Introducing… Intensive Square

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

PAUL QUINN