Ruined Families - Blank Language - LP (2013)

Labels: Adagio830
Review by: Alex Hannan

The second LP from Athens’ RUINED FAMILIES is an angry, earnest listening experience which borrows elements of discordant emo-hardcore, black metal and melodic HC, avoiding commitment to any particular one style. Lyrics (in English) are generally dour and pessimistic over the 9 tracks, yelled hoarsely but enunciated to be understood – speaking of trying to avoid easy answers in life, of frustrations, a sense of pointlessness, of being worn down by repetition. “To new parents” gives sardonic advice on child rearing – “If they ask you what life is all about / There is a good life, but, in the next life / There are laws, but, we don’t know why.” Political allusions are veiled and poetic, and coexist with introverted struggles like that of ‘Easy Livin” – “I try to completely remove the way that I was raised / The good news is / I recognize me less every day.”

In their recent MRR interview they acknowledged their musical eclecticism, saying “Variety stands as a starting point for us. We try to steal from whoever we like regardless the genre.” Colouring outside of the lines is great, but multiple stylistic borrowings can be hard to blend into a unified listening experience. They are clearly not content to rehash sounds that have already been heard, which is a big plus, but the diversity often manifests itself in sharp mid-song switches between riffs and sections that could have come from different bands: opener “Only need is real” traces a path between CURSED-style discordant HC, WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM doomy tremolo and a gruff, dark melodic section whose chord changes could have come from a downtuned LEATHERFACE. The production values and vocal style salvage continuity, but the parts sometimes seem to have little reason to exist alongside each other, and remain static in terms of the song as a whole, not managing to build or develop to another level.

There have been some odd choices in the production and sequencing of the record – the muddiness of the recording takes me back to a time when my last band tried to record in a too-large concrete-walled room with no sound baffling, and the reverberation made everything sound bled together and cavernously blurred. It’s something which is listenable with their more metal-influenced parts, and the driving melodic parts work out alright, but the fast, discordant hardcore sound suffers a lot: since on side A you’re dropping the needle on an opening section in this style, the production detracts strongly from what the band is doing, and it takes quite a few listens to get past that first impression. In the same interview, when challenged on the issue, a band member responded “I don’t have to defend myself for something that we decided to do in a particular way. […] People and bands try to fit punk bands into limits or make them sound cleaner, whereas this is against the nature of operating in independent music. You can’t listen to angry music played in basements by a bunch of guys that revolt against something yet still be on high fidelity. It doesn’t make sense.” Why did they spend seven days in the studio if they were in reaction against high fidelity? Yes, cheap and lo-fi recordings are more accessible to disenfranchised people, can cut out involvement with the record industry, you can end up with primevally thrilling recordings that way: but equally, spending a bit of money on a good studio and engineer doesn’t necessarily turn you into MCFLY.

The opening couple of songs of the LP have the kind of patchwork structure that I described above – parts some of which I really like, but which don’t sit comfortably beside each other. Side A starts to grow on me with the mid paced “208”, in which the band’s talent for oblique, serrated melody is given a chance to breathe and starts to bring out some depth of feeling. The first half of ‘Easy Livin” shapes up to be even better: but the energy built up is lost with an about-face into slow doomy pounding before an ending of faster hardcore. The vocals are quite exposed and relatively cleanly recorded, and start to come across a little blustery over the course of the LP, mostly delivered at a similar sonic and emotional pitch. The first couple of songs of side B suffer from a lack of memorable riffs but again the second half of the side pulls things back, the darkly melodic “Definition in paradox” and “Pedestal” displaying goosebump-inducing power. The lyrical bleakness reaches an extreme on this last climactic track: “I can see my friends, / they are all here / but they look sadder / we repeat the same day with another name / pain is addicted to pain.”

A quick listen to the 7″ that preceded this LP reveals a different side of the band – it fairly jumps out of the speakers. I’d like to hear these songs played live to see if they can reclaim some of the power and potential that this band’s best work shows off, and which seems to have been diminished along the way here.