Sledgeback – Bite the Bullet

Sledgeback - Bite the Bullet coverBite the Bullet is the fourth full-length from Seattle’s Sledgeback, a band with a more interesting than usual backstory: frontman Gabor Szakácsi, ex-Hungary’s C.A.F.B. (Cops Are Fucking Bastards, an alternative to the more-familiar UK acronym A.C.A.B, which you can probably figure out) moved to the US sometime in 2004 not knowing a word of English and quickly formed a punk band. Good way to go about things in my book.

So, from Szakácsi’s punk history, the ugly and crude cover artwork of Bite the Bullet, and the general aesthetic of Sledgeback I was expecting fist-in-the-face politicised streetpunk. I was surprised that this wasn’t quite what I got. In fact, Sledgepunk sound less like hyper-fast aggressive speedpunk than they do boozey, nostalgic, distorted-melodic Gainesville punk rock. I’m reminded of late-90s / early 00s outfits like Gunmoll, f’rex, or prototypical G-ville sound bands like Sunderland’s Leatherface and LA’s Jawbreaker . Sledgeback aren’t really that close to these bands, but that’s what I’m reminded of rather than, say, Casualties or Unseen or Rebel Spell or the street-punk outfit of your choice.

What you have here is unpretentious, stripped-down punk rock, mostly hovering around the mid- to high-tempo watermark, with a strong Eastern European edge to the vocals courtesy of Szakácsi’s Hungarian origins. The music’s simple but effective, with good melodies and all the ingredients you’d expect: the vocals can be a little tricky to follow thanks to the aforementioned accent, but they’ve been brought forward in the mix and the unusual (to me, at least) voice helps the band stand out a little from their punk rock peers.

Opening track ‘Palinka’ sets the tone pretty well. It seems palinka is a potent  Hungarian fruit brandy (about 40 to 80% proof, booze fans – yum) and the song is appropriately enough about getting drunk and getting laid. (Or perhaps it’s a bit more ironic than that: the last lines are “The palinka is the best lover they say / ‘Cuz it’s never talking back and always gets you laid”.) The song itself has a traditional-sounding rhythm; in my notes I’ve jotted down “combat boot hoe-down” but I wonder if the rhythm is actually derived from trad. Hungarian music to tie in with its subject matter. Either way, it’s a catchy tune.

Other songs are more melancholy, such as ‘A Mile Away’, which I guess is a song about being sat in one’s car on a Friday night, no job and plenty of problems, far away from home comforts and friends. Then there’s ‘Dead City’, a track which really reminds me of Leatherface or maybe even a little Murder City Devils: simple but hooky lead layered over thick, fuzzy melodic guitars, all with that raspy voice over the top.

There are some small moments of experimentation which come across as a little ill-advised. The moody ‘Don’t Look Down On Me’ is such an example; a simpler and slower tune, it has some echo effects on the vocals which don’t work well. On the other hand, Szakácsi’s rasp fits in nicely with the tone and pace of the tune.

Bite the Bullet is not an album that will amaze listeners or adjust the boundaries of punk rock, but it’s a distinct piece of music which you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by.

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