Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees
posted on 2/2012 By:
Just when you think that all the myriad possibilities of genre blending have been exhausted, along comes melodic anarcho folk-grind.
Yep, you read that right.
Melodic anarcho folk-grind.
And as strange as it may sound, as mutually exclusive as its parts may appear to be severally, when combined with the proper deftness, the mix works surprisingly well. The problem is that Liberteer hasn’t quite perfected that deft combination, so some moments are more incongruous than incredible. When the oddly anthemic grinding takes hold, there are hooks and they dig in, but as often, there’s the expected off-kilter shift between the grindcore and the folk. (See the cross-faded musical bridge in “Build No System.”) So all is not perfect, but credit where it’s due: though it stumbles here and there, Better To Die On Your Feet turns out to be an interesting and at times enjoyable mash-up of the epic, the violent, the martial, the blistering, the grandiose, the abrasive, the guttural and the folksy, where plunking banjos and melancholy trumpets jaunt and warble (sometimes triumphantly and sometimes awkwardly) against punked-up bashing and roaring anti-establishment anger.
Liberteer mainman Matt Widener is a veteran of disbanded Relapse grind outfit Cretin, and where Cretin’s gnarly tones were applied to suitably ugly and perverse tales of deviancy, Better To Die appropriates the filthy bass tone and blastbeats and places them in the context of what is a largely melodic blast-happy grinding, ragged riffs against revolutionary war lyrical themes and Revolutionary War tunes and tones. After the symphonic opening segments, the album’s midsection (and best section) sticks closer to that upbeat pummeling. Even when the grinding is full on, the lilting melodies introduced in the folk bits inform the guitar lines – witness the almost hymn-like motif in “Rise Like Lions After Slumber,” begun in folksy manner and finished by distorted electric guitars. These are the moments in which Liberteer succeeds, with the melodies providing counterpoint to the one-dimensional guttural vocals. (Widener avoids the typical grindcore high-low split attack, and does so to the detriment of the record – a more dynamic vocal approach would certainly help matters.) For all the press-kit spotlight shone upon the blasts-to-banjos shifts in “Build No System” or “Usurious Epitaph,” Liberteer is best when utilizing their folk melodies within the time-worn grindcore framework, rather than when attempting to shoe-horn flutes and bugles into the already-cluttered chaos of their punk-fueled fury. (The title track and “That Which Is Not Given But Taken” both benefit greatly from catchy melodic riffing amidst the grunted voice and pounding drum.)
In his recent review of Beaten To Death’s latest, my erstwhile colleague Mr. Pittance touched upon the concept of “no nonsense” grindcore, and he name-checked Liberteer as a counter example of that, of a band introducing into their grind what is effectively nonsense (in terms of the strict grindcore paradigm, at least). And he’s wholly right – hardline grinders will likely find this mixture confounding, off-putting, thoroughly sabotaged by its own grandiose ideal and its partly mishandled injection of the unexpected. And those grinders are halfway right – because there is a bit more to it, because "nonsense" does not always mean "non-good." Given some leniency and some time to let the hooks sink in – which is to say: Don’t immediately dismiss this because there are fifes – there is merit to be found herein. With some more streamlining, future nonsense could and should be more smoothly integrated into the blasting that surrounds it.
All told, as an aside: I drug my feet a bit on reviewing this one – not intentionally, just a side effect of a hopefully temporary intrusion of real-life onto my listening time – and while it’s not exactly a brilliant excuse for tardiness, my distraction did prove somewhat fortuitous for Better To Die On Your Feet. My first impression was characterized by the hard-line grinder stance above, by the almost inevitable skepticism that follows one hearing the phrase “melodic anarcho folk-grind.” But later listens showed Liberteer’s potential, even if such isn’t quite yet realized, and the listening layover increased the album’s score by a full point. For better or worse, I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anything quite like what Liberteer is attempting, and though the blend isn’t always smooth or satisfying, in the parts wherein it works, it tends toward some respectable and quite literally grand r(R)evolutionary grind.
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