They say it’s grim up north, and few bands encapsulate that word better than Hull’s Battalions. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill frostbitten, Battles In The North kind of grim, Battalions specialize in a more belligerent, sludgy form of gloom with enough fuzz to match the amount of facial hair on these four loveable reprobates.
For those who have followed Battalions up to this point will know that subtly is not usually the aim of the game. The band is most well-known for their self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor backed up with churning riffs peppered with stomp and swagger. With Forever Marching Backwards (APF), we have the foursome at their most socially aware and, maybe, their most fun. The title is a rather obvious allegory about allowing oneself or your society to regress without questioning why, which is a rather apt description of modern-day Britain (and the wider world). Again, subtle or original it is not, but its abrasive nature is where the strengths of Forever Marching Backwards lie.
Backed up by a typically filthy production from Chris Fielding of Skyhammer Studios (Conan, Boss Keloid etc.), Forever Marching Backwards is a much more hostile record than any of the band’s previous outputs.
Three albums in three years might feel like oversaturation from some bands, but when you write songs with the bluesy sway of ‘Cities of Ruin’ or the absurd lyrical subject of ‘Tyskie Vampire’ – a song about sucking the booze out of split cans of Polish lager – you can’t help but be drawn into this murky mire of sludgy frivolity.
So, Battalions tackle all manner of human struggles, from the wasting of beer to crushing sorrow and despair, but the tonal shift never feels forced or played for comedic effect because the riffs retain their groove throughout and the level of vitriol in vocalist Phil Wilkinson’s delivery is as striking as ever. The overall structure of these songs is generally improved compared to previous releases with the title track leading the charge as the most accomplished song the band have written to date, but when it’s supported with the brash and punky ‘Brick Hole’, the doom-worshipping ‘Infinite Void’, and the southern swagger of ‘Devil’s Footsteps’, you have a record that consistently switches up its pace to stay fresh across its short runtime while maintaining the same level of dirt and heaviness throughout.
It might not teach anyone anything new in terms of its overall sound and social commentary (although you might learn a new party trick from ‘Tyskie Vampire’), but after a very trying year for us all it’s important to take a step back and along with our societal analysis realise that sometimes it’s cathartic to just say “Shit’s fucked” and down seventeen pints.
7 / 10