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Nails Alastair Shuttleworth , April 19th, 2023 07:23

On their debut album, Teesside’s Benefits explore how nationalism, apathy and deception have corroded Britain’s agency in its own future. The result is a work of volatile physicality, and penetrating sincerity, finds Alastair Shuttleworth

NAILS’ Britain is grotesquely detailed. These isles become “industrial wastelands” (‘Empire’) strewn with “stinking, broken relics” (‘Warhorse’): flags, crowns, kebab boxes and lager cans. Vocalist Kingsley Hall enhances this picture through repetition. Tattered, soiled flags appear in most tracks. Several references are made to a fetid smell, with ‘Flag’ declaring “this place stinks of old wars.” Entire lines from ‘Shit Britain’ are repurposed in ‘Traitors’, albeit with colourful tweaks: the former’s “red arrows screaming past” reappear on the latter as “spitfires.” The echo of John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Evidently Chickentown’ in Hall’s “clown-town” (‘Shit Britain) points to a wider effect of this repetition: like Clarke’s world, Hall’s becomes crushingly, hopelessly immovable.

In this setting, NAILS argues that citizens yielding to ignorance, indifference or nationalist propaganda help strengthen an oppressive ruling class. In ‘Meat Teeth’, this citizen is considered an “arse-kissing cat who got the dregs of the cream.” As their prosperity withers, they remain “clutching that flag, dreaming of empires and crowns.” Whilst Hall also declares here that “we need the ears of the fuckers who have blocked you and me,” his brutal portrayal of them precludes any real efforts to reach out: “let them rot” he declares on ‘Warhorse’. Instead, NAILS chiefly focuses on urging listeners who aren’t entrenched to – as ‘Marlobo Hundreds’ opens – “formulate your own ideas.”

This anger is supported by NAILS’ sonic extremity. Hall often treats his sprechgesang vocals with high gain: the resulting distortion variously dehumanises his voice, as in the Dalek-esque chants of “wave your fucking flag” on ‘Flag’, or evokes the grainy videos of public transport bust-ups described on ‘Traitors’. With NAILS’ tracks dating back as far as 2019 (through various line-up changes), Hall’s voice interacts with a shifting musical pallet. ‘Marlboro Hundreds’ features metal-inspired drums, whilst ‘Empire’ trades drums altogether for blasts of industrial noise. These textures often colour the lyrics in striking ways. On ‘What More Do You Want?’, Hall’s distorted laughter is paired with blast-beats and searing electronics: associating laughing at “some ancient, racist sitcom” with the sensation of violence.

Over the gorgeous ambient of album-closer ‘Council Rust’, we learn more about Hall. Calling upon himself to “stay in control, stay angry,” he presents NAILS’ anger as a constructive energy. Despite casting himself “a deserter of the blue-passported birth-right” (‘Shit Britain’), he is revealed to feel deeply for his country’s future: “I wonder where my memorial bench might be / what will it overlook?” NAILS ultimately presents a desire to engage more fully with the world – despite its ugliness.