As is my way I like to write a speculative paragraph about whatever it is I’m reviewing before I actually delve into the record itself. I said in my end of year lists that I wasn’t sure what could get me to stop listening to Remember Death by MUTE but I have a feeling this may be a contender. Darko are a group that comfortably straddle the top echelons of the UK and European punk scenes. A relentless touring machine with an amazing back catalogue of EPs, I’ve yet to go to a Darko show (and I’ve been to several) without the crowd enthusiastically screaming every word to every song back at them. The one thing left to check off of their bucket list is a full length LP and this is where Bonsai Mammoth comes in. Before me lays 11 brand new original tracks for my absolute listening pleasure and I’m sure a pleasure it will be. The question here will be less “Is it any good?” and more “Has it lived up to the hype?” The hype being that which I’ve built up inside my own head. It’s time to lose myself in what I’m assuming is gonna be the first album of 2017 at the top of my end of year lists, let’s see…
I have a lot of affection for everything Darko have already released. Songs like “The Smarter I Think I Am, The Dumber I Actually Get” and “Seaward” are not just some of the best songs Darko have produced, but the best UK punk rock has ever had to offer. I can count on one hand bands that hold a candle to them in terms of sheer skill, technical acumen and song writing prowess. So with Bonsai Mammoth, a bad day at the office would still yield a great album but I don’t expect great from Darko, I expect exceptional. I expect ground breaking, unforgettable, magnificent, flawless. From the very beginning I feel like I get it too.
‘Life Forms’ had me for a moment. I thought I was getting a slow song to start the album with. I wasn’t overly happy with the choice but I allowed it since we have a full length to get through and I thought maybe even Darko can’t power shred their whole way through 11 songs. For 25 seconds things are calm like a placid lake and then things kick off with the blisteringly fast pace that’s the reason we all love them so much. There’s something magical about how incredibly technical songs can be whilst so quickly recognisable and fun to learn. A running theme that can now be considered a classic Darko staple is that you find yourself singing the songs before you’ve even finished listening for the first time. I had a mad urge to just listen to Life Forms on repeat for hours. So I did.
After finally leaving Life Forms alone, the fact that I had 10 more songs hit me and I vowed to plough through, lest it take me all month to get to the end of the album. I fired up ‘Just a Short Line’ and I realise that the first track isn’t just a fluke, this is how things are gonna be here from now on. The musicianship on display blows me away. I struggle to accept that enough hyper talented guys could have found each other and all happen to have the same taste in music!! A big factor in what is making this all work so well is the clever structure of the songs. With the skill on constant display I never feel lost or out of my depth. Dan Smith's ultra gruff but always tuneful vocals, repeated phrases and clear distinctions between choruses, bridges and verses guide me expertly through a landscape I might otherwise feel like I don’t belong.
I come up for air during the brief 36 second ‘The Chernobyl Effect’ which serves as an intro to the already released ‘Hiraeth’. I would say Hiraeth is the standout track from the album but honestly I’d be lying if I did. It’s certainly a masterpiece but no less so than any other track. The proceeding tracks ‘In the company Of Wolves and ‘Lifeblood’ prove this, the latter of which is a HUGE anthem of a tune.
Something else that in my opinion could be considered a Darko staple is saving the best until last. ‘We Can Stand For Something More’ is a song I close my eyes and see myself singing back to the band with glee. Things come to a close and I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve been right there with them for the whole album, I’m wearing a watch that tracks my heartrate and for the last 27 minutes my heart has been beating like I’ve listened to this whilst running!
The sound here cannot be overstated too. Everything is crystal clear without sounding sterile or chopped to pieces. The vocals in particular along with backing harmonies are never lost below the intensity of the drums and lead guitars which again lends itself incredibly well to the feeling I have of being taken on a journey. I can always appreciate hearing the whole but being able to zero in on individual elements if I wish, nothing feels hidden away and at the same time each separate piece compliments the whole throughout.
In conclusion, Bonsai Mammoth had a lot to live up to with From Trust To Conformity and Sea Of Trees being so good and well loved. I feel like this sits atop both titles as the pinnacle of their talent and dedication and forms a holy trinity of records that should never go without mention when talking about punk rock. It’s the perfection of a formula that was itself already one of the greatest of our generation. A triumph of blending the ultimate in melodic hardcore, anthemic street punk and progressive thrash that welcomes all instead of building a barrier to entry.
I could fanboy over this for a lot longer but I’ve already rambled enough so I’ll bring this to a close by saying this is a must buy. You can’t be a fan of punk and not have heard this. We’ll look back on this album like we do Suffer or SMASH or …And Out Come The Wolves. You can buy this in a plethora of deals, there’s something for everyone and just stop reading now and go… go on!!
Stream and download Bonsai Mammoth here: https://darko.bandcamp.com/album/bonsai-mammoth
Like Darko here: https://www.facebook.com/Darkoband/