Despite being globally famous as the birthplace of heavy metal, Birmingham and its surrounding area has in recent years been home to a distinctly indie-tinged scene of surf, psychedaelia and hipster-oriented rock and pop. In a break from (or return to) local tradition, the last year or so has seen a resurgence of heavy sounds in local bands, particularly God Damn and Youth Man, who are continuing to find success in the old ways: volume and enthusiasm.
God Damn hail from the Black Country, and accordingly their music echoes the industrial escapism of early Black Sabbath. Mix in Nirvana and Electric Wizard, and you approach their uncompromising sound. The duo of Thom Edward and Ash Weaver produce a sonic assault positively unbecoming of only two people. In a live environment that is absolutely their home, Thom’s guitar screams, wails and thrashes through a stereo selection of different amplifiers, shaking grille cloth and destroying eardrums (I can attest to that personally). Ash’s drumming echoes Bonham in both volume and solidity, while also involving incredible showmanship and flailing hair.
Reduced from a trio in 2013 by a tragic series of events, the duo have managed to channel adversity into, if possible, yet more insatiable energy, repeatedly impressing audiences and reporters with their antics and energy across the country.
Their last EP, Heavy Money, is a mix of chainsaw riffs, atmospherics and grunge attitude, all laid maturely over a classic rock basis; ‘Red Checker’ nods to punk influences with its brevity, while ‘Dangle Like Skeletons’ quietly represents the band’s sensitive side, before decking the listener with a fist of layered guitars. Their more recent singles, ‘Horus’ and ‘When The Wind Blows’, show a relatively more strident, bluesy tendency, possibly hinting at the content of the upcoming album, Vultures, slated for release in May this year.
Youth Man, the equally forceful and ear-splitting purveyors of sex-punk, is made up of guitarist/vocalist Kaila Whyte, bassist Miles Cocker and drummer Marcus Perks. Kaila’s versatility keeps the vocals varied, leaping between heartfelt and corrosive, while Marcus mixes simplicity with Keith Moon flair, navigating the occasional passage of 5/4 with fluent ease and panache. Miles’ bass gels well with both players, booming and twanging in step.
With their first EP, Youth, barely slipping out, covert and unnoticed, and the second, Bad Weather, finally garnering them some deserved attention, the trio went through something of a change in sound with the addition of Miles in 2014. More acidic and abrasive than ever, October 2014’s Joy grounds the band’s sound in the discordant and the chromatic, without abandoning melody entirely; both tracks exude energy despite their grim self-examination, brutalising the listener and promising great things in the future. Recent single ‘Skin’ continues this expectation, a brief 78 seconds of aural assault accompanied by a schizophrenic music video which saw bassist Cocker receive a real, prison-style tattoo. Mad they certainly are, but just like God Damn they continue to tear apart venues and audiences alike right in the face of the music press. Their next EP, Hill of Knives, is expected later this year.
Both of these bands are expected to continue their upward trajectory over the coming months and years, and it is easy to see why: they are genuine, raw and expressive, blowing away the cobwebs of the ageing indie scene in the same way punk toppled the giants of prog and classic rock in the 1970s. If they continue to capture the hearts and minds they have ensnared so far, Rolling Stone will be correct in naming Youth Man one of their ‘Ten Artists You Need To Know’. Equally, with a debut album soon to be under their belts, and a headline tour lined up to support it, God Damn are destined for greatness and surely won’t be letting up any time soon. Other Midlands ones to watch include Them Wolves and Elephantine, who are both pioneering fresh, convicted sounds in invariably stale musical times.