Sound: "Born To Ruin" is the debut album from country punk rockers Crazy Arm, hailing from Plymouth UK. The title is a play on Springsteen's third record Born To Run'. The band possesses a huge variety of influences, ranging from Springsteen to Zeppelin to Black Flag to Baroness. This has created a punk album with a wide pallet of sounds that becomes an instantly addicting experience for the listener. The band's galloping pace, rich melodies and super catchy socio - political lyrics will ensnare armies of fans from many genres of music, and not just those of the underground folk punk scene.
Opening track Asphalt' begins with a steady bass and drum groove, enticing the listener just as the guitars enter, building into a slow and layered rock crescendo. Front man Darren Johns' vocals are instantly inviting, and set a bleak, morbid tone to the album with the first verse and particularly the first chorus: There's nothing left for us, in the city. I'll take my chances on the road!
Second song Still To Keep' is by far the standout number. Its tight galloping guitars will have you jumping up and down like a lunatic and it's hooking chorus and verses will have you singing along in no time! It also has perhaps the best guitar solo on the album, though the band takes care to keep these tasteful and to a minimum.
Third instalment on the album Blind Summit' is the tale of a individual coming to terms with his life and his view on the world, and his rejection of politics, religion and the marks of capitalism. The song is by far the folkiest on the album with an energetic, foot stomping pace and Darren really able to show off his talents as a folk singer.
Fifth track on the album Broken By The Wheel' really shows the band pulling out all the stops. String men Darren and Jon both flex their axe muscles with stabbing power chord riffs over laden with clever leads as well as stark melodies and slides. Broken' also has easily one of the best choruses on the album.
Other songs on the album keep up the bands sound whilst showing off their great diversity. International Front' is a focused anti-fascism protest song reminiscent of Bad Religion or Against Me! And Harry Fabian Flynn' is an anthemic folk punk masterpiece that fans will be singing for years to come.
Another notable is Reassure Me', a fast paced and technical number that refuses to let up, complete with crushingly heavy riffs many a metal band would be impressed with.
Final song, Christ In Concrete', is the longest on the record and closes the album off with hauntingly beautiful acoustic passages and prog - rockish background feedback and sounds, supplemented with heavy, nerve jolting Hendrix style riffage.
Production is superb with instruments and vocals sounding crystal clear. This is courtesy of Peter Miles who is also responsible for bringing to life the work of Sonic Boom Six and The King Blues previously. The guitars sound balanced, delivering a satisfying crunch as easily as they can a sweet clean and every fill of the drums is truly satisfying. I feel the bass could be turned up just a small notch and with a little bit more low end to weigh down the sound more in places, but this is no major issue. The vocals sit beautifully on top of the whole ensemble and ring out with stark clarity. // 9
Lyrics: Darren's vocals remain the subject of criticism in some reviews, stating that his voice can be passionless and lacking overall power. Through my ears they really shine as the voice of many your average south westerner. Lyrically you may be reminded of Flogging Molly, Fugazi or Bad Religion. Darren's vocals are remarkably clear and discernable in comparison to the majority of underground punk acts. He can transition beautifully between aggressive and melodic tones (Broken By The Wheel') and function equally effectively in punk or folk styles (Blind Summit').
This just shows the great diversity of Crazy Arm's front man and many a female listener will find his voice more than sexy. However I believe the band can definitely build on their vocals with more folk or country sequences and perhaps a degree more aggression and screams in places. I can see this being easily possible without hindering their already listener grabbing voice as a band.
Backup vocals on the album are generally limited but they are present in the form of chanting (intro to "Kith And Kingdom") and for chorus harmonies ("Asphalt", "Still To Keep", "Desire Lines", etc) these sound genuinely tight and well placed. // 9
Overall Impression: Born To Ruin' is easily an album that will appeal to fans of a diverse range of genres simply because the band is able to cater for so many different tastes (I myself feel passionately about this album though you would probably me as a metal fan). It creates a rich and balanced musical experience that really shows off the modern day diversity and talent of underground music.
Its political message also makes a sound statement without trying to preach or being completely in your face like so many of the authority bashing punk bands over the decades. This feels as though it comes more through the mouth of your average everyday individual making his own choices, rather than a group of strict principled extreme leftists rejecting the decisions of government and instead conforming to a tough ideology of their own, as is standard with many a protest band.
The CD for the album comes in a recycled cardboard package which although flimsy feels a lot nicer to hold than conventional CD case, and is a generally greener option.
The album inlet contains the lyrics and a description of the thought process for each song. It also has a list of websites showing the various charities and organisations the band supports.
Guitar-wise the band definitely has chops, as demonstrated with their widdling leads and gorgeous clean melodies that complement their tight rhythmic chords and palm muted punk riffs. This built over the base of their solid drums and bass section makes for a rather technically talented punk rock quartet.
It is obvious to many musical ears that this band has masses of potential and has already created a solid sound of their own. There are some sections of songs that sound like the energy dries up a bit (more on the latter half of the album), but on the whole these are short-lived and serve to only better the record's more juicy bits. The only real reservation I have with this album that holds it back for me is that there is plenty more that this band are capable of that hasn't yet been explored. The album has only really touched the tip of the iceberg when you just imagine what the Plymouthian foursome could do.
With later releases we shall see what they are capable of as there seem to be an almost infinite number of routes they could go down and are bound to surprise us all. In conclusion though, Born To Ruin' is a rich and refreshing musical accomplishment that seeks to complement what has come before and paths the way for more great things to come. I believe we can expect plenty of this with their upcoming album Union City Breath'. // 8