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Album Of The Week

Lead Review: Noel Gardner On Nails' You Will Never Be One Of Us
Noel Gardner , June 16th, 2016 08:02

Digging into their third album in seven years, Noel Gardner finds Nails on focused and punishing form – delivering an unapologetic treatise on elitism and an unmixed, streamlined and unrelenting record of distilled extreme metal

You’ll be familiar, more than likely, with Groucho Marx’s most famous quote, “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member,” or tweaked wordings thereof. Now, Groucho died before the onset of heavy metal elitism, and may not have been the type to throw horns to Manowar in any case – but, passing over those two barriers, consider his quip from the other side of the glass. That is to say, the most attractive members’ club is the one that doesn’t want to let you in. This, I think, is key to the enduring power and appeal of elitism, exclusivity, snootiness and snottiness in metal and hardcore (and other types of music too, but they’re not terribly relevant to this review). It’s also a significant driving force behind You Will Never Be One Of Us, the third album by Nails of Oxnard, California.

That title – it’s not just a title, y’see. It’s also the opening track of the album, but it’s not just that either. It’s a fulcrum for the bitter, rage-streaked outlook packed into this 21 minutes of metallic maximum smashism. That rage, Nails’ new label Nuclear Blast write, is “directly pointed at bandwagoners and sycophants, two types of people frontman Todd Jones has very little patience for.” Thereby setting himself apart from people who have lots of patience for bandwagoners and sycophants, and think they’re good. Anyway, ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’ (the song) opens with a segment where members of various peer group bands utter the crucial phrase: look, there’s fellas from Neurosis, Converge, Baroness. In all other respects it’s a textbook Nails banger, 89 seconds of mutated D-beat with 90s death metal guitars, so if this happens to be your introduction to the band, everyone’s a winner.

For something expressed with such force, the semantic concepts of “you” and “us” Jones works with are vague and imprecise. Do I have to be in an American band appealing to both hardcore kids and metalheads to qualify as an “us”, or does it encompass anyone who buys a Nails record or goes to see them live (they absolutely crush as a live band, by the way)? What about people who downloaded a promo copy from Nuclear Blast? One of many advantages of being the proverbial white male aged 18-49 is the ability to weasel into almost any subculture. Ironic if it turns out that I’ll never be real enough, always a “you” in Nails’ book, because of a label which has released four Nightwish albums.

And yet the lyrical vagueness ensures that ‘YWNBOOU’ is easily adaptable. “Our pain is not your pain / Our pride is not your pride ... This is not for you to claim / We are not the same” – this could speak to any act of cultural and/or personal appropriation, and if it turns out that Jones’ gripe is pretty trivial in the scheme of things, then listeners can still roar it back with deep meaning.

While it would hardly be fair to call You Will Never Be One Of Us a front-loaded album – there isn’t a single pause for reflection in its duration, and even the gaps between songs are fractional – Nails get the bulk of their apparent grudge-airing out of the way early on. ‘Friend To All’, a high water mark of brevity at 46 seconds, comes off like classic West Coast power violence with beefy production (courtesy of Kurt Ballou from Converge – this record is perhaps the platonic ideal of his studio style), and enough acidic shit-talking to match: “In my eyes you are a peasant / Pushing some bullshit agenda / Come to us and get rejection.” A full ten seconds longer, which accounts for the presence of a Slayer-meets-G.I.S.M guitar solo, ‘Made To Make You Fail’ further appeals to truth and integrity (the concept, not the hardcore band, although they’re definitely somewhere in Nails’ DNA): “Wastes of life, bottom feeders / Burn the liars, burn them fucking down.

Again – you can project pretty much whatever you want onto these sentiments, and maybe on pixellated paper they look pretty dumb and meatheaded to you, and maybe you have a point. But if you can understand why people sometimes just want to switch off and lose their shit to grime or gangsta rap or whatever, then you’re most of the way to getting why Nails bang so hard. Their all-purpose negativity feels fun when you’re happy and useful when you’re angry.

Of YWNBOOU’s remaining seven songs, only ‘Parasite’ points an obvious lyrical finger – and how: “Desecrate them all / No one will weep / When the drug culture wasteland sheep / Are all put to sleep.” Shit Todd, I just came here to have a good time and suddenly it’s a late-90s hardline straight edge record (with, again, a much better recording). Otherwise, Nails are embracing their death and thrash metal inclinations with a greater zeal than ever before – and 2013’s Abandon All Life was pretty heavily on that tip.

Tom Araya’s big book of cool-sounding nonsense gets raided repeatedly: “Tormented screams come from the shadows / Torn from the womb, placed in the gallows” (‘Life Is A Death Sentence’, akin to post-2000 Napalm Death with a brick-thudding Unsane guitar bit in the middle from Andrew Saba) being an especially choice example. ‘Violence Is Forever’, one of two songs whose running time exceeds ‘piss and you’ll miss it’, could plausibly be social commentary, but “Grotesque beings / Soulless heathens / Unleashing hostility / Harvesting hatred” works just fine as garden variety ghoulishness. (Equally, it seems unlikely that ‘Into Quietus’ – “Death’s draught blowing / Freezing bone breaking / Body suspending,” rampaging Taylor Young blastbeat, sickening breakdown for the circlepitters – is a tribute to their favourite UK-based music website.)

You Will Never Be One Of Us is the most unmixed of bags, the cure for a curate’s egg: over seven years and (still) under an hour’s worth of music, Nails have worked like coalminers on distilling their sound to a purist brutishness. It ends, as all their records do, with the longest track, ‘They Come Crawling Back’ – eight minutes of sludge-paced belligerence that’s never self-consciously slow or dragging. Essentially, though, there’s no way you can just like bits and pieces of this. Either it sounds like 35 years of extreme metal and fast hardcore boiled down into one molten sea of fury, or you straight up don’t get it and are doomed to exist on the other side of the glass. See? This us-and-them rhetoric feels more fun the more you listen to this album.