Let me preface this review with somewhat of a disclaimer. I do not dislike punk, I do not dislike screaming in music, and indeed I do not dislike this album. It’s just, as with all kinds of music, I believe that musicality should be a priority when writing music, and it is here that Modern Ruin shoots itself in the foot. It doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong – there was something I could point to in every song and say “I liked that”. But in the vast majority of cases, what the album does is forgettable – I cannot point to anything from this album that I will remember in its own right, like I could with say The Ramones or Slaves.
Which is a crying shame, because Frank Carter is a simply stupendous lyricist. Every theme he takes on across this album, from the harrowing account of alcoholism in Snake Eyes, to soured love in Wild Flowers, to the refugee crisis in Jackals, is dealt with incredibly earnestly, and without being afraid to pull linguistic punches. Carter’s command of metaphor and simile is nigh-on unmatched, and his ability and willingness to paint brutal images really comes to the forefront in the more politicized sections of this album.
I say the more politicized sections because this album seems to lack a cohesive theme at times. The titular track, Modern Ruin, would imply that this album is all about the state of the world, and indeed the latter half of the album is. But the first half seems to be more personalized, and calls into question whether this would not have been more thematically cohesive if split into two EPs rather than one full-length LP.
The real drawback to this album is, however, the instrumentation. I know this is a hardcore punk album, so I should adjust my expectations accordingly. But a little more variety would be nice – particularly when songs with such similar riffs as Lullaby and Snake Eyes are in sequential running order on the album. This would not be such a problem if the mixing didn’t drown out the vocals as much as it does. Carter’s linguistic genius often takes a backseat to generic four-chord progressions, and where it does ring out it is often heavily distorted – maybe part of the whole aesthetic, but still not conducive to highlighting the band’s strengths.
When the album does slow down however, it does so with fantastic results. My favourite track on the album by a long shot, Thunder, shows just how right Frank and Co. can get it: the instrumentation is excellent – particularly the arpeggiated riff when combined with the second verse as it is – and the subject matter of civil war and the refugee crisis is brought into sharp relief by the brutalist lyrics. Neon Rust also deserves a shout-out for being one of the best songs on the album, despite its initially daunting 5 minute runtime.
Overall, Modern Ruin is most definitely a hardcore punk album. While most tracks are less of an assault of noise than the titular one, the album represents pretty much everything that punk stands for: uninventive musicianship, thrashy music, and angry shouty men. Yet Frank Carter’s excellent songwriting brings this album above the rest, and while it may not be a classic example of a punk album, at its best it really is quite good indeed.
Best Songs: Vampires, Wild Flowers, Jackals, Thunder, Neon Rust