People have been saying that punk and protest music is dead for years now, although some are optimistic of its comeback due to the recent rise of (there’s no shame in calling it what it is) fascism and fear-mongering in the world. However, some are still skeptical about the direct connection between Trump, Brexit, and far-right movements and the return of popular, political music.
British punk four-piece, Vant, are a band that puts all that skepticism to bed. The band just released their debut album, Dumb Blood, on February 17th and they unapologetically wear their message on their sleeves and their lyrics address these issues head on.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a fringe punk band restricted to the underground music scene. This is a band that’s drawing big crowds of teens that despise the direction that the world is heading in. The band are signed to Parlophone, which is part of the major label record company, Warner Music and they’ve received widespread radio support from the likes of BBC Radio 1, Radio X, and Amazing Radio. They’ve already played big festivals like Reading And Leeds and are now about to embark on a tour in support of their debut album, which should be a insane, live celebration of punk, youth, and resistance filled with singalongs, mosh pits, and above all, a positive message of “Peace & Love.”
The album opens with “The Answer” as frontman and album cover star, Mattie Vant, energetically spits out lines like “we need another term, not another Afghanistan”, “you know the USA will take and never give back”, and the most in-your-face lyric on the album and a profound criticism of patriotism (which really hits the nail on the head), “you’re from England / well hello there my brother / keep sucking my d*** while my friend f***s your mother.”
The next two tracks, “Put Down Your Gun” and “Peace & Love”, are obvious statements of anti-violence and unity and are calls to “stop living in fear” and to “say something that can move me.” The latter of the two has become a sort of ethos and centerpiece for what the band stands for and their onstage amps are suitably painted with hearts, peace signs, and the words “Freedom Of Movement”, which also refers to a song included on the deluxe version of the album (which is definitely worth checking out). Even though the lyrics are absolutely the cornerstone of this album, it’s important to recognize that these guys can actually play and they’ve written consistently catchy hooks, riffs, and melodies that won’t leave your head for days.
The band’s music is brought to life by lead guitarist and Mattie Vant’s co-songwriter, Henry Eastham, who also adds harmonizing, backing vocals to the songs, which add an integral layer to the band’s sound. Then, there’s the rhythm section of section of steel comprised of bass player, Billy Morris and drummer, David Green (aka Greenie) who both lay the solid foundation for the band’s unrelenting tempo and energy.
Like “Put Down Your Gun”, “Lampoon” is one of the tracks on the album that wasn’t previously released and although it’s not necessarily the strongest track lyrically (at one point, it lists the names of various glands), it’s one of the most forceful, animated performances from the band, especially Mattie Vant’s shouting, yearning vocals. Its inclusion on the track listing is vital, in part because of its title, which refers to a skill that the band are particularly good at and also because it addresses one of the album’s biggest themes: the criticism of many young people’s (sometimes conscious) choice of ignorance and indifference towards the issues that matter most.
Early fans of the band will recognize the following couple of tracks, “Parking Lot” and “Do You Know Me?”, as they were both released as singles a few years ago. “Parking Lot” is the perfect punk rock headbanger with a face-melting guitar solo from Eastham while “Do You Know Me” is an anthemic resentment of mundane, everyday life (“I get this feeling that I’m all alone / a suit, a headset and a telephone / pick up, put down, dial tone / I’m good for nothing”).
The next track is titled “I Don’t Believe In God.” In the second verse, Mattie discusses his comfort in knowing that there’s no afterlife as he sings, “Everybody’s praying that there’ll be something else / but babe I can tell we just won’t be ourselves / I see it as beauty that we rot in the ground.” The song’s chorus (“I look to the stars / cause I don’t believe in God”) preaches the philosophy that it’s more fulfilling to have an appreciation and sense of wonder towards the Earth’s natural beauty than faith in any god.
Track eight is the mighty “Fly-By Alien”, which prior to the album has been my favorite Vant track and may possibly keep that title because of its insane, high-spirited, and infectious tempo and Mattie delivers its lyrics in kick-ass, sneering fashion. The guitar build-up is reminiscent of Costello’s “Pump It Up” and the escapist, space-themed lyrics are also among the strongest on the album (“That moon is an ugly blister / that gravitates around its obese sister / that species is a waste of space / I hate this place / can I zap my laser?”).
Then, there’s another new one, “Headed For The Sun”, a just over two minute track, which appears to be a cynical outlook on the future of the human race, but Eastham’s upbeat, optimistic guitar riff (at just before the two minute mark) suggests otherwise. “Parasite” is another track that fans will be familiar with already and it’s even shorter than the previous track, which is lucky for drummer, Greenie, because the song is about 200 miles per hour, but he’s so fast, tight, and precise that I’d be surprised if he even bats an eyelid while playing it. Because the lyrics are delivered so quickly and the lines are so short, it even reminds me a little bit of a 50’s rock and roll tune, but once the shredding guitar solo kicks in, you realize that it’s definitely not an Elvis Presley tune and you’re definitely not in the 50’s.
In a complete contrast to the previous two tracks, “Are We Free?” is a seven minute monster of a track that slowly unfolds and starts to peel back its many layers. It’s got a slow and steady instrumental build up with no vocals until about three minutes in. This is one of several songs that contributes to the album’s theme of cynicism and it’s through the use of a slow, sleazy, instrumental build up and eventual break down that the band’s feelings of frustration and cynicism are incrementally, effectively, and emotionally released. Next is “Karma Seeker”, one of the album’s strongest moments with its gargantuan chorus that could easily make it a staple on rock radio stations (it was given the title “Hottest Record in the World” by BBC Radio 1, though admittedly and impressively, several other tracks on the album achieved this title as well).
The album’s closer, “Time & Money” is hardly an optimistic, reassuring send-off, and instead the calmer track serves as a reality check and a long, hard look in the mirror for our species. It reminds people of the urgency that humans need if they’re serious about solving the planet’s problems. Mattie point fingers at our world’s obsession with money, greed, and power (“Oil spill / cheap thrill / land fill / blood for honey / trapped on an earth fueled by time and money, money”) and he also identifies our greatest asset: time (“Tick, tock, time bomb / hope’s gone / all we’ve got is time”).
Dumb Blood does what most debut albums fail to do. There’s a really good variety of tempos, themes, song lengths on the album, which aren’t things that are necessarily associated with debut albums. They also accomplish something that I think is even more impressive, which is that they manage to address important, political topics in their lyrics without coming off as too preachy or making the songs too dark or depressing for a live setting. In fact, the songs are so lively and fun that they make you want belt the lyrics from your friend’s shoulders and put your arms around random strangers. The album’s lyrics are focused, relevant, provocative, and they’re spot on with how young people are feeling at this point in time. I think it’s actually safe to say that I haven’t felt so connected to an album’s manifesto since hearing Oasis’ Definitely Maybe for the first time when I was a just a kid.
One album in, the band have already shown that they’re a force to be reckoned with and now they’ve practically written a how-to guide for how to successfully write a political concept album in 2017. For politically-charged music, Vant have set the bar high and it’s now up to the next band to take their crown away from them.
Dumb Blood track listing:
- The Answer
- Put Down Your Gun
- Peace & Love
- Parking Lot
- Do You Know Me?
- I Don’t Believe In God
- Fly-By Alien
- Headed For The Sun
- Are We Free?
- Karma Seeker
- Time & Money
How to listen to the album:
- Listen to Dumb Blood on Spotify
- Download Dumb Blood from iTunes
- Purchase a physical copy of Dumb Blood on the band’s website