Haggard Cat – ‘Challenger’

By Sam Craddock-Camp

If you don’t support the things you love, they will inevitably disappear. The music industry has undertaken a terrible sea change in recent years, with even the bands on the major labels struggling to make ends meet. The stories of Deaf Havana’s guitarist still working at the Barfly in Camden, Oh Sleeper! taking a negligible profit per show, and most recently Thy Art Is Murder’s vocalist CJ McMahon quitting the band because he made less than $10,000 in nearly a decade of touring, are rife in the alternative world.

It’s all the more frustrating when the mainstream insists on representing rock music with bands such as Royal Blood. Everything needs to be ‘safe’ and served on a platter to be swallowed by the mass market, because god forbid anyone choke on something remotely interesting. HECK were interesting. Hell, they were seven layers of mental. When they split up last year, the underground post-hardcore titans left a hole in our scene. Their manic live shows were legendary, but on their debut album ‘Instructions’ they proved themselves to one of the most creative and original bands to grace the UK.

Yet ex-HECK vocalist/guitarist Matt Reynolds and drummer Tom Marsh’s talents aren’t easily killed by traditional means. Starting life as HCBP, later rebranding as Haggard Cat, the duo combine to form a Frankenstein’s monster of different genres. ‘Challenger’ is an album that merges cocksure rock ‘n’ roll, desert rock, blues, and some down-tuned sludge for good measure.

Opener ‘The Patriot’ starts off in classic rock territory, yet subverts initial impressions almost immediately by kicking you in the face with a riff that could not be simpler, but also could not be more effective at kicking you in the face. On ‘American Graffiti’, Reynolds successfully merges both American slave chants and old fashioned sea-shanties to form one of the catchiest choruses you’ll hear this year, plus the blues rock influenced pre-chorus line “No I’m not the Devil, I’m a motherfucking God” is quite simply glorious.

It can be particularly difficult for a two-piece rock band to create a record that is accessible, varied, and engaging across the course of its run time, yet ‘Challenger’ is exactly that. The immediacy with which these songs sink their teeth into you is staggering, they hit you in the face like a runaway freight train hauling thousands of tonnes of concrete, and all you can do is get up, smile, and wait for the next one.

Haggard Cat’s influences are certainly worn on their sleeve, but when so many of the best aspects of those influences are brought together, imbued with Reynolds’ infectious personality and technical prowess, they create something monolithic in proportion. If we as a community invest our time and money into bands that only play it safe, then maybe that’s the rock music we deserve, but Haggard Cat are the band we sorely need.

SAM CRADDOCK-CAMP

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