms of production and balance and timing, but so what? It’s prog-punk, not prog-rock. You’ll either love it, or hate it and to be honest that’s probably exactly what GRAB want.

Theirs is not a blueprint for accessibility. It’s about creating something that means something to them and having fun with it. They’re clearly addressing issues that impact upon them and the wider world. Whether they gain any traction remains to be seen, but for now, let’s just enjoy them; imperfect, raw, but supremely talented and creating interesting and evocative noises.

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An unforgiving journey through the breadths and depths of Belgium prog-punk that’s ridiculously entertaining. Enjoy! Imperfect, raw, but supremely talented.
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About Author

Gareth Johnston

Gareth Johnston is a Lancashire based musician and producer who studied music at MMU. He is a former reviewer for 'Glitzine' and when not writing for 'The Indie Grid' can be found restoring old furniture whilst listening to obscure alt-rock. He has too many favourite bands to pick one and insists it's easier to pick a favourite child.

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