Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are Putting the Bite Back into Punk

Credit: Metal Hammer

“There’s a big gaping hole for real true punk rock at the minute.” So spoke former Gallows and Pure Love frontman Frank Carter to Radio 1’s Daniel Carter. One needs only take a look at the heavy rock and hardcore scenes in the UK to begrudgingly agree with him, too. It’s for this reason that as a fan of punk rock – the acerbic, poison-spitting and often violent kind, not the pop-punk kind – I’m more than happy to see Frank Carter return to his roots with his new act Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.

Carter and his then-bandmates in Gallows exploded on the punk scene in the UK in 2007, gaining notoriety for their intense confrontation of society’s issues and for their aggressive and out of control live shows. In the midst of it all was Carter, whose raw screaming and ferocious growl gave the UK a true modern punk icon.

It was not just for his devotion to punk – often typified by his willingness to get involved in violent mosh pits and fights at his shows – that Carter symbolised the epitome of the genre. His lyrics explored dark themes that often epitomised the epitaph given to Britain by the conservative government: “Broken Britain”. From date rape, misogyny, street violence and social anxiety to the futility of the rat race, Carter created a catalogue of tracks that brimmed with biting social commentary as well as raw guitar riffs and caustic vocals.

Gallows would go on to draw criticism by signing a £1 million deal with Warner, leading to many to point out the hypocrisy of their anti-establishment message. Perhaps it was down to this that the band’s unity fractured, especially as Carter began to experiment with a more mellow sound.

Carter and his bandmates parted ways and he formed Pure Love, a band more focused on straight-edge rock than punk. While Pure Love had its fans and praise, the project always seemed like a stop-gap, something to tide Carter over before he launched himself back into what he knew best.

Now in 2015, at the head of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Carter has rediscovered his powerful, heart-stopping style. From only a scant few tracks on the act’s debut EP “Rotten” the old Carter can be heard breaking back out again, railing against both the issues he writes about and against the limitations a studio recording imposes on his powerful vocal delivery. Every song is a glorious assault on the senses, so unstoppable that it almost demands repeated listening.

From the bitter, crawling riffs of “Fangs” and the furious decrying of martyrdom in “Paradise” to the rasping, emotionally-charged finale of “Primary Explosive”, Carter demonstrates a refined, sharpened iteration of the man who burst onto the scene in 2007. He’s still covered in spiralling tattoos, still sporting the same half-manic stage persona, but he is all in all a different animal entirely – an animal ready to tear at throat of the punk scene.

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The Football Fight Club and the question of masculinity

Having been a follower of football since I could walk and talk (and play), and also being English, I have an acute awareness of hooliganism in the sport. Although the match experience is far safer these days than it used to be, football hooligans (or “lads” as they prefer to be called) are still well and truly alive.

The BBC documentary “The Football Fight Club” is a candid piece of film making that follows a select group of lads organised in their firm’s “youth teams” throughout a season. I was shocked to see kids as young as 17 amongst these roving gangs, barely out of school and spoiling for a fight.

That’s not to say these groups are intrinsically violent. They decry fighting for the sake of fighting, swearing that they would never attack another supporter, no matter what team they supported. No, football firms fight football firms.There is an odd sense of honour here, as rival firms contact each other by phone and email to arrange fights.

FFC4

“Where are you?” The leader of Manchester City’s youth firm, Carl, says down the phone to the man he’ll soon be trying to put in hospital. “How many of you? Four? We’ve got four here – you better not have six or ten, if you have let me know and we’ll grab another lad.”

When asked by the camera crew why they do this, many point towards the adrenaline rush, the sense of camaraderie, the sense of being “alive”. Not knowing whether someone could smash a glass in your face or stamp your head in is all part of the thrill for these teenagers. Standing by your mates is the epitome of being a man, as is fighting off a crew with more lads than you.

Watching I couldn’t help but draw obvious comparisons between these groups and Chuck Palahniuk’s classic Fight Club. The strongest firms tend to come from inner-city clubs like Birmingham, Manchester and London, or from towns in the North, where the opportunities for a lot of young guys are slim. Many are unemployed or unemployable, having served banning orders and prison sentences.

FCC

The men in Palahnuik’s novel were unsure of their place in society. They were domesticated, their ambitions in life dulled by the endless search for material possessions. In a world of political correctness, Calvin Klein adverts and societal expectations they lashed out the only way they could – with violence.

