It was 14 years ago to the day that motivational hardcore punks Modern Life Is War last stopped off in Brighton. Finally, on a blazing hot June evening, they have returned to level the building, with the hotly-tipped Svalbard in tow. Starting the night off, however, are Swain. Their music is a rock stomp with phased pop-licks and vocals that add a snarl to ‘70s stadium fare. As a newcomer to them it felt that there was an emotional honesty to their in-between-song amble that seemed unfortunately absent from the meat of their music.
Svalbard, by contrast, unleash heartfelt intensity from the get-go. All cylinders were wide open and firing very discriminately. They know their targets. The pained rage that they peddle easily transitions from tight and pummelling to epic and crushing. Flitting from fragile in one moment to frenzied and fierce in the next.
As good as their new record - It’s Hard To Have Hope (read our interview, released on Holy Roar just a month back) - is, it doesn’t quite capture the legitimate weight and slamming ferocity contained within their live experience. Vocalist Serena Cherry, for example, is often left wide-eyed and shredded of throat as her voice fades away at the end of lines, calling to mind the depuration of Envy’s Tetsuya Fukagawa.
Hey you! SWAIN think that “Punk-Rock Messed You Up, Kid!”
Svalbard’s post-hardcore is captivating, vanquishing, and re-energising. They’re also a little bit sweet - one track is dedicated to anyone who has adopted a pet from an animal shelter. Their music and themes, however, are timely, up front, and proud. And as a haunting melody cuts through the raucous noise and the band peel off stage, we are left with notes of resilience, resistance, and redemption.
I was there when Modern Life Is War tore up the Freebutt (RIP) on that night, a decade and a half ago, and, from the moment that they rip into opener “Fuck The Sex Pistols” it’s clear that the ire that fuels them has not waned in the slightest. Time has mellowed neither the punk rock bastions on the stage nor the vicious throng on the floor. Although, if memory serves, the distinction between the two was somehow even more blurred the last time that they were in town. The wave of punched fists, charging bodies, and mic lunges clearly shows one thing - this crowd are here for Modern Life Is War.
Are you an “Unpaid Intern”? Then watch this Svalbard video for some tips and tricks.
The band immediately ratchet into the Peter Milligan-inspired “Martin Atchet” complete with complicit screams of “Bastards!” from the audience. Back-to-back cuts from 2003’s My Love. My Way follow. “Breaking The Cycle” and “Late Bloomers”, both still awash with fury, bile, and despair, sound like futures once rallied for but now lost. Frontman Jeffrey Eaton speaks of broken promises, community and the rise of individualism. Of not clambering on your fellow man to achieve your goals. A sentiment that has always seemed a tad at odds with hardcore shows as this very literally occurs 15 times a song. Crowd members scrabbling over one another for an opportunity to bellow into the microphone. I guess the significant separation here is that those who fall are always helped back to their feet.
Next up is a throaty and thunderous rendition of The Stooges classic “I Wanna Be Your Dog” before a brief respite is given over for a bit of admin, namely birthday announcements. We are then treated to the live debut of “Dark Water”, a far sludgier affair than most of Modern Life Is War’s back catalogue. It prowls and growls its way along with lyrics that appear to have predicted the damaged world of Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film.
The cover artwork for Modern Life Is War’s new single, Tribulation Worksongs Vol. 1.
As the band continue to pump through tracks with a blistering energy, I’m reminded that this is what lies at the heart of this genre. It’s what hardcore punk has always needed, always been about. The exchange of passion providing a connection between and feeding one another. Unlike other forms of aggressive music such as harsh noise or power violence, punk demands interaction. A frosty reception can utterly kill a gig. Thankfully that is not the case here, and despite Stephen Pinker’s claims in his recent book - Enlightenment Now, the band’s moniker still rings true. The need for this emotional release is all the more apparent as the band really turn the screws, delivering vociferous, purging breakdowns that energise all in attendance.
For the final two moments of catharsis, Modern Life Is War dip back into that first record with “First & Ellen” and, appropriately for Brighton’s location, “By The Sea”. With this pair they are reaching into the past and wrenching it into the present, reinforcing this notion that, whilst a hope for future might certainly seem to be lost, the past can still be embraced and learned from.
It “Feels Like End Times” after listening to Modern War’s nest song.
Modern Life Is War’s Setlist:
01. Fuck The Sex Pistols
02. The Outsiders (Hell Is For Heroes, Part 1)
03. Martin Atchet
04. Breaking The Cycle
05. Late Bloomers
06. Chasing My Tail
08. Feels Like End Times
09. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges cover)
10. Dark Water
11. John And Jimmy
13. Young Man Blues
14. Young Man On A Spree
15. Nervous Breakdown (Black Flag cover)
17. First And Ellen
18. By The Sea
Remaining Live Tour Dates:
09/15 - The Marquis Theater (Denver, CO, US)
09/29 - Metro (Chicago, IL, US)
09/30 - Wooly's (Des Moines, A, US)