Opening with a venomous, spitting sneer of ‘Oi! What are you doing?,’ Acts Of Fear And Love is the third studio album from Kent old-school punk duo Slaves; it takes you right back to 2015 Slaves days, their classic old school punk feel back for good. Isaac’s ballsy as hell on the album, shouting and spitting into the mic in an almost intimidating way, Laurie’s shouting background vocal more like a second lead vocal. The album draws back a vivacious garage feel, a certain grit embedded throughout. Retaining the DIY hardness of debut album Are You Satisfied?, Acts Of Fear And Love has pushed Slaves back into their original sound, shoving their music into the core of the punk sphere, which their last album Consume Or Be Consumed drew them so far away from.
Laurie and Isaac have managed to deploy something a lot heavier, an element of abrasive skin-headed anger thrashing about in each track. Opening track The Lives They Wish They Had ends with Isaac screeching ‘slaves…slaves!’ over an vividly grungy riff from guitarist Laurie. The band have amped up their use of reverb and distortion on this album, creating something a lot slimier and messier than their last album. Cut And Run is more of a pop track (definitely not ‘pop-punk,’ though), pop as in they use the element of a chorus to create a catchier piece of music; the interesting thing about Slaves is how they’ve always managed to fuse a variety of sounds and sub-genres with their core punk bite. ‘All talk no action, all work no play’ Isaac sings broodily, building the bridge up with his drumming (which he always plays using the wrong end of the sticks).
In a search for something more original, the Kent duo have gone down a heavier route in terms of riffs, Laurie’s riffs suggestively leading to a grungy, more old school punk sound. Isaac’s vocal is scratchy and grating; yet the scathing wiry nature of his voice is definitely an overcompensation for the basic nature of the lyrics. Lyrically, there isn’t much intrigue engrained in the album, but is this such a bad thing? Critics may knock Slaves for lacking nuance in their music, and sometimes with a punk band it’s exciting to have lyrically evocative and thought provoking tracks blared out at you, yet Slaves have always been straight up, in your face, and the riffs and enigmatic energy they bring to the album makes up for this. The snarling bite the album has is sonic and electric, the anger and brutality giving it a Sex Pistols/ Slits feel. Punk is an attitude, not a sound, but the 70s punk genre created this wonderfully angry, aggressive sound which is being bought back by the duo.
Daddy has a more acoustic element to it; stripped back guitar, and a raw exposure of Isaac’s voice. There’s a delicate softness on the track too, induced by the scathingly subtle backing vocals from Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice). It’s a disconcerting, random track, and whilst it is good in the sense the lyrics tell a weirdly twisted and entertaining story, it feels very out of place on the album. There’s a lot of integrity to this album though, and Slaves seem to have regained a confidence in what they do, and they seem more comfortable and self assured with their sound; it takes me back to debut EP Sugar Coated Bitter Truth, back when they were reckless and abrasive with their music, before having managers and labels to please. Chokehold is one of the best tracks on the album, the classic sharp licks of guitar from Laurie paired with his cocky back up vocal. A lot of the tracks on the album have a fun, take the piss feel, whilst still being serious contenders as proper, punk tracks. The band then brings a bass line in, which adds an extra dimension to the track, giving it more of an eclectic aura. The back up vocal elements are ramped up on this album, Laurie explaining “I wanna play more rock songs, I wanna play power chords, I wanna sing more. We’ve always been dubbed a ‘good live band’ and I want to prove that we’ve got the tunes to back it up.”
I love the anthemic, constructed aspect of Photo Opportunity; it’s been written like a song, rather than a witty, banter infused rant, and if anything, this album has given Isaac and Laurie a new found status as serious songwriters, Isaac explaining “I wanted to challenge us, see how far our song writing could go.” Isaac sings more on the track too, bringing his screeches and shouts in, but in a more controlled way which is catchy and compelling. ‘What shall we do today?’ he yells, Laurie softly repeating the question in the background. Artificial Intelligence is already compelling; the name sparks such interesting political questions and connotations, bringing a newfound element of awareness to the album. Old tracks like Cheer Up London and Sugar Coated Bitter Truth exposed an articulate and knowledgeable side to the band, therefore the political and social undertones are welcomed, but not surprising. Opening with a blare of distortion, the guitar is a lot heavier, riff-wise very reminiscent of Wow!!!7am. Laurie shouts blurrily in the background, a style used by bands like H0nkies, LIFE and YOWL. Definitely my favourite on the album, Artificial Intelligence is a lot tougher, a scratchy heaviness grating away at you as a listener. Closing track Acts Of Fear And Love is a perfect finish to such a diverse, complex album. It features pop licks of guitar, unusual chord progressions used alongside Isaac’s low vocal which talks broodily over the music. ‘I was looking out the window, I was watching colours change’ he muses… ‘It’s funny you forget things’. The chorus is a punch of power, the element of contrast in the closing track being sonically gripping and innovative.
Say what you like about the album, it’s impossible to deny it is blazing with confidence and a witty, abrasive humour. What we loved about Slaves when they emerged into the DIY punk scene has returned into the mainstream, and about time too.