Twenty years into a career loaded with releases, Victims could be forgiven for falling back into old habits and spitting out yet another d-beat driven blast of Scandinavian hardcore – tuned low, fuzzed over, and satisfyingly predictable. A band criminally underappreciated outside of their native land, Victims still have the juice to load a record with hook-filled ragers and pop-locking, string chewing beats, seven LPs in. How many bands can keep the ball rolling uphill in their third decade of existence? Very few. So what’s different about this lot? Not much. It’s just a really concise version of a sound that more often than not gets lost in scuzz and popcorn snare drums.
The Horse And Sparrow Theory, the band’s first record for heavyweights Relapse Records, doesn’t sit in the middle aisle between crust and ‘core. For the most part. The first three tracks are pretty atypical crust, rolling along at a medium tempo with the drums always feeling a beat behind, due to the nature of the band’s most reliable tool – the d-beat. The title track opens up the record with ringing guitars and a riff that slides alongside the vocals in a fashion closer to Mastodon than Discharge. Vocalist Johan Eriksson now scrapes on the bass strings too, bringing to mind Troy Sanders but with his sights aimed at hardcore rather than prog. The first ten or so minutes of the record is very much average, Victims seemingly waiting for the right moment instead of letting their freak flag fly right away.
The moment in question is the seven-minute mood maker “We Fail”. Moving in and around an extended soundbite that both raises and tackles the question of the migration crisis of the last few years, the track builds into a booming din. One big riff carefully tinkered with charges through and when the vocals kick in, there’s an almost uplifting quality. The message in the background is bleak, unflinchingly so, but the music offers a hint of reprieve. Just a hint though. Victims are at their most crushing when things slow right down, so this track and closer “Revenge Of Our Fathers” are easily the most satisfying cuts from the record. “Revenge..” brings the half-hour of pissed off punk to a close in a form-fitting fashion, the bass gnarled and toothy, crunching through the final minutes of the record. It’s a delicious tone, as all of the elements of The Horse And Sparrow Theory come together in a clear manner. Even with all of the fuzz.
Victims continue to build on their solid foundations of punk, crust, and metal. There are familiar moments and riffs from start to finish on The Horse And Sparrow Theory, but not so many that the record becomes a chore to listen to. From “We Fail” onward, the record turns up in intensity and the band amp up their craft too, giving listeners the reward deserved for bothering through the initial tedium of the opening three tracks. The record is maybe not quite crusty enough for real die-hards, and not dynamic enough to twinge the waiting ears of hardcore and metal fans, but alas, it’s still a solid half hour of Scandinavian hardcore, with a glorious middle third, and finale.
The Horse and Sparrow Theory is available June 28 via Relapse Records.