They say old soldiers never die, they just fade away. But what about old crust punk bands? If Victims are any indication, they don’t die either – instead, they just charge right through their mid-life crisis in a fog of Skitsystem riffs and shattered beer bottles. Formed in 1997, this Swedish hardcore quartet released a string of scorching LPs throughout the 2000s before lapsing into silence following 2011’s A Dissident. Sixth album Sirens shows the band finally returning to discharge another anarcho-punk rager fueled by riotous D-beats, rushing guitar chords, and whatever edible products can be found in the local dumpster. But though they won’t go gently into that good night, after all these years can Victims still recapture that angsty spirit of youth – the spirit of piss-stained floors and pants held together by Amebix patches?
Admittedly, those expecting another unhinged battering like 2004’s …In Blood might be disappointed. Rather than the blasty ire of their bygone days, Sirens shows a band weathered and mature – playing the same style, but with a more measured tempo and crafted with a more careful hand. Victims are older, and rather than trying in vain to spew out that same adolescent piss n’ vinegar, they’ve instead opted to use their experience in the game to craft a well-rounded, keenly paced record of 12 direct, concise, and surprisingly varied barrages of crusty hardcore.
Tracks like opener “Walls” and follow-up “Errors” offer everything fans of Disfear or Wolfbrigade could ask for: simple, charging riffs occasionally punctuated by percussive leads, deep raspy shouts, and beats with more ‘D’s than the Playboy Mansion. But it’s later songs where Victims show their maturity, incorporating just enough twists and turns to keep things from getting stale. Third track “Reverse” adds a ripping solo and shifts the vocals to a garbled yell (likely the contribution of guitarist Jon Lindqvist), while closer “Ashes” moves from its dirty, cleanly-picked opening into a head-bobbing stomp that crests with an anthemic chorus chant of what sounds like “we’re alone!“
In a genre that can so easily veer into the one-dimensional, Victims seem to understand that diversity is more than a breath of fresh air here – it’s practically essential. Fortunately that trend continues with tracks like “Storm” and “Heal,” which ride on galloping, triumphant riffs that call to mind Skin Like Iron or a quicker Fall of Efrafa. “Heal” even features muted verse guitars that let the rumbly bass waft from the fray. “Seven” serves as an early balls-out blaster, but it’s “Promises” that features Sirens’ best moment, finishing with a delightfully snappy one-two beat supplemented by what sounds like maracas. It’s enough to put a smile on the face of even the most hardened crustie.
Everything’s supported by a mix that accentuates the thick, thunderous guitar tone, with the natural-sounding drumming and wretched vocals just slightly muffled by a low DR. But the production fits the style, and it’s elsewhere my bigger complaints arise. In addition to being more mellow than past works, Sirens just feels less anthemic than it should, with many of these refrains lacking the fist-pumping quality they feel like they deserve. Part of it is the lead vocals – while Johan Eriksson is competent, his performance is neither as commanding nor intelligible as, say, Tomas Lindberg’s on Disfear’s Live the Storm. More prominent gang vocals wouldn’t have hurt either. And while I commend Victims for not just giving us a cardboard, limp-dick recreation of their past works, a bit more teeth-baring viciousness, unfettered blasting, and intricate riffs and leads (à la Martyrdöd) would certainly have helped.
In all, I guess this is what D-beat sounds like when it’s all grown up and works a 9 to 5 job. While they still have fresh memories of playing shows in dingy clubs to a crowd who refuse to listen to Bolt Thrower after In Battle There Is No Law, Victims seem to have moved beyond the point of sleeping in gutters, surviving on gas station food, and writing songs that sound like their skin is being peeled off their bodies. But from those experiences and nearly two decades in the field, the band has clearly attained the know-how to make an record that succeeds even when that raw youthful rage has begun to quell. For fans of crusty hardcore, D-beat, or any band whose name begins with ‘dis,’ Sirens is 29 minutes you’ll almost certainly enjoy.