11th March 2016 – Self-release
01. Good As Dead
03. A Great Idea Bastardised
04. The Great Hardcore Swindle
06. Don’t Touch That Dial
07. The Breakers
09. White Devil
10. I. See The Old Lady Decently II. Buried Although III. Amongst Those Left Are You
For a genre as in your face and visceral as hardcore, it is so very difficult to replicate the energy of a live performance on record. For HECK, whose reputation is based so indelibly on their on-stage presence (or off-stage, just as often), the prospect of laying down an album’s length of material must have been imposing; you might imagine their nerves teetering like one of the guitarists standing on the shoulders of an audience member. Which happens, a lot. Or not; to be honest, HECK seem pretty fearless. It’s one of their most endearing qualities, and they know exactly what they’re doing – indeed, Instructions is almost exactly what it says on the tin; a manual for making a big fucking racket.
Strikingly, what Instructions really manages to impart is something perhaps not apparent the first few times you see them in the flesh – you’re too busy grinning, gawping, or ducking – and that’s the sheer amount of variety in HECK’s compositional repertoire. Amongst the chaos of caterwauling, crunchy riffs and general disregard for bodily safety there are intelligently-deployed sonic grenades of genres both complementary and contrary: there’s sludge by the barrel-load towards the end of “A Great Idea Bastardised“, where the pace is slowed right down before being dialed back up to ‘willfully reckless’ at the climax; they flirt with the symphonic with intense acoustic guitar towards the end of “Don’t Touch That Dial“; they’ve even the gall to dabble with a combination of drone, a sort of Latino Glassjaw-y off-beat drum/vocal combination, and fuzzy, stoner-ific bass on “Totem“, which is probably the curve ball of the album and absolutely fucking glorious.
Here’s what really marks Instructions as special though. For 90% of its tracks it plays perfectly like an energetic, free-spinning hardcore record; sure, it experiments with a variety of sounds, but less than half an hour shoots by and you’ll be generally of the opinion that it was a lot of fun and burned a great deal of calories just listening to it.
But final track “See The Old Lady Decently Buried Although Amongst Those Left Are You” (trying saying that coherently with a few pints down you) adds over sixteen minutes to the run time. It’s bold, ambitious and pulled off with such aplomb that although it’s absolutely self-indulgent it works, especially after everything you’ve just heard. It throws solos, layered screams and an absolutely bonkers tempo that’s part The Fall Of Troy, part Kvelertak into a pot that sits at boiling point for almost its full run-time. It almost feels like a bunch of leftover song ideas thrown together, but there’s nothing haphazard about it; the almost prophetic screams of “this isn’t over! This will never be over!” are repeated all over the song, and it’s touches like these that bridge the separate parts, lashing them together and weathering the veritable storm that is this track.
Most of all however, it’s just incredibly dense and difficult to get your head around. On a visceral level it’s satisfying, but picking it apart and trying to understand what’s going on is half the fun. It’s also a prime example of how HECK also have the ability to be incredibly catchy when they want to be; “See The Old Lady Decently Buried Although Amongst Those Left Are You” is full of those kinds of lines the audience will throw back at them, but elsewhere the punk-laden chorus lines of “The Great Hardcore Swindle” are hooky as fuck, and some of the guitar-work is masterfully infectious.
So there’s much of what you’d expect from HECK here - riffs, riffs and more riffs – but who knew they were so fucking musically accomplished? This is no simple chaotic hardcore record; Instructions is almost a progressive rock album, but without any beard-stroking or moustache-twiddling; they’re far too busy setting stuff on fire. At one point Johnny screams “in retrospect it comes to blood over brains in the end”, but that really isn’t true of the album; Instructions is a really smart record, and there’s so much on offer that you’d have to be almost as mad as they are to miss it.