Album Review: Roughneck Riot – Burn It To The Ground

Roughneck Riot return from a longer than expected gigging hiatus with their first album in 8 years: Burn It To The Ground. An album that shows a maturity in its lyrical and musical content, whilst still clearly powered by an airtight comradery and a burning passion to fight the world’s injustices one diddle-drenched banger at a time. The band recorded with a new producer, Bob Cooper, and have moved to Austrian label SBÄM for the release, joining a powerful roster of bands releasing new material there, including Snuff and a recently reformed Pulley.

The line-up has also shifted slightly since their last release, with John Dempsey stepping in on drums and laying an ever-moving, always-impressive foundation. He really helps to coax out a lot of mood and emotion in every track, or at least to do it the justice deserved when the songwriting is as strong as can be found here. There’s a chemistry and well-thought-out relationship between the drums and the playing of founding member Ryan Taylor (bass) and long-standing guitarist Chris Green that keeps every track exciting and never seems to lean back into a stock rhythm or groove, on an album which shifts through a lot of gears in terms of pace and dynamics. Even in the slow parts, there’s a sizzling anticipation of the next big crescendo.

The mandolin, banjo and accordion parts are a masterclass in harmony, style and ability which shoot from laments to rapid-fire fury in the skip of a beat and are always complimentary to an astounding arrangement of vocal harmonies. The first track We’re Still Here (my favourite, for what it’s worth) gives the perfect example of all this in just four short minutes of an album that then goes on to surprise and impress with every track, finishing up with a reworking of the Hello Mabel classic Fuck’s Sake.

As an album which could risk being tossed into the mire of largely unimaginative, uninspiring Celtic or folk-punk due to its instrumentation and heritage, it’s worthy of note that the lyrics and subjects of the album avoid all the toxic tropes of the East Coast US-driven and often culturally-offensive booze-sodden, fighting Irish BS. Instead it presents a series of cautionary tales and rousing calls-to-arms through the character studies, searing social commentary and an undoubtedly lived-in presentation of the crushing despair of modern, working-class life that shows up their class-vacationing counterparts, both in their closely related genres and the broader music world itself.

The band have released three videos off the album so far that you should definitely check out. The tracks Stay Awake, Don’t Count Me Out and We’ve Already Lost have all helped to show the diversity on offer from the album musically and have employed three different directors in the process. Two of the three videos possess a sense of humour indicative of a tight-knit group, clearly featuring some in-jokes but without being alienating in the process, and allowing some comic relief from the more serious subjects of each song.

Roughneck Riot have been a staple part of the UK DIY scene for 15 years, creating a blueprint for any young, aspiring musicians to follow in how to ‘make it’ as a band. It is hard work, commitment and sheer determination that have led them to make what I would consider one of the most accomplished albums of the last decade, and it is my fervent wish that it will propel them to ever bigger and even better things.

Congratulations if you ever managed to catch them in the corner of a small, sweaty pub somewhere, because with this album, those days are history … and this album is history in the making.

Written by Tim Loud.

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