The Mark Of Cain: Songs Of The Third And Fifth
- The Mark Of Cain are back, still looking suspiciously like they might be on the militant-fringe of a far right-wing political party and sounding like bottled-up rage. Like, you might think they’re angry now, but piss them off just a little bit more and, well, you’ll find out.
As fresh and cohesive as this new record sounds it’s difficult to believe several things about it. First that the Mark Of Cain kicked off in 1985, second that this record took six years to complete and last but not least that it’s been ten since their last recorded effort, This Is This, all the way back in 2001. What have the band been up to for ten years? Day jobs, raising families (and also the break-up of long-term relationships) have kept bro.s John and Kim Stanley busy, while John Stanier, as most folks will know, has been off being a drumming superhero for the likes of Helmet, Tomahawk and of course Battles. With that kind of regimen it should be no surprise that Stanier sounds tight and he is still the pounding engine-room of the band. However, John’s thunderous guitar and Kim’s slamming bass too, both still sound remarkably on form. Most importantly, John’s vocals are a study in understatement, grimly restrained and bitterly bitten off: in many ways they are the signature sound of the band and they deliver exactly as they are supposed to.
To me a Mark of Cain album is kind of like a (sadly imaginary) Aussie action film starring David Field and Bryan Brown where they end up coldly and brutally murdering all the bad guys (who’re probably slightly less scary than our supposed heroes). That’s not exactly what’s going on here. I haven’t heard anyone else talking about it, but Songs Of The Third And Fifth appears to be a concept album. Tunes like the Dostoyevsky referencing Eastern Decline and most obviously Milosevic bring the album crashing down amongst recent Balkan conflicts and they book-end the harshly masculine interpretations of punishing topics including post-traumatic stress (Grey 11), socio-political disintegration (Separatist), or, taken to an extreme, ethnic cleansing from the point of view of a sniper (Avenger).
This is tough stuff and the continuation of John Scott’s obsession with the themes and effects of war, experienced close-up. The listening public were first introduced to the horror inside John’s head back on The Mark Of Cain’s debut full-length, Battlesick. His obsession doesn't lack punch after all these years, this is powerful listening, particularly on as yet unheard blood-diamonds like Milosevic, a track that crushes all with a fantastic mathrock riff putting a three-chord arpeggio in a four-four beat.
Speaking of which, I’ve always wondered what the hell genre are The Mark Of Cain: post-hardcore, metal, mathrock, the most brutal pub-rock you’ve ever heard, all of the above? Who cares! Mark Of Cain are back with all of their mates (including Henry Rollins, hidden away in there) and they bring the pain.
- Chris Cobcroft.