NIGHTFREAK – Speed Trials EP

Nightfreak are a band who, in their own words, play “feral punk ‘n’ roll”. Bands sometimes have a skewed idea of how they sound, or of the intents and complexities of the music they play, but in this case, these three lads from Chicago are under no illusions. Their second release ‘Speed Trials’ fills a brutal ten and a half minutes with unrelenting material that pulls the best from Black Flag and Germs and marries that hardcore intensity to rock ‘n’ roll riffs that sound like bits of Rocket From The Crypt and New Bomb Turks colliding with Keith Morris performing with a genuine anger.

This mightn’t leave much room for actual variety, but what Nightfreak might lack in that department is more than made up for with energy, enthusiasm and a real desire to deliver riffs that could crush skulls.

‘Surprise!’ introduces Nightfreak’s hard driving sound very effectively by opening with a repetitive punk ‘n’ roll riff that sounds like a cross between Rocket From The Crypt and a melodic hardcore band. In terms of musical hooks, it’s immediately effective with its brazenly overdriven sound, but things get even more intense when a couple of stops, a taut drum roll and a metal-edged guitar are used to crank the tension before a shouty lead vocal drives everything forward. In less than a minute, the overall appeal in their hardcore punk ‘n’ roll approach becomes very clear. The way frontman Steve marries an angular, tight yet sloppy riff with an intensive vocal approach owes so much to the forefathers of American hardcore, and yet he approaches the performance with a carefree style that makes the punk still seem fresh. Beyond the riffs, a repeated refrain of “hey, fuck you” is even less subtle than the music that’s quickly taken hold, and a dual vocal ensures the sheer force within the performance never lets up. Going for something even more punky, ‘New Years Eve’ adopts the tempo of early Motorhead tunes and throws out riffs that sound like early Black Flag, complete with Greg Ginn inspired atonal lead guitar. It’s here that Nightfreak’s hardcore love really shines through, with Steve adopting a much bigger sneer whilst Art smashes his drum kit into oblivion. There isn’t anything here that hardcore devotees won’t have heard before, but it’s brilliantly presented, with the low budget recording really bringing out the band’s rawness, but remaining professional enough for Dan’s bass to punch through at regular intervals.

Crashing through an intro obviously inspired by ‘Overkill’ by Motorhead, ‘Sheer Terror’ fills three minutes with a slab of punk that, again, makes the best from shouted refrains and Black Flag-esque guitar work, but also teases with a bigger sense of rock ‘n’ roll than before. Through a classic hardcore riff, Steve absolutely canes his throat during the verses, and a massive gang vocal on the chorus calls back to the early years of Agnostic Front. In terms of hardcore, it’s bang on, but it’s the musical bridges that make the arrangement really shine, with Steve leading the charge through a buzzsaw punk ‘n’ roll riff that makes the nearest equivalent from New Bomb Turks seem non-committal. With that later overlaid by a shrill ascending riff, it creates a relentless wall of sound that manages to be appealing and affronting at the same time. Dialling everything back for a straighter piece of punk, ‘I’ll Show You Heaven’ is about as ragged a workout as Nightfreak have offered. It’s obvious influences from Fear make it less melodic than the other tracks (and since melody has always been the band’s last concern, that’s fairly impressive). In a little over two minutes, huge, buzzsaw riffs challenge a shouty vocal for dominance, working through a verse and chorus that appears to be repeated as needed. Eventually reaching a belated instrumental break, Steve offers up a pleasingly sloppy guitar solo whilst the rhythm section keep the momentum with a taut, semi-thrashy groove. For lovers of the style, there won’t be anything new here, but there’s still plenty to entertain.

What’s obvious by the time the last song bows out, is that any early feelings of the material appearing formulaic soon fade. Nightfreak’s love of speed means that the listener doesn’t actually have time to get bored, even though their sheer bluster means that their brand of punk ‘n’ roll leaves very little room for intricacy. What this cassette offers is a four track force of nature; a short collection of hard and riff-based bangers that should thrill garage punks everywhere. In terms of all round enjoyment and an ability to clear the cobwebs, ‘Speed Trials’ is a sure fire winner. Buy it, crank it, let yourselves go. In terms of quick and boisterous thrills, you won’t find much better.

June 2022