In a world where young men have little to rail against, the chance to throw a punch at someone in different colours to you is all too welcome. Paul, a member of Bury FC’s youth firm, lauds the ability to release all his anger at the end of the week, to forget about his life and live in the moment. The adrenaline rush is like a drug, another (masked) Man City lad tells the camera. “I work in the week, I pay my taxes and at the weekend I come out and do this,” he says. “I’m an addict.”

Violence is obviously not the way to deal with problems, but have men found a better way to do so in history? Dante, a former Spurs lad (now kept in check by his fiancée and several banning orders) heads out into the woods on match day to weight-lift trees and stamp on logs, pretending they’re Chelsea fans.

FFC2

These are clearly lads who are looking for ways to express themselves. Unfortunately they’ve been dragged into doing so by trying to kick someone’s head in on a Saturday. Men have natural instincts inbuilt into our psyche – aggression is simply one of these instincts made manifest. Even the most gentle of men will revert in some way or another: getting drunk on the weekend, taking the piss out of mates or pushing themselves into physical competitions like Tough Mudder.

Is it fair to say then, that these youth firms are some rejection of the ultra-fashionable, feminised makeover that men are told to undergo in modern society? Probably not. I’m not sure many of the young men in the Football Fight Club think about chiselled Adonis models in the perfume adverts as they’re cracking a bottle in someone’s teeth.

There is no doubt that some of these kids are lost, though. The lack of a true role model in society has left them reaching for the first thing that fit their definitions. To them these bloodied, grizzled veterans of hooliganism are John Wayne with Wolverine claws.

“I used to go to pub with my Uncle when I was little,” Dante recalls, talking about after his dad passed away. “See all the clothes and hear all the stories. I wanted to be like them.”

They’re unable see a future past their twentieth birthday, past hanging around with mates and fighting for fun. Football is the world’s greatest sport, and provides moments of true brilliance for fans and players alike, but it is a tragedy and a sad indictment of our support system that hundreds of boys see putting each other in hospital as the epitome of life’s goals.

What does it mean to be a man? Masculinity is a massive question for the modern bloke, and one that will remain a mystery for many. Until then, it seems, there will be groups of lads kicking the shit out of each other in city centres every Saturday for years to come.

The Sainsbury’s 2014 Christmas ad: Moving tribute or shameless commercialism?

The air is still and cold, the ground frozen solid. Amidst the morning fog on the 25th December 1914 a young man climbs out of his trench not to charge the enemy, but to shake his hand.

This is the image that has been so wonderfully captured in a recent television advert. The Christmas Truce was a truly fantastic moment in this country’s – and humanity’s – cultural memory. So why does watching it make me feel so uneasy?

The writing is brilliant, the acting steady and believable and the cinematography beguiling. I challenge any human being to watch it in its entirety and not be moved by its sentiment. Two sides brought together by common good in the peace of Christmas, despite all their differences.

What an advert this would be for the good in all men! For the senselessness of war, especially one such as WW1. Unfortunately, it’s an advert for a supermarket.

The Christmas Truce is a remarkable moment in history: where men who had hours before been trying to kill each other realised the stupidity of what they were being forced to do – realised that those just 200 yards away from them were human beings and not worthy of hate or death. To use that to sell frozen vegetables and milk seems, well, emotionally manipulative.

True, you’re not thinking about your Nectar Points as you watch, but there is something unsettling about the camera panning away from the trenches, two (remarkably clean and handsome) soldiers dwelling on their shared gifts, and the orange Sainsbury’s logo pushing its way in.

Perhaps I have grown too cynical; after all, the advert was sponsored and aided by the Royal British Legion. However, no matter how many £1 bars of special chocolate bars it might sell, I can’t help but smell the stink of commercialisation, even if it wafts in after my initial pride and sorrow at remembering what those young men had to endure.

Yes, in this year, the centenary of the Great War, we should remember those who fell in one of the most senseless and bloody conflicts in human history. In that I commend Sainsbury’s for reminding the country of the good will to all men that should exist around the holidays.

It does seem, however, that everything is becoming fair game in the war to make customers emotional, in the salient hope that reminding them of the tragedy of millions of war dead will somehow convince them to snap up more Christmas puddings.

Brothers in Arms: The Cure to the Modern Shooter?

Back in the heyday of the PS2 and the Xbox, shooters were historical rather than modern, enemies were German rather than Middle Eastern or Russian and multiplayer was a myth, rather than a selling point.

Publishers and developers pumped out game after game set during WW2. Medal of Honour kicked the trend off proper in 1999 before Call of Duty began its steady march to power. So many video shooters piled onto the WW2 bandwagon that soon people were crying out for change.

