Sounds Like: Rip-roaring rock'n'roll taken on a stylistic bender.
For Fans Of: Every Time I Die, '68, Future Of The Left
Listen To: American Graffiti
After having spent half a decade obliterating the UK scene, the announcement that Heck were to split in August 2017 was a sad moment for contemporary metal. Fans needn’t have worried too much, however; it took less than 24 hours for vocalist Matt Reynolds and drummer Tom Marsh to birth a new project screaming into the world.
“It was a mixed bag of emotions,” admits Matt. “The last ever Heck show was on my birthday, the first day of ArcTanGent. I didn’t realise until we stepped onto the stage how much it all meant to us, and as we came on we were all tearing up. Coming out to a tent full of people all screaming for us and then having it flash by in an instant was strange – it left a certain empty feeling. But, the next day we gave birth to the next step, so it was like a passing of the torch from one band to the next.”
It might seem like a surprisingly quick turnover, but the truth is that Haggard Cat had been quietly building steam in the background for quite some time. In fact, the project was initially formed way back in 2011 while Heck (who were then called Baby Godzilla) were just starting to earn their reputation as the UK’s most exciting live band.
“It started out as something just for Tom and I to have fun with,” Matt explains. “We played together for years and years, even before Baby Godzilla/Heck were a thing. We just happened to have a group of songs together that felt like an album – but not a Heck album – so we booked studio time and treated ourselves like it was a holiday. Both bands are labours of love, but it wasn’t a case of picking one over another – we just had to keep making music.”
As 50% of the frenetic force of energy that was Heck, it’s not surprising that a similar creative dynamism buzzes through Haggard Cat’s output. “We wanted to take that and be as honest as we could with it, making the most bare-bones, raw and honest thing we could,” Matt says. “I’ll let people decide for themselves where the line resides and if we have the same fire inside as Heck, but either way it’s something that’s very personal to Tom and I.”
Of course, many will be looking for Haggard Cat to replicate the creative energy of Heck – their incendiary performances were nigh-legendary, after all. “I don’t think we’ll ever dial it back – it’s not in our nature as performers,” Matt admits. “Tom and I really pride ourselves on being a band for the live environment. It’s something you can’t fake and you can’t force, because it’s very obvious when a band does that.”
There is nothing forced about Haggard Cat – their sound is open to stylistic experimentation, initial demo-album Charger crossing raw rock’n’roll with hardcore punk freak-outs. Debut-proper Challenger ramps this effect up to 1,000, leading singles The Patriot and American Graffiti maintaining the core Haggard Cat sound, while the harmonies on Goldberg bring an almost Beatles-like sonic left-turn into the mix. Then there’s the record closer, High Roller – a track that is less Haggard Cat and more, um, Aristocats.
“I really love the trumpet,” Matt gleefully says. “We were listening to Aerosmith’s Dude Looks Like A Lady, the bit where the brass comes in over the riff, and it just sounded like a party. We were playing the riff to High Roller and felt like we never wanted to stop playing it, so we got a trumpet to make it sound like we were marching out of the studio, forcing everyone to join in that party. We’ve got a good friend called Rob Squirrel playing on it as well, which is great – he’s an American and has a bonkers personality. That personality really comes out on it; it could fall off the rails at any point, but doesn’t.”
It’s safe to say that while Heck may be done, their spiritual successors aren’t dialling it down for anyone.
Challenger is out now via Earache and available to buy from Amazon (opens in new tab).