After a solid amount of time up on blocks (the band’s debut album was released in 2014 and, while there have been a couple of splits and a couple of EPs, demands for something more substantial have gone unanswered), a recent reissue campaign renewed interest in The Old Firm Casuals (a.k.a. Singer/guitarist Lars Frederiksen’s “other” band, beyond Rancid) and so they’ve answered that interest with Holger Danske – a release which comes startlingly close to sounding like a concept album.
Now, it’s important to state that Holger Danske does not fit easily into the frame of being a concept album in the modern conventional sense. There isn’t a set of firmly established characters or a storyline that is possible to follow (read: this isn’t American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown or Home Street Home). Rather, Holger Danske is an album that follows a series of snap shots that capture impressions centered on Denmark and Norway.
That focus is the thing that binds the album, but the dramatic/thematic movement (which incorporates sonic elements from AC/DC, Motorhead and even Led Zeppelin – in addition to the street punk which has been Frederiksen’s wheel house for decades) is the thing which will have listeners excited because it sounds precisely nothing like any of the other punk records which have been released over the last few years. Holger Danske is a truly unique beast.
As unique as it ultimately proves itself to be though, Holger Danske starts in a place that will easily pull in fans hungry for Frederiksen’s brand of street punk with “Get Out of Our Way.” There, after a Norwegian horn sounds and causes everyone within earshot to straighten up and stiffen, the band just hits the ground at full speed and makes no effort to wait for listeners to catch up. The song’s speed is unrelenting, and everything already feels a little ragged right from the get-go; drummer Paul Rivas and bassist Casey Watson lay down a sinewy, frenetic rhythm on top of which Frederiksen throw some great and incendiary guitars, but the piece de resistance is the vocal. Here, the ragged rasp which pushes lines like, “Get out of our way/ You’ve had your warning” sounds both aged and menacing; it’s in no way as poppy or accessible as the work that The Old Firm Casuals have released before, but that comes off as exciting, in this context. Here, the older tone of the vocals achieves a street punk stature that has evaded Frederiksen’s previous (more poppy) efforts.
The scruffier vibe presented on “Get Out of Our Way” proves not to be consistent through Holger Danke’s A-side (Frederiksen’s pop-punkier vocal styling emerges even as early as “Motherland” – the second cut on the album and its first single – begins) but that is not meant to say that Holger Danke misses any steps or marks as it plays. In fact, the political commentary which drives “Pendulum” (where Frederiksen rightly stands behind lines like “Your arrogance doesn’t make you right” with an audible sneer in his vocal) plays both brilliantly and refreshingly as well as serving as a perfect step up for the more hard rock-informed pairing of “De Somme Ulve” and the album’s title track. The power expressed through those cuts is phenomenal and serves as a great foil for the more uniquely Danish and epic vibe of “Casual Rock-N-Roll,” which closes the side.
Now, it really is important to quantify the differences between the dramatism of cuts like “De Somme Ulve” and “Holger Danske” and the comparatively straightforward street punk of “Casual Rock-N-Roll” as well as how those two sounds relate to Holger Danske as an album/complete presentation. Of course, “Casual Rock-N-Roll” and other cuts like it in this running are standard-issue fare for The Old Firm Casuals; those cuts are the meat which define Holger Danske and provide much of the album’s movement, it is cuts like the album’s title track and “De Somme Ulve” which provide both the substance and the color (and, really, more of that appears on the album’s B-side than it does on the A-). That is not to say the A-side doesn’t play an important role, just that more of the album’s flavour and style are revealed later in its play.
While some of the aforementioned flavour did begin to manifest in the late-playing of Holger Danske‘s A-side with the mixture of Green Day and AC/DC which characterizes “Casual Rock-N-Roll,” it takes a greater amount of the foreground on the album’s B-side. The SOUND of “Traitor” (the opening cut on Holger Danske‘s flipside) – with its hair raising tempo and unrelenting aggression – instantly commands attention as it rips and sears its way through and totally ignores the judgement implied by the themes addressed in the lyric sheet for this song and is only given relief when Frederiksen puts the mic down, Watson picks it up and rages out the raw, pop-free punk burners “Thunder Bolt” and “Overdose On Sin” between those two cuts, Old Firm Casuals successfully jettison the pop-punk base that the band has always played with and gives itself over to some phenomenally dramatic, dark and aggressive tendencies.
The fury of these tracks is totally infectious and burns so hot that it will convert every sceptic who hears it and, while there are two cuts which remain on the side before it runs out (“Nation On Fire” – which compliments “Thunder Bolt” and “Overdose On Sin” in spite of featuring Frederiksen on vocals again – and the lock-down summation, “Zombies,” which closes the side, resolves the changes in energy and tempo and makes it possible for listeners to re-start the A-side smoothly after it plays through), “Thunder Bolt” and “Overdose On Sin” are the epics which will leave listeners’ jaws dangling and eyes dazed. Some critics may complain that such a progression plays far less smoothly than it probably could, but those who simply follow the album front-to-back and don’t try to pick their way through cuts (read: this album is best experienced on vinyl – not on CD) will find they’re left totally dazzled in the end.
With all of the different turns that Holger Danske makes covered and summed up here, some readers may be left at a loss as they try to figure out how solid a release it is. True, this album is challenging in that it has a conceptual thread running through it, but it doesn’t play as smoothly as those concept albums that bands like Green Day have made. Some critics may complain that there are aspects of Holger Danske which are a little problematic or awkward on first listen and that may put them off, but it won’t take long for those same listeners to fiercely say it could not, should not be any other way.
(Pirates Press Records/ Demons Run Amok)
Holger Danske will be released on March 15, 2019 on Pirates Press Records. Pre-order it here directly from Pirates Press Records. http://shop.piratespressrecords.com/products/635213-the-old-firm-casuals-holger-danske-12-lp-cd