It doesn’t seem more than about five minutes since Shirley Manson’s old Goodbye Mr Mackenzie bandmates joined forces with members of Angelfish and released their fine debut album Jacob’s Ladder, but a quick Google check and I am astounded to find that it is already just over two years old. For their second album, they’ve kept their ear for a killer tune, but ramped up the drama so fervently that you could easily imagine this entire album making up a soundtrack to some cult movie classic or, at the very least, one of the most popular word of mouth chartbusters on Netflix.
This time around though, while there is still that obvious nod to Nick Cave‘s songwriting chops, I can’t help but feel that they have perhaps delved even deeper into the echelons of music history. I’ve always suspected that Cave must be a huge fan of Frankie Laine – just listen to the likes of ‘Cool Water‘ or ‘Where The Wind Blows‘ then try to look me in the eye and tell me you couldn’t imagine the enduring Aussie performing them – and this (perhaps unintentional) influence has rubbed off here, on a set of songs that are so apprehensively intense that, at times, you can physically feel your veins pumping frantically through your body.
Opener ‘Come On Home‘ is like the acid imbued blues of Alabama 3 and as a result, feels like The Filthy Tongues‘ own Sopranos theme tune, but things feel a whole lot more serious on ‘The Ghost Of Rob McVie‘, scratchy and maudlin violins giving a real depth to proceedings while frontman Martin Metcalfe half sings, half deadpans the rather unwholesome foibles of this less than wholesome part of Edinburgh – like a transgression back to the murky events that led to McVie’s demise perhaps?
Rather surprisingly, the following title track is rather like David Byrne fronting The Stone Roses (most pointedly ‘Breaking Into Heaven‘) but still there is little to no respite. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a release, that’s for sure, and if ever you were looking for a low key gem to soundtrack 2018, then this is more than likely your prime candidate. ‘Mother’s Got A Knife‘ is next, seeming to mix the psychedelic soul of Sly And The Family Stone with the pop sensibilities of Jack White circa 2004. “Mother’s got a knife, father’s lying on the floor / the dog’s in the whorehouse, licking up the bathroom floor,” sings Metcalfe sordidly, the song somehow remaining hauntingly seductive throughout, despite its grim subject matter.
For my money, ‘Carlos The Jackal‘ is probably the pinnacle of Back To Hell, suggesting an ominous undercurrent in line with, say, Death In Vegas on their Iggy Pop featuring hit ‘Aisha‘. Then out of the blue, finale ‘Take It‘ is like Ian McCulloch at his romantic best. It’s hard to find fault with ANY of it though – the whole thing has clearly been a labour of love, meticulously arranged and as a result, it is, easily one of the most thrilling releases of 2018 to date. Truly stirring, this really is terrific stuff.
Back To Hell will be released on 21st April 2018.