Not content with having pretty much cornered the market on up and coming talent in the UK and beyond, Church Road Records have turned their attention to slightly more veteran hands for their latest release. The band in question? North Wales’ BASTIONS – an alternative hardcore quartet who for a while seemed to be gone for good. Majestic Desolation is their first release in eight years – their first full-length in 11 – and it arrives seven years after they played their final show at the iconic Black Heart in London. It marks a triumphant return on all counts, save for the fact that ‘triumph’ isn’t really the theme here. As the title promises, this is a bleak, desolate record, one informed heavily by grief, loss and emptiness.
With its themes in mind, the uninitiated could be forgiven for expecting the sheer misery of the likes of MASTIFF or HELPLESS here, but that isn’t really BASTIONS‘ bag. Theirs is a more expansive sound, unafraid to let melody and dynamics carry its weight as much as anything else. It actually ends up landing pretty close to a few of the bands who stepped up in the years after BASTIONS went away. PALM READER and the dearly-missed BLACK PEAKS both often spring to mind, for example – two bands whose best work was definitely yet to come back in 2015. If anything, it points to something of the band’s unsung influence on the UK scene of the past decade, and as a result sees Majestic Desolation fit comfortably in today’s arguably more thriving underground landscape.
There’s no sense of a need to blow away the cobwebs here either. BASTIONS seem to pick up largely where they left off, their urgency and creativity undiminished by their time away. Opener Haar provides a brief little appetiser of moody synths, sparse guitars and lone tom-hits before the band tear into the raging pair of singles A Broken Crown and Acres Of Love. Both bristle with fury and defiance alike, the former opening with the line “Yes we bruise very easily, but we heal very quick”, and the latter providing an anthem to self-worth and forgiveness with a chorus that asserts “Just because I choose to look like this / Doesn’t mean I’m worthless”.
Perhaps most importantly, while the opening run sets a fiercely arresting standard for the record to follow – one which the band meet time and again across a tight 25-minute runtime – they also point to BASTIONS’ ability to find space within the storm. There’s a real ebb and flow to their music – the odd quieter verse or atmospheric break only heightening the record’s overall potency. These tendencies arguably grow even more pronounced as the record goes on too. Slithering is a particularly moody number, its slower stomp and spoken vocals building to a towering crush by the track’s end. Penultimate track Darker Paths meanwhile is practically trance-inducing in its thunderous grooves and agonised vocals. It’s another of the album’s most dynamic offerings, with this rounded out nicely by the reflective instrumental closer A Spiteful Reign.
We said at the top that the idea of this record being a ‘triumph’ is somewhat at odds with its desolate themes, but perhaps that’s not entirely the case. For all their ability to dwell on the bleak and the miserable, there is something so rousing about what BASTIONS deliver on Majestic Desolation. Of course, they wouldn’t be the first to find and offer catharsis in this manner, but that still doesn’t take away from what this record does in the slightest. This is hardcore that puts breath in your lungs and fire in your veins. It invites you to stare desolation straight in the face, refusing to be beaten or intimidated by it, and re-emerging, as BASTIONS have done here, majestically.
Majestic Desolation is set for release on July 29th via Church Road Records.
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