Swedes have forever been at the forefront of the d-beat movement, taking inspiration from the incomparably influential Discharge with bands like Rude Kids, KSMB (En Slemmig Torsk), Missbrukarna and Mob 47 (to name a few). Historically, the Swedish sound has been defined heavily by localized, Swedish-centric political assaults and poor production. For example, Totalitär’s 1997 release Ni Måste Bort! remains heavily ingrained in the Swedish sound. The guitars were thin and fuzzy rather than massive and full of mid-range. The drums were fast but recorded in a way that the bass drum was barely audibly. This line of thinking continued with Skitsystem’s 1999 debut Grå Värld / Svarta Tankar. These bands represent the path of those that chose to follow in the vein of Anti Cimex and their localized anger of their 1990 LP Absolut Country Of Sweden. Despite making their home in Stockholm, Victims‘ sound (whether their pre-2011 trio format or the post-2011 quartet) is more in line with the American school of d-beat.
There are certainly plenty of examples of the American school becoming a dominant force in Swedish d-beat. For example, Disfear, which features members of At the Gates, Entombed and Nightrage, has, since their 1995 release Soul Scars displayed a heavily Western sound: wall-of-sound guitars matched with clear production which resulted in a monstrous assault. Similarly, Wolfpack‘s 1998 release Lycanthro Punk solidified the Swedish movement towards the better-produced, equipment focused style of playing that turned sonic waves into weapons of mass destruction. Their 2003 release In Darkness You Feel No Regrets (released under their updated name Wolfbrigade), only served to power the Swedish contingent of d-beat forward into the same landscape in which Tragedy released their debut album in 2000.
While Victims may have softened slightly since their 2004 assault …In Blood, the old men clearly have plenty of rage left in the tank and Sirens doesn’t back off, politically, an inch. The opening track, “Scars,” provides one of the most brutal assaults ever laid to vinyl. The sheer monstrosity of the sound is enough to topple dictators. Tracks like “Heal” employ a dueling vocal approach that wasn’t previously hardline characteristic of Victims. Like many aging punk bands, Victims have had a career much like a fire. In the beginning there were flames–visually pleasing but they don’t provide much heat. Now, they have burned down to the coals and, while maybe not as enticing as a classic Holiday Yule Log, the coals and embers are where you get the real head. But the change adds more authenticity to their approach. Combined with the more subtle and melodic guitars the overall effect is a sound that tugs at your heartstrings rather than sucker punches you in your face.
Despite switching producers in 2011 from Mieszko Talarczyk to Nico Elgstrand of Entombed, the production value remained clear, assaultive and almost digital for A Dissident (their first work as a quartet). On Sirens the band once against switched producers. This time to Fred Estby of Dismember and the result is a resemblance to the grittier, muted production of Tragedy’s Darker Days Ahead released in 2012. That album had a production sound and quality more akin to what would be heard on the debut of Burdette’s blackened death metal band Nightfell. Yet one more link would be the mastering of Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (who has mastered both Nightfell LP’s and provides guitar/vocals in From Ashes Rise). The link to Tragedy doesn’t end with the sound alone, Victims even takes lyrical inspiration from Tragedy shouting “Never ever give up! Never ever give in” throughout the chorus of “Promises.” Also notable is a shift in the vocal styling. Victims have taken it down a notch from their more classically hardcore vocals into a style more conducive to straight punk. For example, the seconds track “Errors” features a more gruff vocal attack backed by supporting gang vocals. In fact, both vocalists (Eriksson and Lindqvist) have lowered their attack. Potentially a result of age but the result is a captivating vocal performance. Supporting that vocal performance is more pop-oriented guitar work from Lindqvist and Smith. Plenty of octave based harmonizing is to be found.
There are still traces of classic Victims. “Turn” is a straight ahead track with more slowly paced guitar chords underneath the furious and familiar sounds of d-beat drumming. “Promises” follows with a sub-two minute performance laced with rage and the classic d-beat style of furious bars followed by a few cut-time chords to reset the fury.
Opening with a tremolo affected guitar, the title track is one of the longest at three minutes and fifteen seconds. While the majority of that track is another furious assault, Victims allows the pacing to slightly decrease and brings the guitars to the forefront providing an extended outro. It is not, as it sounds, the closing track on the album, but the slowly ascending and building guitar lines definitely lean towards that conclusion. It is the closing track itself, “Ashes,” that is the longest at three-and-a-half minutes. It’s also the most outside the box. With a heavy presence from the bass, loose strings slapping, “Ashes” works a moderate pace with dual vocals that builds drama and, as the album closes, a touch of hope. “Ashes” cleverly pairs alternating guitar lines played sequentially and juxtaposed in a verse/chorus pattern that leaves the verses with a faster pace and the choruses with a halted, cut-time feel.
Certainly, with age things change, for better or worse. Especially after their five year recording hiatus. Sirens is a strong comeback from A Dissident which was perhaps the band’s weakest effort to date. Regardless, Victims are still a straightforward d-beat band laced with hardcore influences. A band that should make a fan of almost anyone that puts in the short amount of time necessary to listen. And, on Sirens, they mix in enough harmonizing and subtle pop touches to make a believer out of even the most cynical metalhead. Victims continues in their quest to unite humanity in the name of rights, liberty and justice. It’s yet another advancement for the Swedish d-beat scene and another solid addition to the global d-beat scene.