Raised Fist

From The North

Written by: AP on 13/01/2015 17:07:45

Few bands command the kind of respect that Sweden’s premier hardcore act Raised Fist have earned during their 22-year career. Countless offers from major labels, opportunities to play at some of the biggest mainstream festivals, and chances to tour with far more popular bands have categorically been turned down for fear of losing their artistic autonomy and live spontaneity, with Raised Fist typically preferring to invite local support from the Luleå area to tour the world with them, on their own terms, refusing to be influenced by economic interests. Lou Koller, himself revered for his work with Sick Of It All, thus deservedly names them as one of the world’s three most progressive hardcore bands, just as their nomination for several Grammy awards testifies in favour of their sovereign success. You would expect nothing less from a band who derive their moniker from Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy” (”Born with an insight and a raised fist…”) of course, yet it hasn’t been until this latest opus “From the North” that the philosophy of Raised Fist truly took a musical form.

Indeed, biographical details reveal that the band, presently made up of vocalist Alexander ‘Alle’ Hagman, guitarists Daniel Holmgren & Jimmy Tikkanen, bassist Andreas ‘Josse’ Johansson and drummer Matte Modin, come from a rough working class background in the north of Sweden, their youth marred by parents relying on welfare and more often than not struggling to put food on the table; their adult lives still involving labouring at modest jobs like a car spray painter. ”Yes, I think the way we work as a band has a lot to do with us coming from the north”, Hagman is quoted as saying, and knowing full well the earth near, tough skinned populace comprising much of the northern regions of Scandinavia, there is truth in his words. Raised Fist, much like their idols in RATM and their countrymen in Refused, are grassroots champions for the perpetually downtrodden - a theme vehemently explored on this sixth studio album (their first since 2009’s brilliant “Veil of Ignorance”), five years in the making.

Both the fact that Roberto Laghi, responsible for the production of “From the North”, describes them as ”a band you cannot produce”, and Hagman’s astute observation that ”no one glances over the shoulder of a painter and suggests what brush strokes be drawn”, are extremely reflective of the approach to which Raised Fist prescribe here, the music continuing their proud heritage of sounding like nobody else. There’s a live feeling to these proceedings that has the band playing in your living room, Hagman clutching you at the collar as teasing cymbals and a couple of chords give way to his point blank screaming in opening track “Flow”. Far from your average, dime-a-dozen hardcore vocalist, Hagman employs a highly individualistic style of vocalisation that for want of a more suitable expression could be referred to as scream-rapping - a sort of fusion of Zach De La Rocha and Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén. I’ll concede it’s likely to be an acquired taste for newcomers to Raised Fist’s music, but once accustomed to it, the impact is impossible to deny.

The way Hagman’s words dance on Modin’s ever changing rhythms, often at breathtaking velocity as he spills his heart out, gives a powerful voice to the personal and societal issues that bother and enrage him, whether it be in his acerbic critique of social media fixation on “Chaos”, or his exposé on the false fan on pit starter “In Circles”. The man has generally avoided profanity on past efforts, but such courtesies are not upheld here, with the lyrics often reading like Hagman clenched his fists until his knuckles whitened, writing them. In the former, he spares no vitriol in asserting of people wasting their lives online, ”Let it be said, they should be fucking dead!”, while in the latter, said false fans are given the following one-breath verbal battering:

You move around in circles, but I never saw you in the pit. Stand back and admit that you will not commit to the scene that you and your friends ripped to shit. Counterfeit! I’d rather slit my wrist than be such a hypocrite!

His most gripping lines however, are sung in the standout “Man & Earth” which, as its title implies, distills its rage from Hagman’s rigid and bitter concern for the environment. Whenever he bellows “Stop, and listen!” at the beginning of a verse, you stop, and listen, for there isn’t a hint of duplicity or naïveness to his words, which will echo as some of the most profound and thought provoking you’ll hear in music this year, Hagman’s voice growing more intense with each passing word (note: given I’ve no access to a lyric booklet, the below is my best interpretation):

Standing on top of this beautiful world watching the clouds rearrange, I'm not the least entertained - I wanna complain about climate change! And it might not be of your concern, so finish your bottle of water and return to the beach in order for the sun to burn a little more. You will never learn! when you play with your kids on the grass in a box of glass, connecting the dots from the past and the shadow it casts, called greenhouse gas.

But for all the lyrical treasures “From the North” has to offer, the contribution of Hagman’s fellow musicians should not be understated. The music is aggressive, yet melodic; its outset is grounded in hardcore, yet follows no particular style alone; and although the written word is characteristically pessimistic and fizzing with contempt, there is hope and belief in Holmgren & Tikkanen’s larger than life melodies in the likes of the just mentioned “Man & Earth”, “Ready to Defy” and "Depression". Rhythmic variety courtesy of Johansson & Modin plays an integral role, too, in fledging “From the North” into a rich listening experience beyond just the infectious conviction of Hagman’s vocal performance. And Laghi’s choice of a living, breathing sound loaded with spatial and acoustic atmosphere brings that rage, and the complicit instrumental backdrop, close to the listener to a point where it becomes impossible to ignore the message.

The only notable issue with “From the North” is that it’s a little front heavy when it comes to unloading its best moments. From “Flow” to “We Will Live Forever” you’ll be pounding your fist into the air, spellbound by the finesse with which the songs have been put together. They're packed with hooks - both vocal, like the subtle tribute to Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" in the pre-chorus of "Chaos" or the empowering and hugely memorable chorus "This is close to the end! and we're saying time is running out for you and your friends. No you can't attend! We can't pretend that you can represent" of "In Circles"; and melodic, such as the cinematic enormity of "Man & Earth" - and built around a diversity of rhythmic structures designed to keep the listener at the edge of their seat throughout. And while songs like "Sanctions", "Gates" and "Unsinkable" are tied around the same red chord and boast enough merits in their own right to lift them above most contemporary hardcore dross, they aren't fully up to par in terms of lasting value when assessed against the remainder of tracks here.

But as the pained refrains of "Look at the clock, look at the clock. Do you think I'm okay?" ring out at the ultimum of "Unsinkable" to bring the album to its conclusion, you will nonetheless be left with the sensation that you've just listened to a piece of genre history in the making; a hardcore album of the highest order and an early candidate for album of the year 2015.

9

Download: Flow, Chaos, Man & Earth, In Circles, Ready to Defy, Until the End
For the fans of: Bane, Rage Against the Machine, Refused
Listen: Facebook

Release date 19.01.2015
Epitaph Records

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