It has been 22 years since Poison Idea first called it a day, and nine since a reformed group recorded Latest Will And Testament. In between those dates and in the intervening years, various reformations, splits and line-up changes have characterised the band’s movements, as well as the sad and untimely death of guitarist Tom “Pig Champion” Roberts in 2006. Last year a tantalising list of European tour dates was withdrawn due to lack of planning, but a rescheduled trip for this May has coincided well with the release of the band’s first new material in years - Confuse & Conquer - on Southern Lord Records. For those who don’t know the band, their brand of furiously nihilistic hardcore music, cut with a hard rock sensibility, will not take long to brand itself into your cerebral cortex. They have always had a knack for creating violent and confrontational music which nevertheless contains hidden layers, casting a viciously satirical swipe at social ills one minute and turning the spotlight inwards on personal turmoils the next.
Their newest release shows no signs of them slowing down, from the machine gun drumming which opens ‘Bog’ onwards. This opening gambit harks back to the band’s mid ‘80s roots, but this is an anomaly - for the most part. Confuse & Conquer follows the meatier and more metallic style of 1990’s classic Feel the Darkness. The chord progressions, squealing guitars and atmospheric “whoas” which mark ‘Me & JD’ (the album’s second track) are perfect examples of this, as is the piano which begins ‘Psychic Wedlock’ in much the same manner as the one which opened ‘Plastic Bomb’ at the beginning of Feel the Darkness. Every track is laced with the same anger as they could muster 30 years ago - even the strange rockabilly stomp of ‘Hypnotic’, probably the slowest you’ll ever hear the band play, is redolent with quietly violent intent.
It is definitely during their heavier moments when the band really hit stride, the ferocious inferno cut with a clear musicianship which was absent from so many of their peers. Stomping the line between metal and hardcore into the dust under their boots, they mesh genres like others only wish they could - songs like ‘Trip Wire’ and ‘Cold Black Afternoon’ showcase this perfectly. Faster moments are given a street brawling swagger, while slower and heavier sections are leant an intensity which a purely metal approach would not allow. Jerry A. still snarls with the same rage of yesteryear, and even when the lyrics aren’t exactly offering life-changing epiphanies the delivery more than makes up for it. On ‘I Don’t Know You’, he spits out the line “I never heard of you, big fucking star” with a venom which makes you glad not to be on the receiving end. Poison Idea is what it must sound like to be punched in the face and enjoy it, and if the live show matches up to the new record then we should be in for something good.