There was a time in the late noughties when Frank Carter seemed like one of the angriest, and most dangerous to the establishment, musicians in Britain.
The then lead singer of punk band Gallows lent a visceral blunt force to their debut album Orchestra Of Wolves, a record which even fifteen years on remains one of the movement’s high watermarks this century.
People noticed; from a start playing parties and pub back rooms, the quintet were not much later headlining the NME Stage at Reading Festival. A major label deal had preceded that, but their second album Grey Britain was an enervated disappointment. Carter left citing creative differences.
Since then, the omni-inked motormouth has been trying to either douse or rekindle that fire, firstly as one half of the consciously less hardcore Pure Love, and then on more familiar ground with Dean Richardson as The Rattlesnakes. Always working, by the end of 2019 they were triumphantly headlining a sold-out gig at the Alexandra Palace.
And then, everything changed. Carter had invested emotionally and financially in his own East London tattoo shop, but the doors to his retirement plan never opened due to the pandemic; the frustration of that and a career on involuntary hiatus directly fueled Sticky, whose ten vibrant parts combined still clock in at a total of less than half an hour.
It’s not, the singer is at pains to make clear however, a lockdown album – instead, he says, a ‘freedom’ one. For a man whose self-proclaimed default mode is ‘running around and causing trouble’, getting left with nothing more interesting than boxsets and banana bread must’ve constituted an isolationist nightmare.
Just being out there again, a wolf amongst the dazed sheep, is something celebrated on the titular opener, its predatory bass and screw driven guitars mimicking the sensory overload and the primal confusion of not knowing whether to fuck, fight or fly off the handle.
It’s not a solo journey either; Idles’ Joe Talbot sounds in his element giving immoral support on the sweary dystopia of My Town, whilst Casseyette – IRL alt.pop deconstructionist Cassy Brooking – gives Off With His Head a freshly doubled-up mania.
It would be misleading though to state that this is just unfocused energy being shot at the nearest semi-innocent victim. As intense as they were, Gallows had a wicked streak of the blackest humour in them, and Go Get A Tattoo is as much an invitation now business is back open as it’s a slowthai-esque overture of tumbling bars and hedonistic snark.
Meanwhile, grimy and grungy, Bang is a drug song about grinding rails and subsequent comedowns with a suitably full-of-itself chorus – it’s not big, but it’s sort of clever.
Just as striking though is Carter’s desire to meld both the present and past when dealing with mental health. His history points to self-destruction as a proxy for confronting toxic masculinity, a journey which has led him to being an advocate for gender fluidity.
There are songs about grappling with relationships in Cupid’s Arrow and Cobra Queen, but most effective is the Bobby Gillespie-assisted closer Original Sin: done in a single take, the Primal Screamer’s interjection transforms it into a sophisticated, blurry vanishing point.
Misunderstood and dodging stereotypical views of manhood, Frank Carter spent a long time being more of a danger to himself before reconciling the dueling sides of his nature. Sticky is his and The Rattlesnakes’ middle finger to imprisonment – be it physical, spiritual, or societal.
You can use it as a soundtrack to break down walls, or bounce off them.