There’s no better way to come out of hibernation than with a blast of eye-popping musical enterprise, so Viet Cong’s arrival in Brighton marks – for us at least – the start of a new musical year, full of ominous promise and genre-blending brashness.
Viet Cong have been blipping away on the radar of music journo’s since the release of their 2013 Cassette EP but with the arrival of their eponymous debut full-length the band have taken their shape-shifting sounds to another level, combining meditative rhythms, tribal beats, shuddering riffs and a dose of Bowie-esque angularity to make one of the most interesting, beguiling and downright exciting albums around. Led by bassist and vocalist Matt Flegel, the Canadian band rip through genres and eras building up their musical house of cards before smashing a fist through it. It’s dense and adrenalised, it’s muscular and brooding and it’s (counter-intuitively) uplifting.
On the surface the Canadian four-piece, who emerged from the tragic ends of previous band Women, are musically dark and dense, but a couple of listens reveal not only a playfulness under the lyrical darkness but a real joy in the act of making music. For such a new band Viet Cong provide innumerable spaces in which to get completely lost; the neurotic riffing of Bunker Buster; the magnificent churning rush of Continental Shelf; the juddering tribalism of March of Progress. There’s a fearlessness too, a propulsion that makes the whole work seem untethered and unabashed. The two minutes of hypnotic drums at the start of March of Progress are typical. Everywhere there are periods of trance-like repetition, always the prelude to a sharp turn, a twist, a pivot into something fascinating.
By any reckoning the band has dipped their music in some powerful oil and their musical war machine purrs across the landscape with a brutal beauty. Variously feeling like Berlin-era Bowie, English early ’80s Gothic Rock and finally and gloriously on epic album closer Death, doom metal, delivered Black Sabbath style. The 11-minute behemoth reduces at one point to an endlessly repeating end-of-days riff that is a stark evocation of the song’s subject matter. All of which suggests the album is a little on the dark side. Yes and no – there’s too much momentum in the grooves, too much inclusive mantra in the vocalisations, too much euphoria in the breakout moments for things to ever descend into despair. Even in the darkest moments there are tendrils arcing towards the sunlight, seeking new beginnings.
Embracing the moment and the inherent darkness is easy with Viet Cong. Continental Shelf perhaps says it best: “when all is said and done, you’ll be around until you’re gone”. Seek them out and dip a toe into the dark pool, it’s mighty refreshing in here.