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Mordred: The Noise Years

Back in 1989 I remember the furore caused by Mordred. Not only was this a hard hitting thrash band infusing their music with funk but they also had a DJ ‘scratching’ behind the decks. Clearly none of this made sense and there was no way that this San Fransisco five-piece could take this amalgam to the masses. Well, no and yes, because the debut album from Mordred, Fool’s Game, makes total sense, but then it’s way more thrash than it is funk and the DJ work is pretty much kept to the sidelines for most of the album. However, the masses never did quite catch on in the way the music so richly deserved and even as the band tore apart live venues, the huge breakthrough that was seen by many a San-Fran-thrash act never quite came this band’s way.

Listening back to Fool’s Game it’s remarkably difficult to work out why, because of the ten tracks on show here, eight of them are simply trashtastic. With the twin guitar assault of Danny White and Jim Taffer locked in tight and firing out burning solos when the need arose, the likes of “Sever And Splice” is every bit as deadly as you might think. And from the deeply groove driven “Spectacle Of Fear” to the no nonsense assault of “Shatter” not once do Mordred drop the ball. What gained notice in the press however, was the much more overtly cross-over “Every Day’s A Holiday” and Rick James cover, “Super Freak”, where the funk suddenly pops into gear and singer Scott Holderby’s vocals immediately become much more nuanced as the guitars play a different game altogether. With DJ Pause guesting, and the bass pump from Arthur Liboon and stop-start drumming of Gannon Hall convincing in the extreme, some thought this a cross-over too far, while others asked why the whole damn album didn’t sound this way??

With the hoped for thrash breakthrough remaining elusive, the obvious move was to focus on what had gained attention and that of course was the funk and rap turntable stylings. In This Life was the result, the 1991 album an absolute collision of styles that somehow works to near perfection. Immediately the band are focused and firing on all cylinders, Liboon, White, Hall and Holderby now joined full-time by DJ Pause and new guitarist James Sanguinetti, who fits in like he was always part of the band. Cleverly, though In This Life doesn’t dilute the formula of the debut, instead managing to somehow make the funk sound played around with on “Every Day’s A Holiday” utterly integral to a guitar attack that’s still full-force but now infused with funky asides. Just listen to “High Potency” to take in just how perfectly the supposedly disparate ideas meld into a fierce but funky sideswipe. The guitars here are immense, with the solos arguably even more potent than the biting riff, which thankfully sounds much more in your face here than the original mix ever allowed this album to the first time round. What else is ramped up is the political stance of this album, and when “Window” follows up with a bass line that buries deep in the mind, you know that Mordred have tapped into a sound that fits them like a glove. Other bands were, of course, playing around with this style at the time, Faith No More heading in a less thrash direction with a similar idea, whereas The Infectious Grooves were more in the style Mordred presented, but to these ears never sounded so natural doing so. All eleven tracks here hit the mark and whether through the more Living Color like “Larger Than Life”, or almost The Police without the pop-edge of “Downtown” everything just clicks into place in a way that deserved to take this album into the stratosphere. That of course never happened, but the four bonus cuts on this disc prove what a roll the band were on, “Lion’s Den” bristling with intent, while a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed” convinces in a way that you never thought possible. Add in two excellent live tracks - “Intro/Killing Time” and, of course, “Every Day’s A Holiday” and if anything you’re left looking for more…

And of course, it arrives in the shape of the band’s 1994 album The Next Room where singer Paul Kimball brings a gruffness that is completely alien compared to what had previously been provided when Scott Holderby had been in the band. Now, don’t get me wrong, Kimball sings the ass of this album, “Lo-Cal High Fiber” an impressive introduction as Mordred crank up the riffage and for large parts therefore, inadvertently bury some of the funk elements that made In This Life so compelling. “Crash” does still play to these strengths, with more restrained breakdowns interspersed within the high octane guitars but to me it all feels more like an aside than the focal point it had become. That’s not to say that The Next Room isn’t an eye-catching beast, “Shut” adding a hip-hop edge that does begin to feel a little like scene chasing, but given the band’s history, it’s most likely an unfair observation. However, by the time we get to “In A Turn”, arguably the true shift in style begins to really settle in, Seattle and that be damned grunge style all too evident as Pearl Jam are evoked for sure. Still, “Rubber Crutch” does a decent job of looking to bring all of these approaches together and while it just about gets away with it, if there’s a problem on this album it’s that nothing truly sticks in the mind. Added here is the six track EP Vision, which arrived two years prior to In This Life, and as such finds Holderby behind the mic and the funk mostly back in place. Personally, to tell the story of Mordred’s shape-shifting sound I’d have preferred these tracks to open disc three rather than close it out, purely because it makes little sense sonically sitting where it does, and especially with it, to me, being more interesting than the album it follows. The other quibble I have about this otherwise excellent reissue is that it leaves some other excellent non-album music by the wayside when there’s plenty room between the three discs to squeeze it all in.

However, given what we’ve got, it’s maybe all too easy to hear why Mordred never quite achieved the success their debut album and its follow-up certainly should have attained. Namely an inability to stick with an approach long enough to galvanise their own support, never mind a wider audience. That said, both of those albums, and especially In This Life are top-notch, innovative offerings that still stand up now, while The Next Room still makes for an enjoyable, if slightly less rewarding listen. Thankfully the story didn’t quite end there and although Mordred split in 1995, they first reconvened in 2001 for a six year stint that didn’t herald any new music, before starting up a third time in 2013, having so far released an EP, album and a few singles. The Noise Years, however, is the best way to find out how it all began.

Track Listing
DISC ONE: Fool’s Game

1. State Of Mind 
2. Spectacle Of Fear 
3. Every Day’s A Holiday 
4. Spellbound 
5. Sever And Splice
 6. The Artist 
7. Shatter
 8. Reckless Abandon 
9. Super Freak 
10. Numb

DISC TWO: In This Life

1. In This Life 
2. The Strain 
3. High Potency 
4. Window 
5. Esse Quam Videri 
6. A Beginning 
7. Falling Away 
8. Killing Tme
 9. Downtown 
10. Progress 
11. Larger Than Life
Bonus Tracks 
12. Lion’s Den 
13. Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed 
14. Intro/Killing Time (live) 
15. Every Day’s A Holiday (live)

DISC THREE: The Next Room

1. Lo-Cal, Hi-Fiber 
2. Skid 
3. Crash 
4. Splinter Down 
5. Shut
 6. Pauper’s Wine 
7. Acrophobia 
8. Murray The Mover 
9. In A Turn
 10. The Trellis 
11. The Next Room Over 
12. Rubber Crutch 
Bonus Tracks taken from the ‘Vision’ EP
13. In Time 
14. West County Hospital 
15. The Vagrant
 16. Reach
 17. Close Minded 
18. Vision

Added: November 25th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Noise Years @ Cherry Red
Hits: 678
Language: english

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