There’s a certain comfort which can be found in a record which, while new, sounds familiar. As albums like that play, it can be pretty easy for a listener to sigh as a turntable’s stylus finds its intended groove and each cut seems to spontaneously align and produce an accessible, pleasing sensation for its audience. Now, in the case of The Pain, The Blood and The Sword, there’s no question that some listeners will find the album accessible (it’s boot boy punk mixed with elements of NYC hardcore – an audience has already been built by bands like Agnostic Front and Murphy’s Law), but the catch when it comes to the music and its arrangement here is that it’s just TOO consistent. Throughout the album’s runtime, there are no surprises or moments which set the music apart from that of the band’s peers – it’s just derivative.
It is worth pointing out that, as derivative as it is, The Pain, The Blood and The Sword isn’t without its charms. After the needle sinks into the album’s A-side and the Intro warms listeners up with an instrumental workout, PBS (short for “The Pain, The Blood and The Sword” – as the phrase appears a few times on the lyric sheet – not Public Broadcast Service) begins kicking listeners around (figuratively) in order to get them loose and comfortable with the assault. Singer, Wattie and guitarists, Louis Chatenay and Daick D’Herouville take no small amount of joy bouncing off both each other as well as the walls erected by bassist, Swann Jamin and drummer, Thomas Viallefond, and listeners will find that while some of the lyrics may feel a little awkward in print (sample: “Our world is facing changes/ Here come the sons of crisis/ Our dreams are slowly fading/ While we all make compromises/ The right path is hard to choose/Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense/ Real is the suffering, hard times will/ reveal our strength”), they flow reasonably well in practice because the delivery overshadows the content [editor’s note: Lion’s Law is a French hardcore band. With that fact in mind, awkward stanzas feel more permissible]. When the song fades out, listeners will find that even if they were skeptical toward the band at first, they’re totally energized by song’s end and completely ready to discover more of what Lion’s Law has to offer.
Listeners will be ready to go by the end of PBS and, happily, Lion’s Law does not let the mood they created in the album’s opening moments lapse. The Reaper answers PBS by front-loading more of the same sort of sonics its predecessor featured combined with an even more guttural vocal performance from Wattie before changing the idea up with a more introspective feeling vibe (but it is no quieter or more subdued) presentation which also abandons the English language (for French) on Destin Criminel. Of course, switching languages is always difficult (in theory) regardless of the musical form or genre within which any band chooses to work (it has a fantastic capacity to utterly demolish the thematic tempo the band establishes) but, in this case, Lion’s Law manages to make the shift work reasonably well – even if it isn’t perfect. In this case, the music establishes the mood (it is angry and confrontational), the color of which is filled in well enough by the singer; it might be unintelligible for listeners who don’t speak French, but there’s no denying the tone or power of the cut.
The confrontational demeanor endures throughout the rest of the side as Lion’s Law bounds back and forth between English and French performances through Escape and Un Jour, but the greatest proverbial payday comes through on Roses and Fire – which closes the side. There, Lion’s Law amps up the tempo and achieves a really aggressive permutation of the skate-punk that NOFX traded in during the days of Pump Up The Valuum and somehow challenges the concepts of melody, meter and how memorable a cut can be without those things in so doing. For three and a half minutes, Lion’s Law shred the notion that Roses and Fire might be comparable to anything at all, really, but somehow also manages to tap into the pleasure centre of every punk’s brain before their turntable’s needle lifts. The only way to characterize the cut is to say that it’s absolutely brilliant – and it stands as proof positive that energy and intent can function easily as its own hook, on the right day.
Perhaps to keep the idea that all things are possible and language means far less than intent in a punk song afloat, the B-side of the The Pain, The Blood and The Sword LP opens with Fidele (which sounds a little like the half-step with might exist between Dropkick Murphys and the Offspring –ed) before venturing into more menacing territory akin to Agnostic Front for The Enemy. There, while Lion’s Law does have to play with meter problematically to make the song function (there’s an undeniable limp in the chorus –ed), The Enemy does manage to get over well enough with more heart and hope exposed than many punk bands have in their entire catalogue AND manages to set up the “raw hearts and flawless melody” focus of Damaged Heart (the cut that follows it) perfectly.
As the B-side progresses, Lion’s Law dares to to get a little more creative in their song structuring as the lead guitars attempt to stand out a little more boldly on Revenge (although, to be honest, this one needed to spend a little more time in the woodshed) and a set of cascading drums characterizes Pathfinder (those looking for the greatest, most standout cut on the album should look no further –ed) before Lion’s Law seams all the ground they’ve covered on the The Pain, The Blood and The Sword LP into the four-and-a-half-minute runtime of Destined To Fall, which closes out the album. There, Lion’s Law really does go out of its way to throw elements of all the ground the band covered throughout the running of The Pain, The Blood and The Sword and condenses it down into a great summary of the album to close it. Lyrically, the cut goes out of its way to cover the ground more broadly too as lines like “Face the lie you’re living in/ Worship money, hail the king/ It could buy you everything/ But money won’t pay for your sins” trace classic hardcore plaints as well as reflecting media coverage of the current presidential administration (although it’s not exactly clear if such angling is intentional. Regardless, the way the cut plays feels epic and punctuates the album’s close perfectly; with the last crash, listeners know they’re at the end of the album, and they’ll find that the desire to flip the record over and relive it is real – however, it cannot be denied that the statement feels complete.
“So what’s the final word,” you plead, “Is The Pain, The Blood and The Sword good or not?” It might sound a little contrary but, after having run front-to-back with the album, the only way to conclude whether it’s a good album or not is to say that it’s a bit of both. There’s no question that many of the cuts were clearly polished relentlessly by the band and the hard work put in shows here – but that statement does not imply the band can’t do better. What The Pain, The Blood and The Sword proves beyond the shadow of a doubt is that Lion’s Law WANT this and are willing to put in the work to become hardcore superstars. It might take one more LP, but there’s little doubt they’ll achieve that goal.