Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ladder Devils - Clean Hands (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 04/11/2014
Label: Brutal Panda Records

‘Clean Hands’ DD/LP track listing:

1). Remember the Tooth
2). Midnight Eyes
3). Scabby
4). Hunt For Life
5). The Combine
6). Nameless, Faceless
7). Feeling is Natural
8. Land of Beauty
9). Eye of the Mundane
10). Dumb Jokes


Philadelphia, PA noise rock quartet Ladder Devils make their long awaited return with Clean Hands, the first proper full-length for the band.  Featuring former members of hardcore heroes The Minor Times, the group previously released a series of EPs and splits with Helms Alee, Kowloon Walled City and Fight Amp, leading up to the recording of this album  With tighter song writing and cleaner production, the band mix the punk urgency of Nirvana with the sonic experimentation of The Pixies to create a sound that is all their own.  Fans of post-hardcore, noise rock, grunge and loud indie rock will surely embrace the rattling sounds of Ladder Devils.

Recorded at Gradwell House Studios in Haddon Heights, NJ by Steve Poponi (Fight Amp) in the winter of 2013/2014

Ladder Devils are:

Eric Haag | Guitar/Vocals
Matt Leo | Bass/Vocals
Timothy Leo | Guitar
Mike Howard | Drums


Taken at face value, Ladder Devils fall somewhere between Unsane, Ken Mode and the more experimental edge of Botch, ‘Clean Hands’, their latest, offers an original take on the already well explored genre of noise rock / Am Rep worship.

At first, there doesn’t appear to be much to distinguish them from Unsane as they share a similar discordant and bass driven style. The guitar and bass often divert from each other before combining for the more aggressive segments, whilst the vocals have an almost sarcastic tone to them which remind me of Jesse Matthewson of KEN mode. It’s competent, professional, but just seems to be little more than a copy of their influences.

Once this album starts to sink  in however, there are some key differences; where  Unsane rely heavily on the blues and KEN mode on technical metal to define their sound, Ladder Devils incorporate an almost garage band / rock n roll vibe. Imagine if The Bronx were noise rock but they had to sedate their front man. The ending of ‘Midnight Eyes’ for example builds to a break that could (kind of) be The Hives and yet from nowhere a hypnotic guitar line fades in, adding a completely unexpected atmosphere and what was an excellent noise rock song takes on a completely new angle. It emphasises they have their own identity and this is the first of a number of unexpected, but welcome musical shifts.

Tracks such as ‘Scabby’ provide some thunderous aggression, ‘Hunt for life’ even reminds me of In Utero era Nirvana, and ‘Feeling is Natural’ relies on stomping riffs  before spinning into uncomfortably aggressive psychedelia. For me, it never feels like they are leaping genres, rather they are cohesively bringing these elements to define their own sound. They clearly know exactly what they want to achieve and despite the sometimes disparate influences (pretty sure there is a Piano and some female backing vocals in ‘Land of Beauty’) it never loses focus. The album closes with the dirge like ‘Dumb Jokes’, combining elastic riffing with a despairing narrative of “I’ve got a joke for you, I have a joke for you too” which plays out to the albums end. It’s a downbeat and unpredictable ending on a surprising album that has everything you want from this genre and a lot you wouldn’t expect.

‘Clean hands’ then, is excellent, focused, inventive, disdainful. With its creative path separating them from the many others of their ilk, this album gets better with each listen.  It’s quite easy to imagine this becoming a classic in its own right and if there is any justice they will become an influence to others.  Awesome. Get it. Now,


For fans of: Unsane / Botch / KEN mode

Words by: Chris Wilson

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