Warrior rock? Dystopia pop? Call it what you want, but Kirk Brandon’s po-faced, stiff-quiffed quartet certainly helped blueprint a distinct strand of quasi-goth pomp-punk in the early 80s, ploughing a furrow somewhere in between Killing Joke, Southern Death Cult and the Banshees.
Their reputation spread initially via bootlegs of their live shows, a spread they sought to stem by releasing He Who Dares Wins, a live album recorded in Leeds in 1981, as their debut self-released album. The fact that they released only one relatively patchy studio album before their split in late ‘82 meant that, along with its sequel, recorded in Berlin, HWDW did much to spread the band’s reputation.
Those two albums have been collected together on this five CD set, along with recordings of 2012 and 2017 sets by the re-formed (and mostly original) line-up, and a newly released vintage recording of a 1982 show in Brussels. The recent shows are, as you might expect, better recorded, but despite the rejuvenated band’s best efforts they rarely match the ragged righteous passion that informs the early recordings. The new Brussels bootleg is particularly dodgy in sound quality, but its raging versions of tracks such as Incinerator and Legion are as good as any you’ll hear, with buzz-saw guitars high in the mix and Brandon sounding on the verge of a vocally induced aneurysm.