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Album Review: He Who Cannot Be Named – The Good the Bad and the Brutal

As the masked guitarist of the Dwarves and successful solo act, He Who Cannot Be Named has a penchant for revealing pretty much everything on stage, aside from his identity. The Good The Bad and the Brutal is his fourth release as a solo act. The titular choice suggests a heavier album, replete with a more metal sound. This isn’t the case though, with the tunes sitting recognisably in the canon of HWCBN and Dwarves releases. That is, solid punky overtones with a couple of nods towards hardcore and a tongue in cheek approach to lyricism as demonstrated on songs such as The Good Gestapo and Good Fuck.

There is the reliably punchy approach to structure, with tight fast songs that bear all the hallmarks of American punk. However this relentless approach also leads to something of a homogenous feel across the first few tracks. Taken by themselves they aren’t bad songs but it did feel as though there isn’t that much to tell between them. As the album progresses though, there is some deviation from this initial formula which creates a more well rounded record. The tracklist alternates between songs titled either good or bad, the brutal to be found presumably in the subject matter. Certainly this is the case in the first song A Good Problem which addresses an apathetic response to the world’s ills.

The song opens with a short drum intro before the powerful guitar work comes through. In fact the guitar work is pretty much on point for all the songs. There is a reasonably jaunty melodic feel to this song, while the vocals are gruff but well delivered. The sentiment is pretty much encapsulated within the phrase ‘The problem is I don’t give a shit.’ This is a relatively strong opener, that keeps things short and sweet. The following numbers generally also clock in at below three minutes. Bad Day reflects on disliking the fact that it’s your birthday and the process of ageing. Good Kill has a little more venom to it and feels purposeful and riled up. It also has a strong ending with a crescendo of siren like guitar and pounding drum rolls.

As the album continues the songs are much in the same vein sonically until seventh track Good Guys of the Wild West. This has an intro that sounds like the part of an old film score when something dramatic is about to happen, or possibly a Scooby Doo episode before the Villain is shown up to no good. This song is probably one of my favourite tracks on the album. It riffs off Ghost riders in the Sky, whilst injecting stabs of horn that give mean it wouldn’t feel inappropriate in a Sergio Leone film. The excitement and the danger of cowboys crossing great open plains is neatly captured.

This more varied approach to instrumentation is maintained on the next track as well. Bad Decisions starts out with a banjo and a vocal that sounds as if the singer been gargling with gravel. This is punked up country number, cataloguing a list of ill considered choices. In the tradition of many country songs the events described are lugubrious and unwise. It makes for a mellower sound but one that really works well. There is even the slight hint of organ in the final flourish.

Good Fuck lasts for a staggering minute and a half; make of that what you will. It is a funny song though which is enjoyably snotty and derisive. ‘No no no I’m not love struck but baby baby baby you’re a good fuck.’ Here again the guitar cuts through the surrounding instrumentation with verve. The list of faults is puerile and amusing, making for a song that is jokey and definitely not taking itself too seriously. It sits well against Bad Penny which is even shorter at 1:07, ten seconds of which are given over to a start of wailing feedback. This is a harder hitting song which ends on an excellent scream.

Penultimate track Good Day to Die is a slower affair that deals with the topic of Suicide. There is a mournful tone to the verse as might be expected and some interesting surprisingly noodly guitar lines. However this is juxtaposed with a deceptively upbeat chorus; a device that works well whilst retaining the overall melancholy feel. Finally things round off on Bad Memory which is shot through with a sound akin to The Ramones; no bad thing by my reckoning. The song makes effective use of a cut out to an isolated guitar twang half way through. As the name suggests the song deals with overcoming bad memories and attempting to move on. It’s a good way to round off the track-list on an album that covers more subject matter than it’s song names might initially suggest.

The Good The Bad and The Brutal isn’t breaking the mould but it is overall a decent listen. The twelve tracks rattle by at a pretty fast pace, with clearly very competent playing. As it progresses there are more varied elements introduced into the sonic texture. However this could perhaps have been explored more as some of the tracks do feel a little indistinct at times. That said, not every record has to be entirely novel or experimental and what this one does it does well. It is chiefly no frills solid punk, albeit with some intriguing variants and strong fretwork. I found the album actually improved towards the latter tracks, where the range of influences broadened allowing each tune to hold its own in a more pronounced fashion.

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