Introducing… Intensive Square


When Skype cuts off three times during an interview it’s a pisser. Fortunately Barnes, guitarist and saxophonist for Cardiff brutalisers Intensive Square, remains unperturbed. Having done their own thing for a decade, and recently releasing debut album Anything That Moves (Black Bow Records) after a wait in excess of two years, these guys aren’t fazed by the mundane things in life: “Rich Lewis, our drummer, and guitarist Joe Harvatt were doing Thrash metal covers when I joined. We were just playing for fun initially, but became serious once we started writing stuff that we liked, and started to get noticed around 2011 after playing Bloodstock.”

Intensive Square’s sound has developed wholesale since those early days, a collective background in jazz adding serious groove to the savage intent: “It changed drastically when Rich and I started jamming. We were into bands like Meshuggah which, at that time, was real left-of-centre stuff. Rich has always been interested in weird rhythms, so we just experimented a little and came up with something different.” Barnes is also responsible for some wailing saxophone on the album: “I’m into freeform, Avant-garde Jazz, where there’s no fear; Ornette Coleman, for example, inspires me. I couldn’t play you a standard on sax, but I find some really evil sounds and make it work for us.”

He definitely does. The band recorded a couple of EPs in those early days, which are raw in the extreme: “We recorded in our bedrooms! We also had a set-up in Rich’s house where we were in the living room, and the stacks were in another room. We just turned everything up as loud as we could! We didn’t have a clue what we were doing production-wise but it was a wicked time: loads of complaints, Police coming round taking our gear…it was fucking wild! Most of those tracks have been battered into shape for the album, and they sound completely different now.”

It’s tempting to believe that the ‘fun’ element has to disappear with an enhanced profile, but Barnes dismisses that idea: “We’re having a wicked laugh! We’re writing at present, and seriously looking forward to playing gigs around the UK. It’s quite hard to juggle sometimes, with Rich in Conan and Joe recently joining Hark also; so we have to get the timing right. But we’re desperate to get out there, and seeing the great reviews for Anything… has only encouraged that feeling.”


The album was recorded at Foel studios in the Welsh countryside, with Conan bassist Chris Fielding in the chair, and has been issued through Conan mainman Jon Davis’ label, Black Bow. Barnes is proud of the association, and its results: “I absolutely love Conan, have done for years. I can’t believe Rich is now in the drumstool for them, and I’m thrilled to be on Jon’s label – it issued Bast’s Spectres, and that was amongst my favourite albums of last year. We wanted a professional sound, and we loved what Chris was doing. It took about another year to finalise and mix, as we ran out of allotted time and, with us all being perfectionists, we didn’t want to rush things. James Plotkin mastered it, and here we are now.”

That’s some résumé for a debut album of course, and it’s something Barnes acknowledges: “We feel really lucky. It was a big deal for us, we threw everything at it and spent as much money as we could afford. Nobody went on holiday that year! You get on each other’s nerves a bit, holed up together for over two weeks – believe me, everything smells in this band! – but the views were breath-taking and we had the best time.”


Controversy has been courted with a notably graphic album cover, some rather brutal lyrics and tracks such as ‘Vegetarians’ that aren’t big on subtlety. “We’re not shock merchants or anything; we just like to take the piss out of people who take themselves too seriously. I’ve got nothing against vegetarianism at all. It’s a noble cause: let’s face it, the way food is produced in the West is ridiculous and often unsustainable. I just can’t stand people who are smug about their personal choices and I’m going to rip the piss out of that. So there’s a lot of that within the lyrics; winding people up on purpose if you like. We do it with each other!”

Barnes’ relaxed humour, fire and belief shines throughout the whole interview. It’s this seeming insouciance, mixed with a fervent passion for their sound, which marks out Intensive Square as not just ones to watch, but as a band who will rip up the Metal template and set their own path. The album is one of this year’s highlights and live, this band will create one holy shitstorm. You know what to do…


You can order Intensive Square ‘Anything That Moves’ from Black Bow Records now.


Intensive Square – Anything That Moves


From the rather clever play on words of their name, through to the arty if thoroughly disgusting cover, there is something overtly cerebral about Cardiff technicians Intensive Square. There’s a claustrophobic intensity from the outset of debut album Anything That Moves (Black Bow); complex drum patterns leading the way for some crunching, chaotic riffs and Chris Haughey’s dry scour. A febrile sound initially in keeping with the intelligent violence of Dillinger Escape Plan or Pyrrhon, twisting rhythms create grooves and craters as deep as the earth’s core whilst syncopated flickers leave your body convulsing with an involuntary joy.

The howling leads of opener ‘The Long Man’ are accompanied in the atonal melody stakes by the enigmatically-named Barnes’ wailing sax which, far from having you running for the hills, actually augments the power and further peaks the curiosity. The Cancer Bats-meets-Jazz of the ensuing ‘Ends’ possesses a brooding, building coda which heightens the tension; whilst the viciously switching, jerking grooves of ‘Me Vs the Cables’ and ‘Rhino Fight’ will leave those of us with knee problems in utter agony. The perfect timing of the band’s time switches and staccato rhythms enhance rather than frustrate: ‘…Fight’ slowing then quickening on a sixpence, the ferocious battery and squealing sax fully invoking the fear and drama of the titanic struggle the title suggests.

The blend of hostility and progressive sensibilities brings djent kings Meshuggah to mind but there’s a more organic quality here, a natural flow which harnesses that pulsating power, letting the invention run on an extending leash rather than wholly unfettered. The strange lead patterns in the stuttering savagery of ‘Gastric Emptying’ seem completely apt. The Death/Sludge template of ‘Vegetarians’, meanwhile, its ingredients warping and morphing in attempts to break free, still snaps back to the controlling structure; Haughey’s bellow letting blood over the exhausted body of the track.

The swerving riffs of the crushing, pummelling closer ‘King’, like Grind slowed to a virtual standstill, is as nerve-wrecking as anything I’ve heard this year. Indeed, the only thing that’s utterly untethered here is the rampant verve, the vivacity coursing through this bruising, intricate set.

Quite simply this is a huge shot in the arm for progressive, extreme metal and one of the most vital releases of recent years.



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