As is always the case with Things You Might Have Missed, you know how this ends. In the sake of forwardness, The Warband fucking rips. Moonshield would know a thing or two about that; forwardness is their greatest quality. For as often as we hear about bands giving no fucks, truly seeing one do whatever they want is as rare as, well, a real human doing whatever they want.1 But in meshing true history and Arthurian lore, melodizing an genre known for the opposite, and casually utilizing something as niche as chiptune like they heard of it on I Love the 80s, The Warband can only be a product of Moonshield doing what comes natural. No wonder it’s so easy to love.
If you came for In Flames-worship, I’d say you’re in the wrong place but for your impeccable taste. You won’t find many similarities between Moonshield and their patrons except for a sneaky catchiness disguised in simplicity a la Clayman. Their melodic hardcore classes into dual-wielding, brandishing a piercing melothrash not unlike Exmortus in one hand while slashing with streamlined Light This City melo in the other. Regardless of namedrops, however, Moonshield‘s magic missiles are very much their own. The headlong momentum that starts in opener “The Warlord” never lets up, barreling through half an hour of the tightest, most melodically-inclined hardcore I’ve ever heard. That superlative might not impress given my card-carrying poserdom, but I know Willie-Mays-over-the-shoulder-catchiness when I hear it.
Unlike their namesake, Moonshield‘s music isn’t technically complex or densely layered, nor do they treat their time signatures like a game of sudoku. Moonshield devote that extra effort instead to buttoning up their act to perfection. “The Warlord” might be seamless—bordering unnoticeable, actually—as it moves into “North of the Wall.” “The Death Cleric” might throw in a fit of clever picking. Chiptune interludes fit both ethos and implementation naturally. Those little touches may go overlooked but seal up a record dependent on straightforward ideas and straight-shooting performances.
To that end, Richard Philip sells every crackle of his rippling shouts—right down to the death metal puke on “The Archer”—while axemen Nathan Streeper and Steve Johnson draw convincing leads out of their concept, be it the
juxtapo duality of calming melodies and blackened thrash on “The Wizard” or the joy of “Victory Fanfare,” right down to its chip-tuned Final Fantasy victory theme. From the pop-punk drum intro to chiptune banger “Get Equipped With” or the embattled thrash of “The Berserker,” Jeff Claxton’s drums are right there with them. His unassuming patterns replace complexity with electricity, ensuring The Warband is constantly on the offensive even when the melodic leads take a step back.
The ever-growing cynic in me demands Moonshield aim higher and I doubt. Is their cards-on-the-table presentation too plain? Their low-stakes construction too trivial? Isn’t the chiptune thing a bit… childish? But before the browning acres of youthful exuberance yield to the darkness accumulating under my eyes, the evergreen of “The Archer” kicks in and I’m bashing my head out for the umpteenth time this year. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy what you’ve got. The Warband has arrived and it’s just what I need right now.
Tracks to Check Out: “The Archer,” “The Death Cleric,” and “Berserker”