Album Review: Broken Hands – Turbulence

Turbulence

broken-hands-turbulenceReleased 9th October 2015

Words: Greg Arthur

For the uninitiated, Broken Hands are a five piece rock outfit from Kent. Dedicated to the intimation of flight, their intense live shows have earned them a loyal following, and praise such as “like Ashcroft fronting Sabbath”, from the Head of Music at the now rebranded Radio X, previously the excellent yet defunct XFM. Fans include Catfish and The Bottlemen, who can’t stop plugging them, and producer Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, Band of Skulls) who helmed the production duties on Turbulence. Quite a few name drops there, I’ll wait a minute for you to pick them all up…OK, let’s continue…

Taking the idea of flight as their blueprint, Turbulence takes you on a 46 minute journey through mental hell and back. Paranoia, guilt, impending doom, claustrophobic relationships and intense explosions of a whole mixture of emotions are all neatly packed up and ready to leave you in a cold sweat. The track titles are extensions of their blueprint; Impact, 747, Meteor, Turbulence…this is more than a concept album. It does beg the question – if they’ve covered this all off on their first record, where do they go with the second? An album so complete and rounded, leaves them little room to make further advancements, unless they rework the same theme, surely? Maybe that’s a whole other conversation.

Going back to the need for something original, something exciting, and something more of a spectacle than a couple of lads with a standard rock band set up, Broken Hands provide some well needed rocket fuel into our current state of British music. Songs don’t need to be catchy chord sequences, and vocalists don’t need to be singing nonsensical stadium lyrics. Tracks like Four are absolute instant bangers. Riff heavy, radio ready club banger right there. Singles Meteor, Death Grip and latest release Who Sent You are already achieving notoriety on national playlists and TV. Heavy rock hasn’t been this exciting and accessible since Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead were all vying for air time.

Production is slick on Turbulence, and with Dalgety on the knobs and dials, it’s no surprise. A very tight and polished band needs a polished record. A mic round the door of their rehearsal room approach wouldn’t really do them justice. One of the standout tracks isn’t a million miles an hour, and it’s actually quite an intense display of their talent. Restrain and release is a tactic they’ll employ many times on Turbulence as a whole. Impact delivers a terrifyingly heartfelt sheet of lyrics from singer Dale Norton, although the setbacks for me are the massive church bells in the background (WHY?! This isn’t a sodding John Lewis advert, guys), and the slight adjustment in key on what I presume is the synths rather than the vocals, to make it sound a bit less dark and sinister than previous live versions I’ve witnessed. I could be wrong, but those minor points just took some of the edge off for me. I like the edge – leave it alone! LP closer W.T.L.L (When They Last Landed) clocks in at nearly 7 minutes, and it’s a nice Mexican-bandit-space-waltz about alien encounters, and sure, it fits in the seamless record, but it’s just a bit…..flat. What should be a triumphant fist punch at the end – albeit in a cold sweat of full mental hysteria – W.T.L.L comes across on multiple listens as the sore thumb of the record. The aesthetic of the record is challenged, and left me a little disheartened that THAT was the end. I’ve seen them before, I’ve seen what they’re capable of, and it’s better than that. The musical interludes to tie everything together are fantastic, and unwittingly, you’re immersed in the record without warning. There is no room to take a breather, not unless you’re in the band. W.T.L.L seems to be an extended version of an interlude with lyrics, and as an outsider, I was a bit disappointed this made the cut.

 

Side stepping the singles, you need to appreciate the genius that is 747. For an impending sense of doom and for those who want to feel the ultimate drop, check out the schizophrenic-circuit-bent-modulation-belted synths that run through this track and the clashing of bass and guitar at the precise moment you reach to touch your ear to check for blood. Minimal and ferocious. Spasm into relief. Local whisper into galactic roar. This song is an absolute tyrant, whilst being a tearjerker. Swaddle this devil of a song whilst you can, because it will unravel and slay you before you get a chance to take control of yourself.

Most tracks on Turbulence will approach full steam ahead at you, like a musical juggernaut with no brakes and a brick strapped to the accelerator. From the opening radio interference of Spectrum, you’re hit with it. Each instrument is a hook, each track is a force. Highlights include Norton’s vocals on Death Grip – a guilt-ridden trip in most variations of the term. Callum Norton (Norton Jnr) kills it on the drums throughout, and the double-peddled tentacle arm barrel roll on Who Sent You is a masterclass in how to kill some time in a muted section of the song. If that’s killing time, wait for his solo album* of drum classics all with double pedals (*solo album not confirmed). Holding up the other half of the rhythm section is Thomas Ford on bass – with the aforementioned riffs over chords approach, he’s left looking for anything rhythm-section shaped, and instead shreds his bass for the duration of Turbulence. Four is his dual with the guitar, a battle with no winner, but worth the war. 747 is David (Hardstone)’s masterpiece. It’s enough to give you a migraine if you listen to it for long enough. Finally, the jumpsuit clad Jamie Darby brings the guitar in, but very rarely sounding like a standard guitar. If you’re looking for a nice chord sequence to play along to, can I interest you in some ‘94 Brit Pop perhaps instead? Fuzz seems to be the order of the day for Darby, as does pitch modification and some spiralling delay. Should I, title track Turbulence and Death Grip all showcase immediate riffs, and the overwhelming control the band overall have on their sound. Although it’s immediate, it also takes a gasp more than a breather – there doesn’t need to be an endless stream of everyone, and there doesn’t need to be a thousand miles an hour of rock.

If space-rock ever becomes a thing, then Broken Hands are the pioneers. Turbulence will become the milestone that all other space-rock records are held up to.Catch them on tour over late October / early November to see them drop Turbulence on you in full…you’ll probably need an oxygen mask as you go down.

Watch the video for Meteor here:

 

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