Album Review: Young Knives – Barbarians

By Live4ever - Posted on 11 Sep 2020 at 7:21am


John Gray’s 2002 book Straw Dogs critiques the notion that the human race can drive progress simply because it exists.

Deemed a radical piece of social philosophy at the time, a fragment of it mingles with British futurist James Lovelock’s notions of disseminated primetamia, where as a species we force the planet to react to the threat we pose to it via the destruction by mother earth itself of the host (us), by ‘chronic infection’. Hmm.

Young Knives are based in Oxford and consist of brothers Henry Dartnell and the prosaically named House Of Lords. After being on the fringes of success in the midst of the nu-indie revival of the mid noughties – their second album Voices Of Animals And Men grazing the UK top 20 – they’ve since retreated, Barbarians their first release in seven years.

During this period, they’ve been reading Straw Dogs.

Of such bleak origins do bleak records usually make, but the siblings have brainstormed the high concept of society’s inability to face its own truth, using it as an accelerant for an extraordinary creative fire. Opener Swarm ripples with this self-realisation, in the mode of a door which once opened can’t be closed. Industrial synths ooze, a guitar itches, the words ‘freedom with a big F’ are chanted whilst the curtains burn. It’s genius.

There’s also a sense of relief at not being faced with the frequently sketched dilemma of the last few years, in which as a listener you’ve felt shouted at or you’ve wanted to shout back at hearing frivolous clichés. The duo here are instead thought-provoking but mischievous, the cacophonous Society For Cutting Up Men (inspired by Valerie Solanas’ essay the S.C.U.M Manifesto) marrying pitch black satire with inside out, desiccated agit-funk.

Inevitably, the willingness to uncouple any formula from any noise produces the occasional outlier, Red Cherries swerving through soundscapes and thrashing white noise that resemble something being thrown down a lift shaft. On closer What I Saw, the pair harness demented tribal chanting, a saxophone and some decayed techno to create a maelstrom unlike almost anything being recorded in 2020 (or most other years, for that).

We’re almost beyond what should or shouldn’t work here. There are simply places which sound magnificently more cracked than others; I Am Awake is the formula at its basic but arguably most effective, an anthem created by this oddest of fusions, queasy almost synth-pop dragged out of a darkened room, while the title-track froths with post-civilisation angst and Sheep Tick pulls a stupendous chorus from the a primordial soup of smack, hisses and violent collisions.

As Henry puts it, the world is mad, so why try and change it. “We are obsessed with self and social improvement, but we don’t get any better as human beings. What if cruelty to others is just part of who we are?”

Barbarians is about exploding self-engineered myths, bored of our vanity and plugging right into the counter-evolutionary snarl of our instincts. It’s bloody, brutal and brilliant.


Andy Peterson

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