How to do Battle
Senser return with 'How to do Battle', their fourth record and first in five years, this album comes after considerable ups and downs and line-up changes. The band’s back story in short goes something like this: they formed at the tail end of the 1980’s against the background of Margaret Thatcher’s decimation of British society; released a successful album ‘Stacked Up’, toured their collective arses off, fell apart, splintered in two, got back together for gigs and inspiration followed. Phew. So is there any place for their brand of polemic backed up by a collision of punk/metal/hip-hop/electronica? Or, did the nu-metal explosion that happened in their absence discredit this type of music altogether?
'How to do Battle' begins with a swirling electronic wash of sound and a Prong esque bone-dry industrial riff. ‘Wake up, You’re on Fire’ is a call to resistance against censorship and repression but unfortunately this message gets obscured by the godawful scratching that rears its head during the chorus. Confusingly, track two is called ‘Resistance Now’ it’s a slower paced and trip-hop influenced tune and has some over-the-top boastful MC’ing from Heitham Al Sayed. Over the next few tracks Senser spit out references to the G8, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program and Osama Bin Laden against a shifting background of electronica, rock rhythms and punky guitars. The lyrical reference points are therefore most definitely rooted in the 21st century, the music, however, constantly harks back to the 1990s, it’s Rage Against The Machine and Pitchshifter through and through here. Not that the band seem to recognise the horrific irony of lyrics like ‘Your content is tired out and empty’ and ‘Nothing about retro/No I won’t let it go’ on ‘Dictator Bling’.
After this lack of self-awareness the lairy, bouncy sing along of ‘End of the World Show’ is a welcome arrival. It is, however, not long before the lyrical bravado re-appears on ‘Smoking Paranoia’ as Al Sayed announces that there’s no other MC like him. Well let’s hope so. ‘Fairytale’is the standout song in the second half of the album. Sounding like a politicised Devics is has almost whispered vocals from Kerstin Haigh and plaintive guitar strumming which builds and grows more menacing as Al Sayed makes his best contributions and finishes on a crying guitar solo coda. This is followed by the hardcore sounding ‘Lights Out’ which is another great song and the shouts of ‘No growth! No change!’ will have mosh pits heaving and fists pumping. The most successful songs on this album are generally the more lyrically blurred, harder rocking numbers but 'How to do Battle' sags badly in the middle and is only saved from mediocrity by its opening and closing tracks. Also, let it be known once and for all scratching has no place on a rock record in 2009 it’s known as the Linkin Bizkit law. Don’t blame me, it’s their fault
This writer finds himself in a bit of a quandary with Senser. On the one hand there is agreement with the anger, defiance, DIY approach and political sentiment but on the other, surely the sound of the revolution cannot be this clarion call of musical conservatism. However, RATM were my gateway to political consciousness (naïvely or otherwise) and led me to more daring sounds and sharper political records and artists. So maybe there is a place for Senser.