Diamonds – Crystal Ravens (mini-album)

Crystal Ravens coverIt’s only a few months since Diamonds last graced Nostalgia For Infinity; you may recall this review of the An Introduction EP. Crystal Ravens is their first official release and is also the debut release for label Allegiance Records.

I’ll refresh your memory: Diamonds play a distinct and distinctly oddball style of music that draws on disco-punk, powerviolence and the it-means-whatever-you-want descriptor spazzcore. They remind me of an Aged Yummy that grew up listening to Agnostic Front and Born Against alongside !!! and Tortoise. That comparison is unfortunately a bit meaningless; they do fall down a bit here. If you’ve ever heard Deep Elm’s Free Diamonds there are some similarities there, though Diamonds are drawing on hardcore and metal subgenres rather than emo and punk.

The oddball nature of the seven songs on offer here is endearing, though at times where the band unleash their more ferocious moments I found it hard not to wish the songs had more sonic meat on their bones. Perhaps it’s just a restriction due to production costs, a necessity of equipment set-up, or even just my personal preference, but without a thick and full sense of heaviness and volume or even just a hard edge – to support moments of feral posturing it falls a little flat.

This is a little unfair, though, as it’s focusing overly on one small element of the band’s music. There’s a lot to like and little to diss, provided you’ve got the time for unpredictable, improbable yet danceable music. Plus it’d be cool to see these guys live at a hometown show; the idea of fly disco moves exploding into pit action for the chuggy mosh-ready sections is appealing.

The first three tracks – ‘Cheers De Beers’, ‘The Nightlife Raped the Stourbridge Diamonds Skeleton’ and ‘Incinerate the Incinerator’ – are reproduced from the demo, although the order has been changed up and they’ve either been re-recorded or re-mastered to an impressive degree. The new tracks kick off with ‘Diamonds Cutter’, opening up with a lightning-fast rhythm led by some intense drumming. Between the fast guitar work and dual vocals it gets a little muddy at points, but then it pulls back into what feels like a rhythm that never quite commits. It’s a red herring, however; the song seems to end before its climax, falling silent for several seconds before it bursts back in with a squall of noise. The opening made it stand apart from the three earlier songs, initially sounding like a more traditional noisy hardcore tune than anything we’d heard from Diamonds previously, but the direction it takes from there seems deliberately judged to fox anticipation.

It’s followed by ‘A Maths Paper Tomorrow’ which is all plodding pace, rolling drums and a sinister tone that recalls Blacklisted. Whether it’s an intentional tip of the hat or not I can’t say, but regardless it’s a cool tune despite being a lot simpler than its companions. Next up is ‘Black Diamond Bus to Blackheath’, which takes a different tack yet again: the delay/sustain sound on the guitars has a very 80s new-wave/goth/post-punk sound to it, with the plaintive West Midlands vocals fitting the tone well. Things kick off for the last 45 seconds or so, with crunchy guitar, thudding drums and screamed vocals sounding more like the Diamonds we’ve come to recognise.

The final track, ‘Everywhere is Stourbridge High Street’, is slow and screechy with minimal drums and plenty of hanging chords; unfortunately the vocal technique masks the lyrics, which is a shame given how often the band write about Stourbridge. There must be something there, huh?

Crystal Ravens is an impressively varied mini-album; not everything on it has the same punch but the band are evidently keen to experiment and push themselves. The downside to this obsession with experimentation is that the record doesn’t cohere very well, but there’s so much character in the band’s songwriting and musicianship that everything here is identifiably Diamonds anyway.

Official site | MySpace | Allegiance Records


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