Release Date: Apr 14, 2014
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
“She’s more beautiful than anyone woman I’ve met/ and she fucking knows it”, roars Amazing Snakeheads’ Dale Barclay on ‘I’m A Vampire’, and you can picture him immediately. You can picture his red face, his bulging eyes, a vein throbbing in his temple, you can hear the spittle flying from the corners of his mouth. The none-more-Glaswegian growl is completely terrifying, bracing, violent, uncompromising, aggressive and howlingly funny and that's just one line.
When you hear people bandying around names like The Gun Club and Gallon Drunk, you can shiver with excitement or quiver with fear… as, inevitably, bands that are compared to legends are often disappointing or relentlessly derivative. The Amazing Snakeheads are neither. Their molten punk rock takes plenty of sidesteps and brings a dollop of interesting newness to the dance.
You don't need to have heard a note of music by, or indeed know anything about, The Amazing Snakeheads to work out what their debut album might sound like. You can get a good idea just by reading the tracklist. There, a cavalcade of death, violence and darkness awaits: I'm a Vampire is followed by Nighttime, Flatlining and the winningly titled Where Is My Knife? Likewise, you don't have to be an expert in the semiotics of rock to realise that songs called things like that are perhaps less likely to bear close resemblance to the oeuvres of Bastille or Eliza Doolittle than they are, say, the diseased-sounding gothic blues-rock of the Birthday Party.
Opening to the sound of a gong on "I'm a Vampire," this Glasgow trio settles in with a spare guitar/bass/drum vamp built to drive on singer/guitarist Dale Barclay, who sounds utterly, violently obsessed by his lyrical concerns..
With more bands jostling for attention than ever before, it’s tough to sell an emerging band by merely proclaiming how brilliant they are. Oh no: they have to stand in opposition to something, or provide the antidote to some perceived sickness. How, then, to approach the debut album by Glasgow trio The Amazing Snakeheads? Nothing you try to pin on them quite fits.Having released their debut single last summer, they’ll be new to nearly everyone who hears ‘Amphetamine Ballads’ – but with members in their late ’20s and early ’30s don’t quite qualify for Wild Young Bucks status.
Short bursts of anger snap into place in the dimly lit songs of the Amazing Snakeheads, a Glasgow band enamored with the well-worn fusion of punk and classic rock'n'roll. If punk represented a new year zero for rock to some, for others it carried all the hallmarks of a past worth digging up and fusing with its abrasive form. This is the punk that takes Jerry Lee Lewis as its starting point instead of, say, the Stooges or Suicide.
Dale Barclay does not seem to be the sort of guy you want to invite over to your house for dinner. Barclay is the lead singer and guitarist with the British rock band the Amazing Snakeheads, and between the frequent bouts of antisocial and violent impulses that inform their lyrics on their debut album, Amphetamine Ballads, and the venom-spitting vehemence with which he delivers them, Barclay seems like the kind of guy who may just be playing with us, but then again he might not be. The Amazing Snakeheads follow the Birthday Party and the Gun Club in the bad hoodoo school of rock, constructed from equal parts shrieking guitars, swampy atmosphere, and bad karma, but while Nick Cave and Jeffrey Lee Pierce gave their personas enough depth of detail that they seemed three-dimensional if truly forbidding, with his thick brogue and growling delivery, Barclay appears more convincingly nuts, and his bandmates (William Coombe on bass and Jordon Hutchison on drums) bash out a simpler, less nuanced accompaniment for Barclay's lyrical psychodrama and barbed-wire guitar figures.
To call ‘Amphetamine Ballads’, the debut album from Glasgow trio The Amazing Snakeheads, grubby, is a bit like suggesting that Vladimir Putin is “a bit bossy”, or stating Usain Bolt is ‘quite good’ at running. This record is so dark, so seedy, so grotty basement-fuelled, it’s possible to smell, feel and touch damp while it plays. From the gong that summons opener ‘I’m A Vampire’, to the Spanish style guitar permeating closer ‘Tiger By The Tail’, it’s unadulterated gloom – an album set in the darkest, seediest of alleyways.
The pressure to make a Nick Cave comparison has become almost unbearable, so let me get it out of the way quick-like: The Amazing Snakeheads’ debut album, Amphetamine Ballads, revels in the unholy collision of punk, rock, and blues. Its deceptive calm is pierced by frontman Dale Barclay’s croaks, croons, and groans. Alongside the typical “sounds like” reference, the only difference is that where Cave delivers hallucinatory talking-and-driving blues chants (like asking to be buried with a mummified cat in his yellow, patent leather shoes), Barclay instead growls, “Forget the rest/ I’m your daddy.
A low-key seven-inch single released last summer suggested Glasgow's the Amazing Snakeheads were ones to watch, the ferocious 65-second Testifying Time recalling the early Hives with its expert grasp of garage-punk dynamics. Their debut album, however, sounds like the work of a different band, with momentum and brevity largely exchanged for dark and sprawling jams that mistake ponderousness for menace. Memories recalls the dislocating skronking of the Stooges' Fun House , without reaching its heights; Tiger by the Tail trudges aimlessly on for seven uneventful minutes.
I’ve always found the strange juxtaposition between the popular perception of Glasgow and its best-known musical exports to be quite fascinating. I won’t use the t-word that’s so readily applied to the likes of Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura, but it’s certainly true that their music doesn’t fit with the widely-peddled – and very unfair – idea that the city is an unrelentingly bleak urban wasteland, ravaged by football hooliganism; indeed, it’s difficult to imagine hordes of Rangers fans soundtracking one of their signature rampages with a drunken rendition of “Judy and the Dream of Horses” or “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken”. There’s the odd exception to that rule, of course; Glasvegas are the obvious one, particularly on their magnificent, socially-conscious debut, but they continue to be treated with mystifying opprobrium by most British critics.