Band: Birds In Row
Album: Personal War
Label: Deathwish Inc
Pressing: 1st pressing. Transparent Orange / 1994
Birds In Row are not really a band that you can easily define. Which I think is fantastic from a musical perspective, but it can make writing about them a tricky prospect for someone that overthinks everything. The three piece from Laval, France are melodic, but they are also caustic and chaotic, something that is true for every aspect of the band, from guitars to drums through to vocals. I refer to them as post-hardcore, which is obviously a tricky term in itself - something that can easily have extremely different meanings from one person to the next. I use the term here because Birds In Row blur the lines between punk, hardcore and all it’s closer sub-genres. It’s root is in Hardcore, but there is no obvious influence from a band such as Minor Threat, and there are no pit anthems here either. There is definitely an abrasive element to their music, but it is nothing like the abrasiveness from a band such as European beatdown merchants Nasty.
The bands newest offering, ‘Personal War’ is also quite hard to define stylistically. I find that sonically it straddles the area between the work on their ‘Collected’ album and their Deathwish debut ‘You, Me & The Violence’. I feel this is intentional, and the band seem to have finally locked into their definitive sound. Although ‘You Me & The Violence’ was a fantastic album, I feel that the production emphasised the fuzz and distortion, relying on that to drive the albums chaotic quality, and subsequently losing some of the musicianship in the process. With ‘Personal War’, the production is cleaner in one sense, letting the chaotic sound come purely from the musicians wrestling with their instruments. For instance, ‘Intro’ uses strained guitar tones that form a dirge, as cymbals are rattled underneath some haunting, overlapping vocals. The drums start to beat, escalating the tension before catching a quick breath and launching straight into ‘Torches’ which encapsulates Birds In Row and their whole style into one song. Frantic and frenetic, it has galloping drum patterns, and jangly, chaotic guitar work supporting strained, distraught and urgent vocals. The track has a fast/slow structure, and hurtles towards an almost false crescendo, instead choosing to intentionally fall apart under its own weight.
‘O’Dear’, slows the pace slightly with a marching, staggered drum pattern. This once again holds up some very jangly yet distorted guitar work that layers up the riffs, while a very dirty sounding bass rumble throws in some punches. On the vinyl the two tracks are split up across sides A & B, but when played digitally ‘Weary’ and ’Worried’ blend into one seamless act, forming the centre-piece of the album. The former has a hammering rhythm, building slowly into a galloping drum pattern, then a barrage of drum fills, followed by a melée of vocal and guitar stabs, before a rumbling bass line cuts through the chaos to signify the beginning of ‘Worried’ a track that descends with a drum march into an extremely atmospheric turn, one filled with negative space, simple guitar tones and eerie, echoing vocals. The whole EP reminds me very much of November Coming Fire and their amazing album ‘Dungeness’. It has a lurching, distraught and atmospheric musicianship that always feels like it is building towards some tragic, chaotic crescendo.
The EP finishes with ‘Marathon’, which is an epic closer. The chaotic, mad stagger of musicianship builds steadily, before one last galloping flutter of drums and guitars lays the groundwork for a crescendo of hammering drums, smashed cymbals and gut wrenching screams, all of which is finally silenced by some sharp, strangling feedback.
And just like that it’s over, the rather intense 18 minutes gone in the blink of an eye. Throughout this EP/album there is an immediacy and desperation to the songs and their structure. The music and vocals are delivered in such a way that It feels like the tracks could collapse in on themselves at any second. Like a surfer riding the tube of a wave, you are never sure if they will make it out at the other side. It is perhaps not a style of Hardcore for everyone, but the last time I heard a sound on record with this sort of style, it was listening to Ruiner, which were one of my favourite bands for a long time. It is a chaotic style, but one that creates a very ‘live’ sound. When it is purposeful, and played with conviction as it is with Birds In Row, it makes for an immediate and unique sound. It snatches at your attention, and it is well deserved. Birds In Row are definitely a band to check out if you have been sleeping on them!