So I guess that, underneath this suave and collected demeanor, I’ve always been something of a mopey bastard.
I say that, because post-punk, in almost all its forms, has always appealed to me greatly, from the straight-out goth of Bauhaus to the proto-industrial Killing Joke to the pre-Britpop psychedelic jangle of Echo & The Bunnymen – I love it all. (Except Morrissey. That guy sucks, and no matter how good Johnny Marr was, the Smiths suck because of Morrissey. Heaven knows I’m miserable when I hear him bleat about his hyperliterate woes.)
I haven’t cared quite as much – or at all, if we’re being wholly honest – about the post-punk influenced rock that’s come along in the last decade or so, the Interpols or the Franz Ferdinands or whatever. I don’t hate them, but none of them captured my attention. Compared to the first wave, they weren’t dark enough, weren’t desperate enough – too new wave, and not enough bleakness. In short, they weren’t heavy enough.
Recently, I’ve heard a few (g)rumblings about a post-punk revival in metal, and if there is one coming (or here), then I guess I haven’t been paying super-close attention because I’m only really familiar with Beastmilk and Alaric and now this band, and all three of those are quite good. Sure, they’re all unquestionably influenced by the first-wavers, harking directly and shamelessly back to Joy Division and Bauhaus and such, but the end result is still fun – in an appropriately mopey manner, of course.
Something of a supergroup, Publicist UK is made up of former-Freshkills vocalist Zachary Lipez, plus guitarist David Obuchowski of Goes Cube, bassist Brett Bamberger of Revocation, and drummer Dave Witte, currently of Municipal Waste and formerly of Burnt By The Sun and Discordance Axis. And Publicist UK sounds like none of those bands. Instead, Publicist UK sounds like the middle ground between Joy Division and Sisters Of Mercy, with a dash of the less-abrasive side of Swans. Chiming guitars, brooding baritone vocals, singalong choruses with semi-metallic riffing…
Opening number “Cowards” starts with Obuchowski’s clean arpeggios and Lipez intoning a spoken verse before kicking in with a chorus taken straight from the Andrew Eldritch playbook, and it’s there that I’m hooked. Sisters Of Mercy has been a favorite of mine for decades, and though Publicist UK eschews that band’s relentlessly mechanized beat, trading the good Doktor for Witte’s human component, “Cowards” perfectly captures the Sisters’ penchant for arena-rock hooks infused with melancholia and darkness. In fact, these first three tracks, through “Slow Dancing To This Bitter Earth” and into “Levitate The Pentagon,” all capture that same intensity, somewhere between Ian Curtis and Eldritch, and all irresistibly brooding and yet oddly uplifting. Sure, some of Lipez’ lyrics get a bit heavy-handed – the spoken word breakdown in “Levitate,” for one, and parts of “Away,” which opens with “You say suck the devil’s cock like it’s a bad thing.” But gothic-tinted post-punk has always had its share of high-school-notebook poets, so a few goofy or bulky lines here or there is to be expected – Murphy did it; Eldritch did it; it happens.
As strong as that opening trio is, Forgive Yourself is up and down thereafter – it’s more up than down, except when it’s up, it’s down, because when it’s down is when it’s best, if you can follow that. “Blood Relative” drifts along, featuring some good metal riffs, but otherwise not a standout. The chorus of “I Wish You’d Never Gone To School” sticks out, while “Canary” and “Telegraphing” are fine, but nothing special, although the latter features some cool female counterpoint vocals. Forgive Yourself ends strong, though, with the tandem of “You Are The Stars” and “Away,” with its aforementioned awkward lyrics and catchy-as-hell goth-rock chorus.
And ultimately, that’s what Forgive Yourself comes down to – these choruses, these dour melodies. The riffs only support the vocals, and there’s no solos; the guitars chime or crunch, but it’s always second to Lipez’ croon. Bamberger’s bass rarely steps out, and when it does, it fits in well still. Witte is a brilliant drummer, one of the best in metal, but his performance here is exactly as restrained as it should be, no blastbeats, no overkill, just goth rock done like goth rock should be done. The band is supporting, but doing it exactly as they should, nothing more and absolutely nothing less.
Look, I’ll admit: When I first saw that this was coming down the pike, I had my doubts, and some pretty serious ones. I’d never listened to Freshkills in my life (although I did before I wrote this, and it’s pretty solid indie rock); Municipal Waste and Revocation aren’t exactly the first names that come to mind when I think of bands I’d like to hear attempt a take on gothic rock.
But I also have to admit that I was proven wrong. If you can overlook what is quite likely the absolute worst new band name of the past decade (and if you can overlook Lipez’ unfortunate junior-high-band-teacher-meets-bandito mustache), Publicist UK does a pretty damned good job of appropriating the darkness to their own end. Maybe it’s bandwagoneering on a bandwagon I didn’t know was wagoning along, but I don’t really care. It’s good, and I like it, so that’s the end.
So if you’ll forgive me, I’ll be over here, moping.
Now, all the cowards in the house, sing out, sing out…