Invada Records – 21st April 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Eagerly-awaited’ and ‘hotly-anticipated’ are phrases which are often tossed about with abandon when it comes to albums, but Benefits’ debut really has had a lot of people on the edge of their seats for months, and it’s no wonder the limited vinyl and less limited CD sold out well ahead of the release.

Their rise has been truly meteoric, but if ever a band deserved to be catapulted from nowhere to selling out shows up and down the country, it’s Benefits, who’ve done it all by themselves and on their own terms, garnering rave live reviews and scoring interviews in the NME and The Guardian and, well, pretty much everywhere. They don’t only deserve it because of their DIY ethic: they deserve it because they’re an unassuming bunch of guys from the north of England (which in industry terms is an instant disadvantage), and moreover, they’re fucking incredible. And it’s not hyperbole to say that they are the voice of the revolution. It’s unprecedented for a band this sonically abrasive to rocket into a position of such widespread appreciation, and even more so when they’re not readily pigeonholed.

Attitudinally, they’re punk as fuck, but musically, not so much: while there are elements of hardcore in the shouted sociopolitical lyrics and frenetic drumming, there isn’t a guitar in sight, not anything that remotely sounds like one. They’re certainly not metal. And you can’t dance to their tunes – because ‘tunes’ is a bit of a stretch (although that’s no criticism). If their subject matter and modus operandi share some common ground with Sleaford Mods – disaffected, working class, ranty, sweary – they’re leagues apart stylistically. Whereas the Mods will joince and jockey and nab the listener with a battery of pithy one-liners, Benefits are an all-out assault, ever bar a sucker-punch of anger blasted home on a devastating wall of noise.

A fair few tracks here have previously been released as singles, although several previous singles, including the recent ‘Thump’ are notably absent to make room for previously unreleased songs, and the sequencing of the ten tracks which made the cut is spot on.

The first, ‘Marlboro Hundreds’, is a massive blast of percussion that grabs the listener by the throat with its immediate impact. Reject hate! Question everything! Success is subjective! The messages may be simple, but they’re essential, positive, and delivered with sincerity and all the fire that cuts through the bullshit and mediocrity. The grinding electronics take a back seat against the drumming, and the vocals are quite low in the mix, but with a clearly enunciated delivery and a crisp EQ they cut through with a penetrating sharpness that really bites.

The album takes a very sharp turn into darker, less accessible territories: ‘Empire’ is a dark, mangled mess of agonising noise, and defines one of the album’s key themes, namely of the dark terrain of patriotism and nationalism which defines and divides Brexit Britain, while warning of the dangers of passivity and blind acceptance of the echo-chamber of social media and the shit pumped out by the government and right-wing media outlets.

Lead single ‘Warhorse’ is the most overtly song-like song in the set. It’s raw punk with electronics, and the one that could legitimately be described as a cross between Sleaford Mods and IDLES, but with a raging hardcore punk delivery. The slouching dub of ‘Shit Britain’ offers quite different slant, spoken word rap groove.

‘What More Do You Want’ swipes at critics of ‘political correctness gone mad’ and the ‘anti-woke’ wankers and it minimal musical arrangement with stuttering percussion renders it almost spoken with an avant-jazz backing, before horrendous blasts of noise tear forth with such force as to threaten to annihilate the speakers. This is Benefits at their best and most unique.

‘Meat Teeth’ is sparse and plain fucking brutal as Hall rants and raves over a growing tide of distortion and feedback. The track packs so much fury that its impact is immense, especially in its tumultuous climax.

Arguably the definitive Benefits cut, ‘Flag’ incorporates rave elements to test through jingoism and nationalistic bullshit, taking down the kind of cunts who voted Brexit while owning a second home in Spain, the monarchy-loving casually-racist flag-shaggers who sup Carling and love an Indian while bemoaning all the ‘coloured’ doctors in hospitals and surgeries, and the Poles ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’ despite no-one else being willing to sweat it out behind the counter at Costa or pick strawberries for less than minimum wage. It’s the same duality of these so-called ‘patriots’ and past generations that provide the focus of ‘Traitors’ ‘We get the future you deserve’ Hall rages at the boomers who’ve sold out the subsequent generations for buy to let homes and destroying the planet for greed, share dividends, and skiing holidays. His voice cracks as he spits the words, the fury at this fucked-up mess. It’s powerful, and it really does occupy every inch of your being listening to this, because it ignites every nerve in our body to connect with such raw intensity.

‘Council Rust’ brings a more tranquil tone, but it’s not a calmness that comes from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel but from a sense of hopelesness, of feeling battered and bereft. Nails leaves you feeling drained, but uplifted. Yes, everything is fucking shit, but you are not alone: Benefits know, and articulate those tensing muscles and clenching fists and heart palpitations and moments where you feel as if you can’t quite breathe into incendiary sonic blasts. Benefits are without doubt the most essential band in (shit) Britain right now. And with Nails, they have, indeed, nailed it.



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