During the relentless touring for his huge selling album ‘England Keep My Bones’ – gigs that saw support slots with Billy Bragg and successful festival appearances alongside sold-out headline shows – singer-songwriter Frank Turner made an unexpected move. He teamed up with his old mate Ben Dawson and formed Möngöl Hörde, a hardcore band channelling a lot of the spirit of their previous band Million Dead. The band played a low key gig in a Camden pub before appearing at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, before Turner resumed his solo work, releasing the commercially successful ‘Tape Deck Heart’. Little more was heard from the Hörde until a couple of years later, when they announced the release of a debut album, little over a week before it was due to hit the shelves – a lightning-fast, almost guerilla like promotion very in keeping with the sharp and uncompromising sound from the band themselves.
Though Turner’s folk-punk solo output contains lyrical bite and intelligence, from a musical standpoint it is so removed from his past. So, why launch a parallel noise-fixated career right at the point where his much-loved solo career is somewhere near the top of its ascent? It might have been for musical fun – though, obviously none of Möngöl Hörde’s material is fun in the traditional sense – or more likely to touch base with a past that was an ever fading memory in the wake of pop-based songs like ‘Losing Days’, but it’s most likely Möngöl Hörde exists just because it has to. These songs have no place elsewhere.
Möngöl Hörde’s debut is brutal; Its half an hour’s worth of material barely lets up from its initial barrage of noise. Turner’s lyrics, meanwhile, are as sharp and (often) intellectual as ever. What should be noted, however, is the change of overall focus. There are no sentiments of friendship or personal relationship within these songs and, perhaps more surprisingly, no direct politics (at least not in a questioning the governmental system sense). The politics are simpler and more personal: Turner spends the majority of this album as an outlet personal grievances – tales of being threatened by brainless weekend drunks (‘Casual Threats From Weekend Hardmen’), being disillusioned with the cards life has dealt (the possibly semi-ironic ‘Staff To The Refund Counter’) and people being perceived as a spineless waste (‘Weak Handshake’). [Disclaimer: all (mis)understandings of this album’s lyrical themes are purely individual perception. You may hear something different. The ever over- intellectual FT may have intended something else entirely.]
A rare foray into something more melodic, the more lyrically obtuse ‘Stillborn Unicorn’ includes some clean singing; those who want the likes of ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, ‘Try This At Home’ get a small amount of respite as a recognisable vocal cries through the barrage of sound. Make no mistake, though – beyond an occasional staccato guitar riff and Turner allowing his natural voice to emerge, half the music is closer to alt-metal and hardcore punk than anything and Möngöl Hörde’s more reflective moments (as brief as they are) are still laced with bitter furies. Whereas many of Turner’s solo songs allow a crowd to come together in unison and sing, there’s no unity within the bulk of Möngöl Hörde’s output; in fact, lead track ‘Make Way’ is as close as it gets, with it’s easily screamable chant of “Make way for the Möngöl Hörde, coming back to fuck you up”. Even then, it’s not a cry of unity – it’s of distruction. Whether “we” plainly refers to the band, setting out to crush everything in their path, or whether “we” is a broader view of the band and their fans is not especially clear, but given the confrontational nature of most of the material, the former is a safe bet. On this track in particular, Matt Nasir’s fast, muted chords intercut with high registered finger-picked notes colliding with Ben Dawson’s unsubtle drum techniques shows of the sheer force of this power trio. There’s no messing here. Moving into ‘Made Up and Found Wanting’, the band’s complexities are allowed to show more directly, with Nasir’s playing channelling an almost spiky jazz-inflected mathrock before being drowned completely by a wall of metallic hardcore noise.
In terms of sheer anger over something some of the audience may feel trivial, Turner goes for broke on the minute long howl ‘Winky Face: The Mark of a Moron’, on which the trio blast through a lightning bolt of hardcore worthy of Minor Threat with the screaming vocals reaching indecipherable levels. With an abrupt ending, Turner’s voice stands alone as he delivers the punchline to the rage. As the title suggests, the brief exercise has been to lash out at those who use emoticons as an almost total replacement of expressing their real feelings; in this there’s a definite siding with intellectual internet users of over a certain age and their frustrations with those who think monosyllabic responses and smilies are adequate as a response. On the surface, the piratical themed ‘Blistering Blue Barnacles’ may seem more flippant than most of Möngöl Hörde’s output, but beneath the surface lurks an attitude as uncompromising as almost any of the material here. The pirate backdrop and walking the plank is obviously a metaphor for taking things our way or not at all. That would certainly fit: after all, Turner has reunited with Dawson and channelled a very direct anger similar to Million Dead not because a record company asked for this to happen and certainly not because the core of his fans necessarily wanted it, but simply because he wanted to. In typical Turner spirit, you’re either with him or you’re not – either accept it or fuck off. This track provides one of the album’s many musical highlights; driven by Matt Nasir’s baritone guitar, the distorted bottom end of this slab of post-hardcore rage is intercut with some nifty muted chords, again hinting at mathrock, though any subtler moments ultimately slink back into their shell as full-on rage becomes the dominant force.
If you’re one of those people who missed Million Dead first time around and have subsequently written off Frank Turner as NME fodder, try and open your ears – this may just be the wake-up call you need. Direct and to the point, Möngöl Hörde bring new meanings to the term “power trio”, setting out to challenge those who want intellect as well as pure anger. This will absolutely thrill those earliest fans who may not be in tune with Turner’s own ‘Tape Deck Heart’ and the like, but unlike those early days, Möngöl Hörde comes with an awaiting audience, some of whom will have high expectations. They will not be disappointed.