From Without – it’s finally here!
Facebook has been awash with excited people receiving packages through the post after the Herculean efforts of Gibbo and Hannah in getting everyone’s album packaged and mailed over the weekend. Despite basically having it already, it was still a bit galling to be stuck at the office periodically spotting a series of delighted people posting photos and their initial thoughts – all of which have been positive so far (not that I ever doubted it). I’ve skirted around writing about the album tracks a few times, but now it’s ‘in the wild’ I can do so unabashed at spoiling anything too much.
Biased though I undoubtedly am, I love everything about it – the imagery, the packaging, the slight imperfection in that the lyrics for Gallows Justice are missing from the sleeve notes (Waggy has posted the page online should any perfectionists wish to download them), the signatures, the fact my name is in it, and of course the songs themselves. The songs, they’re unmistakably Ferocious Dog, they are a mixture of biting political observation, historical accounts, a traditional re-imagining and a love ballad gone sour.
They are unmistakably Ferocious Dog, but they chart some evolution too. What more could you want? I described it earlier on Facebook as a plateau of an album rather than a roller-coaster – whilst there’s variation of paces and styles there’s no let up in quality, it peaks early and stays there – I do genuinely love it. Even though I heard it a lot I still played it all the way home from work, playing pretend that I’d been in in time for the Postman to deliver it to me.
Gallows Justice has been opening the gigs of late – it’s a rip-roaring start, now I have the lyric sheet I can see it tells a story of an uprising against a tyrant Lord FitzHerbert (who apparently would’ve been local to Warsop back in the time of the famine) – I’ve yet to yield much in fleeting Google research on the story, one for later – but an immediate blast into a fast-paced Ellis-intro sets the stall out at pace that makes for a lively mosh pit from the off live, and runs the risk of you speeding if driving or stomping around the place if listening at home.
The first time Ken introduced Poor Angry and Young at a gig a bloke nearby grunted “Well, two out of three ain’t bad – dint Meatloaf say that?” which made me chuckle. A fast-paced biting call to action for an uprising against the tyranny of the state by the underclasses – which links neatly in with the From Without album title, of course that harks to a Marxism that observes that revolution can’t be achieved by the underclasses alone, it requires some input from without. It’s still a bloody ace song, though, we tease the band quite a lot that the intro sounds like the B52’s Rock Lobster. I’m so glad Scott’s exclamation of delight at the end at getting his drum-track down remains on the record, too!
Living on Thin Air is a fusion of Ferocious Dog musical stylings with the lyrical genius of Nick Burbridge – a vicious appraisal of the current governments’ vendetta against the vulnerable told initially from the stance of the state and ending with a table-turning to reveal the other side of the story. I love the energy, the lull for the middle eight before the intensity comes back with a vengeance – the swirling fiddle perfectly fitting the distressing themes that the song covers.
A more familiar track is up next in Ruby Bridges, a poignant telling of Ruby’s integration into a mixed school back in the 1960’s – charming in its simplicity and short length – of course most of you would’ve heard it already as it was released as a single and indeed ended up at the top of the iTunes folk charts in that week. It’s a neat little pause in the frenetic numbers, offering up a slower pace for a while for a little contemplate. I dread to think how difficult it is to choose the order of tracks for an album – but this is a genius placement.
Crime and Punishment has evolved slightly from the almost country sounding intro at live gigs to have lavish electric guitar strums over it, which suppresses the urge to line dance a little bit but not too much. This one tells the tale of a band of poachers transported to Australia when they refused to give up the man who ended the life of the gamekeeper. One of them, Bill Sykes, is actually one one of Ken’s ancestors and did indeed have to leave behind a wife and four children. This is a nice pace-changy number with the usual FD energy broken up by a reprise of the gentler intro mid-song.
Also familiar to gig goers or owners of the acoustic album is Slow Motion Suicide, a harrowing account of the devastation wrought upon the mining industry by the last iteration of Tory rule that really comes alive with the full band treatment. Les’s guitar chugs away as Ken’s haunting vocals tell the story with sad refrains from Dan’s fiddle as the bass and drum layers kick in, only to drop again – before an epic extended outro feature not just Dan on fiddle but orchestral strings – it’s beautiful and tragic all in the same breath.
I Stand is my early contender for favourite track. A battle cry and what is front of mind when I talk about evolution – we have a military sounding drum intro taken up with swirling fiddle, the band kicks in with the kind of energy you’d expect – but listen to that electric guitar, riffs and chugging power chords accompany to give a new complexion to the familiar. I absolutely adore it – then to top it all off you get a tremendous riff backing the middle eight, a resumption but then an awesome outro where the electric guitar briefly takes the fiddle’s place to give the intricacy, then the fiddle is back briefly before the fade out. It’s fucking lovely. Pardon my French.
There’s an appropriate about of bite and anger about the fast paced start to Marikana Massacre, telling the tale of the disgusting treatment of the striking miners in South Africa. Again, the electric guitar is more prominent with power chords emphasising Ken’s words as he builds up to the chorus, but then you’re given a slower reggae style interlude reminiscent of Freeborn John, although probably doesn’t last long enough for those of us in the mosh pit to get a surf board together I wouldn’t have thought. It’s a great moment to take a breather in the heat of the mosh pit though.
Unconditional has been kicking around in live performances for a while too – it’s a beautiful piece of writing and indeed music for its simplicity, with the added bonus here of the full band treatment eventually. Initially Kenny with his guitar is joined by drums, then subtle fiddle – then just as it would’ve ended you get some lovely finger picking from Ellis and the full band kicking in for a sublime instrumental outro. It provides another nice break in the energetic onslaught and another facet to what the band offers.
Next up is another familiar live number, Raggle Taggle Gypsy is of course a traditional Scottish border ballad (probably most famously performed by The Waterboys) given the Ferocious Dog treatment. With a soaring fiddle intro launching into a veritable ceilidh telling the tale of a lady who flees her Lord in favour of one (or several perhaps, who knows) of the three gypsies who visited their hall earlier. A stompy folky classic that always gets the crowd going at gigs and translates wonderfully to record.
Then on to the very unfamiliar – Mairi’s Wedding Part III never picks up the pace, a beautiful melodic piece of music with achingly poetic lyrics, speaking of regret and lament of a failed relationship set to gorgeous layers of soaring orchestral strings – my favourite moment being when the instrumentals all cut out for Ken to sing ‘but you don’t take my breath.. a.. way..’ – it’s spine-tinglingly good. I really hope they make good on their plans to play it live at Rock City with a string quartet to accompany – it would be epic. The end still has that odd cadence thing Dan mentioned – could part four feature on album 3?
I genuinely think this album is an absolute triumph – the raw energy, passion and sound we know and love from Ferocious Dog is there – but tempered by new influences, intricacies, and fantastic production that makes the whole thing hang together beautifully. If you’ve been waiting to be convinced and want to order, then get yourself over to the website and get it ordered (or buy one at a forthcoming gig) – you are certainly not going to be disappointed. It’s been a long wait, but boy has it been worth it. I’m not going to tell Waggy about the spelling mistake I spotted in the lyric book. Ha ha!
All the feedback I’ve seen so far has been positive – admittedly that is from fans just like me, I’m really looking forward to seeing more objective reviewers tackle it, I’m confident we’re going to see some high ratings all round. It really is that good. Ken, Dan, Ellis, Les, John, Scott and all the support crew – take a bow.