Frank Turner returning to heavy music is a dream come true for a lot of us who were raised on Million Dead, the post hardcore band Turner fronted before he decided to go solo and make folk pop. Turner has been messing around under the Mongol Horde name with fellow Million Dead stalwart Ben Dawson and Sleeping Souls member Matt Nasir for 2 years now and while a few songs have been drip-fed to the public nobody was expecting an album materialise out of thin air. For the unsuspecting public it really felt the way when their debut self-titled album was announced a week before release and the no bullshit approach to announcing the record really suits the music it contains.
Despite being a heavy record, this is a very different beast to Million Dead. Mongol Horde make hardcore punk infused with groove metal and each song is built around a massive down-tuned riff, frantic punk drumming from Dawson and an absolutely furious roar from Turner. This is the sort of album Refused and earthtone9 might make if they ran really fast into each other.
What’s really interesting about the band’s formula is that no real effort has been made to beef up their rather bare-bones sound. Nasir makes up for the lack of bass guitar by tuning his guitar low and running it through the dirtiest fuzzbox he has available. This gives the band a satisfying quiet/loud dynamic that means the verses generally lack bass before it drops into the mix for a massive chorus. It’s simple but amazingly powerful stuff.
Turner has also approached the vocals in a very different fashion. The man almost exclusively uses screams and spoken vocals and there’s more than a touch of humour to Turner’s lyrics. Tapeworm Uprising chronicles the journey of Natalie Portman’s tapeworm as it escapes her body to found a new republic for tapeworms. Blistering Blue Barnacles discusses the career advice Turner was given that lead him to captain his own ship just to satisfy his inferiority. Winkyface: The Mark of a Moron discusses the modern phenomena known as using emoticons instead of actual words to express yourself. It’s beautifully bizarre stuff and despite the almost constant screaming, Turner is incredibly clear and expressive which really engages you in the bonkers scenarios he creates.
The album is superbly consistent with every track being built around a traditional verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure that puts emphasis on Nasir’s enormous riffs and Turner’s aggressive choruses. It’s all tied together by an absolutely relentless display of drumming from Dawson who sounds like he probably got through about ten pairs of sticks per song.
The only real let-down comes in the lack of bass. On occasion the songs feel somewhat lacking without a dedicated bass-line and the furious openings to Casual Threats from Weekend Hardmen and Your Problem are great examples. It’s only a minor complaint as the bass often strikes at the most opportune moments, but you can’t help but imagine how utterly devastating the band would sound if the riffs were bolstered by that extra bit of bass.
Regardless, this is an explosive debut by one of the weirdest bands in heavy music right now. Mongol Horde’s self-titled debut album is equal parts punk and groove and it’s presented as a series of surrealist stories told by Turner that give the band an identity of their own. Welcome back Frank; we’ve missed your unhinged side.
Mongol Horde’s debut self-titled album is out now and available to buy direct from Xtra Mile Recordings.