If the idea that a classic album is defined as ‘one which holds personal meaning for a listener’ can be taken as factual, then I can say confidently that Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards’ sophomore album, Viking, is one of the most important albums of my life; for me, it is a personal classic. I remember, for example, where I was when the album was released (in 2004 – I was 25 and slugging away as an entertainment journalist for a regional alt-news weekly as well as contributing to Exclaim magazine). I remember how taken I was with it initially (Viking ended up topping my Albums of the Year list that year). And I remember that it was in support of Viking that I first interviewed Lars Frederiksen.
The day of that interview, I had to rush home from the hospital to pick up the phone and interview the guitarist while he and the Bastards were on tour and due to stop in Buffalo, NY. I had a slow leak of spinal fluid coming out of my back from a botched lumbar puncture and a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, at the time. Some might say that I should have postponed the interview – that nobody could have blamed me if I had and that’s probably true – but I adored the album and (given the situation) needed to do something to feel normal.
Now thirteen years after that event, I STILL love Viking and Pirates Press’ vinyl reissue of the album presents it perfectly; loud, proud and with just the right tone to make punks sneer in approval. It was great before, but the warmth of analogue makes it even better here.
As soon as that big motorcycle engine turns over and growls off the line to kickstart the proceedings, Lars and the Bastards erupt ferociously like Rancid riding a gnarly mixture of speed cut with PCP through the opening track, “Bastards,” as well as “Skins, Punx and Drunx” and “Fight” which, combined, can fit comfortably into about a third of the amount of time it takes to boil an egg.
Through each, Lars’ guitar never slows below a constant sixteenth note assault, but at no point does the music get blurry at all; here, any overdrive associated with the guitarist’s performance was generated with volume, not distortion pedals, which makes the tone lean and aggressive rather than beefy and rich.
The performances added by rhythm guitarist Craig Fairbaugh, bassist Jason Woods and drummer Scott Abels stay true to that too, and Fairbaugh sticks close to Frederiksen while Abels keeps his sticks off of the cymbals perched on his drum kit for the most part, relying on toms, snare and kick drum for any and all accents. Combined, what listeners get might as well be called a street punk masterwork; this is representative of the band at the peak of their creative powers.
After the first two songs, the speed at which Lars and the Bastards work decreases a little bit (track four, “1%,” clocks in at 2:40 with “Switchblade” following at three and a half minutes), but the bold, confrontational spirit certainly doesn’t soften (well, not until the title track comes through to close the album, but more on that later) and consistently leaves listeners in fits of frenzy.
At every turn along the way through Viking‘s A-side, Frederiksen and the band change their focus as each song requires (the cover of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Marie Marie” feels like it could have been recorded by Buddy Holly’s bigger, meaner brother in the sixties, while “Little Rude Girl” sounds like it might have fallen out of the sessions for a Rancid album and “Mainlining Murder” actually feels like it could have fit on a Transplants album, at some point) but, to their credit, the band does not lose its personality no matter which direction it turns. In effect, it could be argued that what listeners are hearing is the band on an accelerated growth curve.
Regardless of the fantastic turns that the Bastards make through the A-side of Viking, they still return to center and start fresh for the B-side of the album. As soon as stylus reaches vinyl and side B begins to play, listeners are hit with a fine SoCal street punk salvo in the Rancid tradition for “For You” before “My Life To Live” follows and sees Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong sing an ode to working girls in a very “Old Firm Casuals-with-a-mandolin” kind of way. They then go back to the drive which propelled the Bastards’ debut album (singing songs about Lars’ hometown, Campbell, CA) for “The Kids Are Quiet on Sharmon Palms”) before up-shifting to light-speed infectious street punk for “Blind Ambition” and “Gods Of War” (which get run through here within a minute and fifteen seconds, combined) and then finally settling dow with one more vintage Rancid return in the form of “Streetwise Professor.”
That return to Rancid referencing actually serves as a perfect close for the album; the song and reference make it easy for listeners to see where Frederiksen’s home base is and then choose to either stay on this side of the proverbial street with the Bastards on Viking, or grab their favorite Rancid album and transition seamlessly over to that. Either way, the singer still has them within his reach as Viking runs out.
As one looks at this vinyl reissue of the album, the only conclusion to reach is that, yes, the music holds up of course, but the packaging in which it comes is excellent. Pirates Press has committed Viking to classic, no-nonsense black vinyl and included a new 12”X12” foil card inside which just feels special, somehow. With that in mind, I can safely say that, not only does this vinyl pressing meet the stature of this album, it exceeds all of my expectations too.
Pirates Press’ reissue of Viking by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press: www.piratespressrecords.com/store/12-inches-c-1_6/new-lars-frederiksen-the-bastards-viking-12-lp-p-1101.html