Cuffs' To Hell And Back is a snapshot of Grey Britain getting bleaker and harsher, and rewarding only the very worst of us

Bristol punks Cuffs deliver an unflinching, pitch-black state-of-the-nation address on debut album To Hell And Back

To Hell And Back album artwork
(Image: © Cuffs)

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"We started this band to send a message," Bristol punks Cuffs stated in December when announcing the release of To Hell And Back: "A message relaying that the place we live, is morally flawed. It’s a place where thieves are rewarded, and the victim suffers. A place where we suffer for the good of others. A place where the mind deteriorates. A place where we claw our way out."

On listening to said album, it won't come as a huge surprise to learn that Cuffs cite Gallows - along with Bob Vylan, Rage Against The Machine, Metz, Refused and fellow Bristol punks Idles and Heavy Lungs, among others - as influences, for To Hell And Back plays out like a darker, heavier, more blunt and even less hopeful sequel to the Hertfordshire punks' landmark second album.

Welcome to Greyer Britain.

"This place is a fucking disgusting rat-hole... they don't give a fuck about you," Brodie Morgans sings on To The Bone, referencing the fact that 14 million people live in poverty in the UK, four million of those being children. "You can run the race, but you'll still come last," he cautions while calling out societal inequality on King's Horses, the harsh, grinding Witch Nails conveying raw frustration giving way to nihilistic  desperation ("There goes by not a day where I don't want to end it all") with the dawning realisation that systems are weighted and rigged from cradle to grave.

Not that the after-life promises an upgrade either, whatever we're encouraged to believe by Sky Fairy advocates. "Last time I tried praying, your god told me to fuck off" Morgans spits on the brilliant, brutal Scandals And Vandals, which seethes, surges and rumbles like Will Haven covering Rage Against The Machine. "Hell is fucking empty, all the devils are here" is the takeaway from the intense, suffocating Watch Me Die.

It's not all doom and gloom, obviously. Oh, wait, no, scratch that, it is all doom and gloom. There are moments of beauty on To Hell And Back amid the ugliness, notably the tasteful instrumental Bittersweet and the deceptively calming intro to closer Selfish Desires, but this was never going to be an album promising better tomorrows with sunny skies and the meek inheriting the earth.

Game over. You lose. Sorry (not sorry).

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.