Album Review: Crazy Arm – Dark Hands, Thunderbolts

Written by Ollie Stygall.

I guess when Wayne Kramer, Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders, Johnny Ramone and later John Lydon and Captain Sensible were first, unwittingly, laying down the blueprint for what would later become known as punk rock … they had no idea how the genre would flourish and mutate as the years progressed. Punk, since it’s humble beginnings as a hyper-charged form of rock and roll, has sent out many tendrils, grasping at other forms of music and pulling them to its bosom to become a beautiful, multi-faceted musical force. Not many bands embrace this as much as Crazy Arm.

Crazy Arm are, arguably, Plymouth’s most successful punk band, possibly one of the most successful bands full stop. Having seen them in their far more raw early stages, it is breath-taking, 16 years on, to see how they have matured into a band of immense depth and skill. The fire and passion that drove them in their earlier years remains 100% intact but musically they have spread their wings so that Dark Hands, Thunderbolts touches on Americana, country and western, hard rock, folk and even Ennio Morricone-style Spaghetti Western soundtracks. In short, this is a remarkable piece of work.

From Montenegro’s hard rocking, expansive opener; through Brave Starts Here’s rollicking country hoedown vibes; to Dearborn’s gentle, violin-driven folk; to Golden Hind’s punk rock; to Paradiso’s mellow, cinematic trumpet work … this is an album that doesn’t relent in its quest to grab you and hold you. It rocks as hard as anything else out there but isn’t afraid to add huge swathes of texture and dynamics, making it a fascinating and compelling listen. This is not an album that is made for the play-once-and-forget brigade. It forces you to come back time and time again to make sure you haven’t missed anything, so rich is its diversity, not to mention the sheer quality of the song writing. Melodies jostle for competition as each one is a huge hook that grabs you by the ears and refuses to let go.

Music can’t be written with this level of profundity without being driven by the heart, and Darren Johns’ lyrics frequently dig deep into the personal, adding to the weight that this album bears on its considerable shoulders. That’s not to say it isn’t without its lighter moments, Golden Hind is a tribute to the band’s home town and Montenegro is inspired by events on tour in Europe. Handily the band has included lyrical inspiration in the liner notes so you can fully immerse yourselves in each song as it unfolds.

February may be a bit early to call album of the year but I have a feeling this will be lurking somewhere in my top 10 at the end of the year. If it isn’t in yours well … maybe you’ve lost your sense of taste.

Dark Hands, Thunderbolts is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings. Listen on Bandcamp or Spotify, or grab yourself a physical copy.

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