In November Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes already had a Top 20 album under their belts with debut effort Blossom and were in the midst of a sellout UK tour. Nevertheless, there was a feeling that behind a fiercely loyal fanbase there wasn’t much recognition of Carter’s talents. Since fronting Gallows and Pure Love his name had become synonymous with hard rock and hardcore. This type of music arguably doesn’t sell very well in this day and age. It’s significant then that the band’s sophomore album has tweaked the band’s sound enough to make waves. Modern Ruin debuted at number seven in the album charts and currently tops the independent album charts.
There is no doubt that Carter has softened his edges for this album. While pop-punk has come to represent bands like Blink-182 and Green Day, the genre in its purest sense fits perfectly here: proper British punk rock that has been scaled back for wider audiences. Indeed, Radio 1 has picked up a few of the band’s songs in recent weeks. That’s not to say the edges have vanished completely; Carter appears at times to be a troubled individual, his songs containing lyrics like, “Am I toxic, do I poison what I love” in God is my Friend and, “I’m breaking under the heaviest weight” in the bitter Vampires. Yet, the album features only one song describable as hardcore: the eponymous Modern Ruin. This is fast and heavy, Carter’s voice rising to a scream of nihilistic rage. It is what would have been expected from the frontman of Gallows. It comes as the penultimate song of the album however, so while it is a welcome reminder that Carter still has the ability to rage against the machine, the rest of the album offers so much more.
Snake Eyes in particular shows off the album’s new sound. It is still punk, and still full of nastiness; it is a whirl of self-loathing and pain as Carter struggles to solve his problems with alcohol and/or drugs and wakes up with an almighty hangover. It featured in Radio 1’s playlist when first released last June, showing the right balance had been found between accessibility and loyalty to former styles. Wild Flowers and Lullaby are other singles that have done reasonably well upon release, the familiar thrashing choruses showing their heads again. Lullaby shows a softer side to Carter; in the thrall of insomnia he clutches to his love for daughter Mercy, to whom he sings a lullaby every night. That his idea of a lullaby is more likely to be death metal than nursery rhyme is best ignored here. Mercy once joined her father on stage at Reading Festival; he is a family man through and through. Indeed, Bluebelle is a soft, bluesy song about his dog, an unexpected one-minute opening to the album but a successful one. The closing words, “The worst thing that could happen is you die,” are a jarring way to end the song. They bring the blues vibe to an abrupt halt, leading into the heavier Lullaby and then Snake Eyes.
There are no weak songs on the album, which shows Carter’s musical prowess as he veers from rage to tenderness with ease. There is more rage than tenderness, however. Jackals only lasts 40 seconds, but is filled with anger and sets the tone for the excellent Thunder. If Vampires was bitter, this is another level as Carter bemoans the state of the world, notably referencing Middle-Eastern religious zeal, the refugee crisis and bombing of Syria and Yemen: “I’ve seen a baby lying face down in a tide / And I’ve seen thousands homeless begging for their fucking lives” and “Killed in their beds where they should be safest” are especially hard to hear. Punk music should be political by its very nature, and this song has enough political activity to make up for any number of other songs.
Whether emblematic of the West’s attitude to the suffering of the Middle-East or not, it is however the final song on the album that hits home the hardest; in Neon Rust, the endless suffering is given a personal outlet as Carter worries for his daughter. Having sung her a lullaby earlier in the album, he now sings about her having to grow up in this mess of a world: “It’s a modern ruin and we are responsible,” then, “Sweet golden rose, don’t ever rust / Be anything you believe” is poignant and troubling as the little girl he loves so much is depicted as vulnerable and at risk. The song, and the album, ends with its mantra, “We don’t belong in a wasteland” changing to, “You don’t belong in a wasteland.” Pained acceptance of his daughter’s fate or hope that she may strive for a better future; it’s up to the listener to decide. However you look at it, it’s a fitting end to a fantastic album. It’s not a happy album by any means, but in terms of musical defiance and impact it is second to none. There are enough punchy singles to make this a must-listen, the political aspect coming to prominence later on but not a constant bore. As we look into a gloomy future where Ed Sheeran has already wrapped up the number one spot for the next few months, I can only hope that Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes finally get the recognition they deserve in 2017.