The game that started it all...
The game that started it all…

That change occurred with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (and, you could argue, the ongoing success of the Halo series). Suddenly WW2 was out and modern shooters were in. Online multiplayer became the cash-cow to focus on for developers and publishers, who wrung their hands at the prospect of yearly releases of grey-brown mini-updates charging all-too eager gamers £40 per release.

Before that paradigm shift, however, a FPS series had set itself apart from an on-the-rails one-man-army crowd. Like those around it at the time it was set in WW2, yet focused on more than one individual.

Based on the exploits of the 101st Parachute Division (and with a healthy dose of inspiration from the critically acclaimed Band of Brothers TV series), Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms aimed to show a different side to combat, as well as gaming. Instead of a one man army carrying five to six weapons at a time, players took on the role of Matt Baker, reluctant squad leader and all-too fragile human being.

Being in charge of a squad, the player is tasked with using real-life military tactics to defeat their enemy. Two fire teams have to be used to fix an enemy squad in position with a base of fire while an assault team is directed to flank them for an easy kill. Rushing well-entrenched enemies is a no, as both the player and their squad can only take so much punishment before dropping.

The original squad from Brothers in Arms
The original squad from Brothers in Arms

The game asked tactical questions of its players, something lauded when compared the “go here, kill that” mentality of other releases. Brothers in Arms arrived at the dawn of the cover-based shooter, fresh enough to be admired.

The first entry into the series received critical acclaim, for both its gameplay and its story-telling, where each member of the squad has their own personality told through dialogue and cut-scenes. As opposed to one-man army shooters players were encouraged to rely on their squadmates and care for their wellbeing through the Normandy campaign of 1944.

A second Brothers in Arms followed shortly, lambasted by some as an attempt to cash in – since it portrayed mostly the same event but from a different characters perspective. It did show, however, that Gearbox were intent of creating a narrative for the characters they had created – the game added depth and backstory to events that would occur later in the series.

Gearbox waited until the next generation had emerged before returning to Baker and the 101st. By this point Call of Duty: Modern Warfare had been released to great success, causing a number of other publishers to begin scrambling for their own modern IP. Even multiplayer greats like DICE’s Battlefield series began to modernise its highly successful model, increasing graphical fidelity and realism to cater to gamers’ new tastes.

Hell's Highway was given a huge graphical overhaul.
Hell’s Highway was given a huge graphical overhaul.

It was in this market that Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway was released. Featuring a new graphics engine and storyline, it focused on the 101st’s role in the failed Operation Market Garden. Many of the same features were there with a healthy coating of improvement: situational cover returned, as well as the addition of destructible environments. Two new forms of squad were added in the shape of a bazooka and machinegun squad. Tactical choices were numerous in open campaign maps allowing players to create their own unique battle plan.

In an era where huge multiplayer maps are becoming the norm and single player campaigns shunned or completely ignored, Gearbox attempted to tell a single player story that would abate a modern gamer’s needs to go online and yell at someone through a mic. There are very few games that prize their storyline over their profitability (Spec Ops: The Line comes to mind) and they are usually hailed as diamonds in the rough.

It has been six years since the release of Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway. Returning to the game now reveals a title that has lost none of its sheen: the graphical fidelity of the game still holds up, while its historical accuracy and sound design is second to none. Gearbox has since its release created and grown the hugely successful Borderlands series (itself also based on teamwork) and the “to be continued” at the end of Hell’s Highway seems to become more and more of a false hope.

The developers attempted to cash in on the success of Borderlands (and of Quentin Tarentino’s film Inglorious Basterds) with the announcement of a new entry into the Brothers in Arms series named Furious Four. Tongue-in-cheek, outlandish and cartoony, scorn was poured upon the game until finally Gearbox agreed to remove the game from the fan favourite series.

Nothing much more has been heard from Gearbox since: rumours of a Brothers in Arms set in Bastogne – where Matt Baker’s story comes to an end – are abound without confirmation by the developers. It must be said that with the new generation picking up steam and gamers finally growing tired of cookie-cutter carbon-copy modern warfare shooters, perhaps the time has come for a much-loved franchise to step up to the plate once again.

Why we can’t just “Man Up”

 

We can’t simply talk about societal pressures, we have to look at what it feels like to be that boy, that man. How you are treated, the psychological progression from “ok” to “frustrated” to “anger” to “desperate”, how you necessarily have to internalize your problems, how you are set up in life only to fall through the gaping hole that is called “the male ego” and then to be ridiculed for being so naive as to want to express yourself

You know how you feel pressure to look good and dress nicely. You feel that everyday, no one tells you but everyone is looking and you feel those eyes on you. You can’t help but notice that everyone notices. It’s ingrained into society, it’s accepted, you don’t even realize it’s there because it’s omnipresent. Like air.

