Filled with menace, Clang Boom Steam’s brooding and melodic new album takes a walk on the dark side, writes idp.
It’s a brave band that takes as its name a title from Tom Waits‘s songbook. It invites comparisons that not many can benefit from – those are mighty big boots to fill, especially, of course, when the man himself is still wearing them.
Clang Boom Steam is from Wait’s industrial 2004 Real Gone album. It’s not much more than a cameo really. Forty six seconds of rasping, clanking ugliness – a tiny masterpiece that if anyone else had produced it would probably be nothing special. But it’s special because it’s Tom Waits at his most dissonant and audacious – and Tom Waitsish – not just verging on self parody but firmly establishing Waits as the best Tom Waits piss take tribute act in the business.
Clang Boom Steam, a four piece from Northern Ireland begin their eponymous new album with thirty seconds of feedback laden noise in the Waits tradition from which a jaunty rhythm gradually emerges as the band launch into Clan, a dark family ballad filled with bass that reverberates like a jew’s harp, insistent drums and slow, sombrely echoing guitar licks. The song sets the tone for the album pretty effectively – fasten your seat belts as we take a ride from cradle to grave calling at doom, misery and despair along the way, with some great tunes and sing along choruses thrown in for good measure.
Elsewhere worms eat brains, dead people piss on floors, children disappear and eyes bleed. They’re not a band that worry about straying into darker song writing territory, and every line is filled with menace and intimations of mortality, although at times it can seem just a little bit self conscious and an occasional flash of humour would be welcome now and again. There’s plenty to enjoy through from the punky I Look Better In This Light to the terrific rocking Dirty Face and the brooding album closer Fort St Gabriel. It’s all too varied musically to be easy to pigeonhole, although comparisons have included Queens Of The Stone Age, Matchbox and Johnny Cash, but when they’re at their best it’s Nick Cave that comes most to mind.
The highlight of the album comes with Digging Up The Dead, for which they ease up on the volume and effects and deliver a cautionary ballad that evokes the spirit of Cave, the vocal darkly melodic over a musical tableau reminiscent of 1950’s film music Theme From A Summer Place. It’s the contrast between the bleak lyrical content and sweetness of the instrumentation that makes this song so compelling – a lesson which could be applied to some of the other tracks where the vocals seem to fight against the rest of the band, with both losing out in the long run.
Overall it’s a fine debut that improves with every listen, with elements of country, rockabilly, punk and metal all in the mix. Does it live up to the Tom Waits comparison – not really, simply because the song writing is a little too simple – and anyway, who does? But it’s great stuff all the same and well worth a listen.