Paris is shit. Above all else, that is what the Paris-based Cowards wants to leave with the listener. Having missed this the first time round in 2012, Shooting Blanks & Pills has earned a well-deserved re-issue, formerly bursting on to the scene as one of France’s brightest new talents. The grand city of my birth (which I am now regretting), is the subject matter as this quintet roars about the Parisian façade of beauty and harmony, utilising an aggressive sludge-doom style, laced with a hardcore, punk attitude. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, Shooting Blanks & Pills harks back to Dopesick and Take As Needed For Pain-era Eyehategod. There are also nods to sludge stalwarts Mastodon and compatriots Gojira and Deathspell Omega. With such a list of illustrious influences, you expect big things – and this is exactly what Cowards delivers.
Derived from its varied influences, the greatest strength of the record is its diversity – the listener cannot tire of one style before it changes. The unrelenting aggression of opener, “Hoarse From The Get Go,” batters the listener with hardcore noise: it even features highly Gojira-esque riffing at 0:52, before building a Deathspell Omega-lite crescendo at its conclusion. Conversely, “Scarce” and “Grand Failure” are two lengthier, doom-y tracks, with slower tempos and thicker guitar tones. Uprooting again, the down-tuned, depressive aggression of “Vices & Hate” recalls Kickback, and “Arrogant, Unseen” evokes the punk attitude of Black Breath, a rollicking death n’ roll number. Featuring a large number of styles, the record is paced well, breaking apart the up-tempo aggression and demonstrating that these guys can easily develop their sound in a number of ways for future releases.
Despite the diversity on offer here, Shooting Blanks & Pills is unified by the over-arching themes and a consistently-excellent riffcraft. The record is inextricably linked with its home city: specifically, how the façade of harmony is actually hollow and there is a distinct dichotomy between the haves and have nots. The seedy bars, the cheap whores, the power-grabbing politicians… We get it, you’re angry! The venomously snarled vocals, courtesy of Julien Henri, are particularly effective on “Scarce” and “Grand Failure,” repeating “My choice is nothingness!” and “Wrong turn… after wrong turn!” respectively. In this respect, Cowards is indebted to Eyehategod‘s Dopesick, personalizing themes crystallised by such tracks as “My Name Is God (I Hate You)” and “Lack Of Almost Everything.” Along with the vocals, Thibaut Aguir and Adrien Lederer’s guitar work deserves a recommendation. Though the overall emotion is that of being really fucking pissed off, the riffs are really what diversifies the tracks. Whereas “Hoarse From The Get Go” is a savage beating with an incessant, waspish guitar tone, “Arrogant, Unseen” is a quick hammer blow with more abrupt licks, and c concludes the record by crushing everything with a huge riff from 5:00 onwards.
Liberally borrowing from other bands, Cowards has distilled an evil concoction of sludge, doom and hardcore, which fans of anger and abuse will thoroughly enjoy. This is their tribute to the rot and perversity of their home city, where for every fine art institution and Michelin Star restaurant, there’s a piss-soaked bar and a Chlamydia-infested prostitute. And here I thought Paris was the city of love.
Tracks to check: “Vices & Hate,” “Scarce” and “Scarce”