Album Review: Harvey Milk – Life…the Best Game in Town

Given that Harvey Milk have now signed to Hydra Head records, you wouldn’t be mistaken for already kind of knowing what to expect. At any rate, it’s definitely going to be heavy. ‘Life…The Best Game in Town’ is the band’s cheerfully titled fifth long-player and is more proof of their ability to adapt and change instead of releasing the same old shit with different packaging.

It’s an album of constant juxtapositions, moving along at different speeds throughout its 45-minute running time, and incorporates quite a wide range of different influences from different genres. Opener ‘Death Goes To The Winner’ is a slow, melodic start that crawls with controlled bursts of intermittent raucous noise and concludes with a heavy chug that sounds like a doom-laden train about to collide with an equally gloomy one coming the other way.

Instrumental ‘After All I’ve Done’ fires the pace right up, taking cues from the likes of Mastodon, as guitars spiral up amongst a muddy mix of crashing drums. Then, just as you think things are going to be hard and fast for the next few tracks, ‘Skull Socks And Rope Shoes’ brings the speed to a grinding halt, with avalanche-causing vocals bellowed out over a deliberately slow grind. But once again, once the torturous nature of ‘Skull Socks’ concludes, it’s like a DJ with a split personality is waging a war between his shoegazing self and his hard rocking persona. ‘We Destroy the Family’ is banging and bassy, unrelenting in its constant motion, and is followed by ‘Motown’, the most accessible track on the album with a classic rock-inspired guitar solo, and then straight after that ‘Maelstrom of Bad Decisions’ just runs away again with disjointed guitars patched together around a consistent drum rhythm as Crestion Spiers’ growling wails border on tuneless. Yet the overwhelming energy of the song sees it fly past like a bullet train and once it’s finished everything changes again.

After a long time in hibernation, Harvey Milk are back.

The constant variation on offer here shows a band who enjoy mixing things up and, whilst there is a danger of alienating those who want an album to remain consistent, the various alterations encourage you to see the album through all the way to the end despite its claustrophobic and rather dark nature. Furthermore, the band’s subtle sense of humour keeps things fresh, which is very noticeable in the humorous liner notes, and there is a fantastically daft treat in store for those who do put the effort in to listen to the album to its conclusion.

If you are a fan of Hydra Head’s roster already, then there is no doubt that you are in for a treat with ‘Life…’. Initially it’s a dark prospect, but slowly it reveals itself to be a bit of a wise guy, which will put a smile on your face and if you’re a fan of The Melvins or other like-minded bands then this is a worthy addition to your record collection.

[This review is also published on Sonic Dice.]

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