One of the best products of the contemporary underground dark punk/postpunk scene, Portland’s Bellicose Minds’ debut LP, The Spine, has been a long time coming. Although it was recorded over a year ago, in June 2012, it has slowly trickled out to the masses via mailorder and smart independent record stores that have an ear for good music. I interviewed the band almost a year ago for CVLT Nation when the only release under their belts was the excellent self-titled 2011 EP (and a demo tape); the 2011 EP had been previously reviewed by the late Kenn Kroosaficks for CVLT Nation. Bellicose Minds were one of his favorite bands, and they’re also one of mine. Although The Spine was technically released late 2012, it’s good enough to be on my own personal “Top 10” list for 2013.
Whether you want to call it dark punk, dark postpunk, or goth-punk — and any of these terms would fit — The Spine recalls a time when bands like Vex, The Dark, and The Mob circulated freely between the punk and postpunk scenes simply because those scenes had not split apart into their own distinct worlds yet. (I’m speaking of the early 80s, when segments of the British music press referred to bands like UK Decay and Sex Gang Children as “gothic punk” and “positive punk.”) That’s the fine music and cultural line that The Spine treads – and it does so wonderfully.
For his part, singer Nick Bellicose has stated that Bellicose Minds are a postpunk band, period. Nick’s vocals are gloomy and baritone, perfectly suited to the dark, guitar-driven sounds the band produces. In an interview I did with the band last year, Nick explained the influences on both his distinctive vocal style as well as the band’s brand of dark postpunk:
It’s easiest for me to sing in a lower register. I always liked the way Jim Morrisson and David Bowie sang when I was a kid. That was music I heard from my parents as a very young child. I started finding my own music to listen to at the age of 9 or 10, and always looked for extremes. I love extremes. I listen to a lot of hardcore punk and anarcho-punk from the late 70′s and 80′s. I draw from the aggression and provocation in many of the lyrics from those styles of music. Darker punk/post punk bands definitely have a big influence on how I forge the lyrics and sound in our songs. Singers such as Mark Burgess, Adrian Borland (RIP), and Mic Jowger (Pink Turns Blue) are huge influences because they all had their own style, and felt their words. At the end of the day I always try to come up with my own style and ideas — my own voice.
Musical reference points for The Spine include 80s anarcho-goth like Lack of Knowledge, Famous Imposters (“From the Cradle to the Grave”) and the aforementioned Mob, or noir-ish 80s US postpunk like Glorious Din. The LP is in fact a top-shelf addition to this fine tradition of music anchored in punk sensibilities but motivated by a more grim take on world affairs. Bellicose Minds’ lyrics alternate between the personal and political. Songs like “Call to Graves” — which is one of my favorites on the album — have a political resonance that betrays the band’s anarcho-punk influences, while others, like “Visions of Pain,” evince personal torment with lyrics that Edgar Allan Poe could appreciate. (“What kind of demons created these visions, all of these visions of pain?”)
When I asked Nick Bellicose about the title of the LP, he responded: “The human spine is complex, fragile, and extremley powerful. It connects our body and minds and allows us to generate great good or evil. It was a fun theme to work around.”
Fans of 80s UK postpunk will be in heaven with The Spine. There’s not a bad song on the LP and in fact some of the songs are just absolutely fantastic, among the best made in the genre in the past decade. It’s one of the best LP-length works to come out of the punk scene’s renewed interest in postpunk that has been occurring since 2005 or so, when “post-dbeat” bands like The Estranged, The Complications, Deathcharge, and The Spectres began exerting a major influence to steer a good portion of the punk scene in this direction.