March 1999 – EP reviews – Subvert’s ‘My Greater Energy’ (“you’re pulled some of the way into their siege, but finally you’re left stuck in the murk”)

15 Mar

Subvert: 'My Greater Energy'

Subvert: ‘My Greater Energy’

Choked, Device, Straitjacket – going on song titles alone, Norwich punks Subvert don’t just fear having to go down struggling, they’re positively certain of it. And with a final song declaring itself as My Greater Energy, they’re expecting some sort of victory at the end of it. Though as singer Jim Marten opts for an angst-lacerated, word-mangling punk howl most of the time, it’s difficult to work out exactly what form that takes. Steeped in the unforgiving heaviness and relentlessness of metalcore but rebelling against it from the inside, Subvert demand a lot of ear-time.

Subvert don’t behave quite as you’d expect. They hollow spaces out of punk structures; mostly via Nick Barker’s crafty drumming, which anchors songs in tommy-gun rattles and crushing rolls but constantly tugs at those anchors, creating gaps and new shapes for the band to exploit for atmosphere. Not that these are a relief – Subvert let the shadow of the world creep in behind their broken-up instrumentation. Clouds of heavy brown exhaust stain the light and lurk overhead like malignant genies. If you listen enough to their disaffected and resentful music, you’re pulled some of the way into their siege, but finally you’re left stuck in the murk.

My Greater Energy itself goes from a Motorhead crunch to a distorted and springy polyrhythmic challenge, spitting snakey cymbals. Jim’s demand of “why don’t you take another piece of me? / Have what you want, just get away from me” could’ve been a standard punk exploited-man’s challenge. When he follows it up with a bitter plea of “will someone save me from my friends?”, it’s clear that the struggle is much more central that that. As he grates “I don’t care… just want to run away from everyone… my thoughts are so distorted” over the slow pulsing grind of Choked, it’s obvious that we’re in a more deeply wounded place than the battlefield where we usually find our battered-but-unbowed punk heroes.

Subvert aren’t the first punks to find the blows that they’re delivering curling back in to become desperate blockages; the fight jumping inwards. But they’re damn honest about the panic of the struggle. Reuben Gotto’s thrashing counterpoint guitar riffs in Device are a helpless backward tumble – an arch in a constricting box, trapped with the knucklebone drums and bass – and are set off by the same sort of jarring chorus as Nirvana’s Blew or Radiohead‘s My Iron Lung. The same yank on the shoulder.

There’s a little respite in Blank Canvas: sullen bastard it may be, but it yearns towards anthems, unexpectedly breaks into hip-hop beats and anxious minor-chord strumming as Jim roars “d’you think that you know it all?…/ It made me so angry.” Still, as you’re drawn deeper into the heart of this EP, a conviction grows. At the very centre is a bleak testing-yard in which a man is roaring into the angle of a wall and gradually smashing himself into bits.

Subvert: ‘My Greater Energy’
Blank Canvas Records, CANVAS 01CD (no barcode)
CD-only EP
15th March 1999
Get it from: best obtained second-hand, or via Amazon
Subvert online:
Last FM

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