The same thing exists with “be a man”. No one wants to hear how hard you have it, your problems or your emotions.

“Man up” echos everywhere, silently, implicitly. At first an innocent term of motivation, now an ironically desperate attempt to demonstrate masculinity. The term is so confused it is now used to claim opposing behaviors as manly. A real man doesn’t cry – A real man cries. Can you imagine hearing someone say “A real woman drinks margaritas”?

There is an uneasiness around being a man these days because no one knows what it means anymore.

The worst part about these struggles is how everyone seems to be ok with it. There is no visible group advocating for a balanced masculinity or an open discussion on male identity. Male problems aren’t even on the radar. If you don’t ask for help what do you do? You do the only thing you can do, you internalize your pain, you ignore it and it grows silently.

Who is going to help you through this? Is there anything more terrifying to society than a man who needs help? Have you ever seen a grown man cry in public? It’s unsettling.

You’re too ashamed and simultaneously too proud to ask for help. Asking for help means you aren’t “manning up” like everything in culture silently tells you to do. And so everything that isn’t addressed becomes that dark beast inside you, lurking at the edges. You become so out of touch with your emotions it’s a surprise when you’re actually happy, like it’s an accident. A childish glee of a once happy childhood being crushed by your everyday repressed identity.

You lose all sense of proportion. Drugs, alcohol, depression, fighting and other self-destructive behavior show up. At least self-erasure makes sense, at least you can control the rate of your descent. A joyous self-annihilation, like watching your own car crash in slow motion from far away, simultaneously inside the car and outside it. A symbolic interpretation of reality.

This is in fact your true position in all this, your emotional self is a 1000 miles away observing this scene with equanimity, your actual self speeding into a brick wall.

Your friends have long since stopped caring, ignoring all the warning signs, some may reach out but you’re too far gone for kind words or formal gestures. You’re desperate and angry. You become fully desensitized and ignore your emotions, seeing them as obstacles. You are now a man “at war” with himself, the motto of this war is “take no prisoners”. You snuff out feelings, you do this once and it makes things easier and then again, and again, and again, you’re on your way down that desolate road.

It becomes a comical routine, your patheticness is a joke even to yourself. You’ve lost all sense of reality, you’re walking down that road of quiet desperation[2] . Every man that’s been told to “man up” knows what I’m talking about. Every man that doesn’t get lucky or ask for help in time ends up in the same place, in the gutter. Alone, cold and forgotten. Homeless both in reality and spiritually.

The old male roles are dying if not dead. They continue to subsist in obscurity, as an after-thought or a punch-line to a joke that provokes uneasy laughter. Young men continue on in the empty space left by these non-roles, without guidance or any solid concept or understanding of themselves or their masculine identity.

Education doesn’t worry about boys, they’ve always been fine on their own, right? Boys and young men have a much different kind of education, a negative education. They are not told that their normal selves are good, fine and valuable, that being energetic, spontaneous and loud is a good thing, no, they are simply told what they can’t do. Sit down, shut up, stop interrupting, if you can’t control yourself we’re going to see the principal, we’ll call your parents, we’re going to ridicule you.

So they grow up literally clueless, looking to social cues, formal structures and hyper-male caricatures for help. We all know these clueless young men, we all know how bleak a future they have, we ignore it, they ignore it, video games are always fun, right? What a heartbreaking story of normal everyday occurrence. Our sons, our brothers, our fathers pretending everything is fine, no one ever asks them “Are you Ok?”

Summary: Masculinity is a deeply misunderstood concept, almost as if on purpose. Misunderstood by society as a whole, but also by women and, most offensively, by the men themselves. Everyone participates in this “good man” myth, completely unaware that there is no concept of a good man today, masculinity is an unknown which we can use and abuse as we see fit. Can you go a day without hearing something in the news about violence or war? Everyone knows those are male things, right?

The bottom line is everyone has a choice in how they treat boys and men, everyone can decide whether they should be treated as human beings or if they can “take it like a man”. No one proposes what masculinity could be, no one seeks to glorify or worship it, no one speaks of the hidden potential of our young men today, no one dares to give it it’s proper place in society. Male identity is a negative today, ridiculed, feared and marginalized.

What do men do in this climate? They do the only thing they can do, ignore all of it, live their owns lives, try to get by somehow, they “man up”.”

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