A band with a name like Viet Cong could have gone all so wrong. Artwork devoid of colour, their name taken from a place in time many people still aren't comfortable discussing, in most cases it would spell out a pretentious group who have surprisingly little interesting to say despite claiming to. Luckily, that isn’t the case with Viet Cong who, rather than trying to warm our hearts a little this Winter, keep it on ice with their dark, brooding and superb self-titled debut.
After Women disbanded in 2012, vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace formed Viet Cong with guitarist Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen. Following a well received EP in 2014, the album was written in the middle of a hectic 50 date tour and it shows straight away from the harsh opener Newspaper Spoons.
It was quite a shock to the system on a first listen as their earlier work had its roots firmly in post punk, whereas this album opens itself up a lot more to industrial influences, with guitar lines and riffs seeming to randomly intersect, repetitive drum beats and distorted and relentless vocals. It can take a little patience but even as the first listen came to an end, all these elements really start to come together in a weird, wonderful and almost trance like fashion.
Following the slow brooding re-introduction to Viet Cong from Newspaper Spoons, early songs Pointless Experience and March Of Progress at least begin to reveal an idea of the band’s sound. As well as the industrial background, the post punk elements that made Viet Cong so appealing early on are still there. Their cryptic lyrics and emphasis on distortion have certainly been done many times before, but it doesn't stop these songs from being good. It definitely has that trick of being cryptic enough that you pay more attention till you can figure out the lyrics and inadvertently blurt out some really weird sounding phrases the next time you’re in the pub.
Bunker Buster, the only song taken from last year’s EP is one of the album’s highest points and serves as a perfect introduction to Viet Cong. Clocking in at almost six minutes it easily demonstrates a sort of almost unnatural coming together of different sounds that shouldn't work as well as they do. Inconsistent rhythm and guitars that just feel a little off, but in that slightly twisted way that makes post punk such an appealing genre in the first place. Too many bands, no matter how good they might be, are perfectly content to serve a mundane Status Quo in not challenging their listener, and Viet Cong seem like of one of those bands who remind us that not all music should be a breeze to listen to. It’s a very difficult balance to achieve but the band from Calgary do it well.
That being said, as rooted in darkness as this album is, it doesn't mean there aren't songs to sway along to in here, as the 5th track and lead single for the album Continental Shelf shows. It’s here where their bizarre and twisted take on Interpol is most apparent, especially with Flegel sharing a similar vocal style and delivery to the former’s Paul Banks. With a big drum beat, it’s here that the album almost sounds like a call to arms for anyone who likes their clothing and coffee as black as the night. Following track Silhouettes carries on that mantra, this time bringing in some synths, which again catches you off guard and isn't too far removed from what you might hear in some Bauhaus. You certainly won’t be sticking this album on at the family BBQ this Summer, that’s for sure. The album contains a lot of these surprising elements, initially heading in one musical direction then constantly shifting throughout the 38 minute duration.
The album ends on an almost ridiculous fashion with a mighty 12 minute epic, the appropriately named Death. While the track is a good listen for the most part, it does have that classic problem of going on a lot longer than warranted, playing off the repetition that drives throughout the album. But wait! Again, it surprises you at almost 7 minutes in by shifting again to an almost different but equally disturbing song to close the album out on a high note.
It’s a good album but despite that it can be a little too repetitive at times, especially if you’re listening passively and it can pass you by in a breeze. Despite only having 7 songs, almost all of them are at least 4 minutes and that means the album does have some pacing issues too, which feels intentional at times but can be a bit frustrating.
Viet Cong have done a great job on their attempt at making a really intriguing and disturbing album that revels in its pool of post punk and industrial influences. The distorted vocals, strange riffs and an almost off-kilter rhythm give the album a constant feeling of dread, as if the wheels will fall off at any time and everything will break down, but it doesn't and on repeated listens certainly demonstrates itself as an album worth having on your rotation at least for the remainder of this winter if not longer. If you ever wondered what might have happened if Interpol had been stuck in that snow drift a lot longer and had written an album on their tour bus, this is the next best thing.
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