Poison Ruïn : Härvest
Disclosure: As I listen to this record for the fifth time, notes beside me from previous listens and coffee at the ready to stoke those unholy compositional fires within me, I am currently roasting alive in my apartment which—in the year of our lord 2023—still has building rather than unit air conditioning and has not yet switched over from heat to A/C. As a result, the balmy pre-thunderstorm weather outdoors has translated to 80-plus degrees inside with little to no method of respite. We have our personal A/C unit set to the lowest possible temperature and a large standing fan circulating air as best we can, as many doors closed and windows opened to equalize out the temperature, but all this does is lesson the baking heat rather than eliminate it. These conditions, it turns out, are damn near perfect for listening to Poison Ruïn‘s debut album, Härvest, which splits the difference between mid-paced melodic hardcore and, of all things, dungeon synth. I was one of the few, it should be said, to have skipped this band during their rise, purely on the basis of that dungeon synth association, a genre that I find lands exactly at the worst intersection of my interests in epic fantasy literature, new age, programmatic and imagistic music and ambient.
Well, egg on my fucking face, right? It turns out, duh, that containing those fantastical voyages of synth-driven image-making into digestible chunks broken up by that most base and eternally powerful music, melodic punk, does more than enough to cut the bullshit and bring out a richer conceptual core to the music than dungeon synth left by its lonesome anyway. I may have built a reputation here as the big prog fan, that or the one into abstract electronic music and heavy metal, but groups like Bad Religion and Black Flag were some of my first musical loves, situated as I was in the hinterlands strung up between Richmond and D.C., two major punk/hardcore capitals of the east coast. Poison Ruïn do a great job of marrying not only finely-tuned simplified tunes, keeping things pared down to power chords and Motörhead-style progressions more often than not, but also perfectly sun-baked cassette crackle to their music. It’s a little touch, but that gentle nudge teleports me instantly back to my youth, Walkman shoved deep in my pocket to avoid the detection of teachers and parents on boring trips, hardcore tapes blasting into my ears. That steaming crackle mixed with the now very real steaming of my skin in this heat makes me feel like I’m behind the lawnmower again, barking out as best as my fragile lungs and little chest could to the music that made me brave enough to face the regressive nightmare of the ’90s and 2000s.
Punk has often struggled in its 50-ish years of life against the twin poles of its existence, one being the untamed ferocity of the imaginations of otherwise untrained musicians, not allowing technical proficiency or social class inhibit their movement toward ecstatic and forceful art creation, with an at-times regressive and deeply conservative aesthetic palette, often finding itself culturally at ends as punks and hardcore kids contemplate whether the aesthetics of heavy metal or the fantasist elements of prog or the arthouse abstraction belongs in their space. The efforts we’ve seen to cross these divides wind up often siding with one element or the other, with remarkably few groups attempting a true fusion of the naive-art swagger of punk at its most simple and stupid (said lovingly!) with vast vision. So, while Poison Ruïn’s vision here is perhaps not quite so grand as to be called “vast,” their fusion here of dungeon synth and punk rock, a kind of retronymic development of how hardcore-derived black metal groups used the same elements, certainly has its charm and quite obviously a lot of still-untapped potential.
None of these means a god damn if the songs aren’t there, though. On this mark, Poison Ruïn gives us a solid set, containing melodies and lines that are easy enough to sing along to after only a couple listens. That hooliganism, the crowd chant-along, is a storied tradition in punk, a way to bring in the masses rather than using a virtuosic performer who acts more as spectacle than communal song. The songs at times even seem to resemble Led Zeppelin if they were fronted by Dave Vanian of The Damned, a curious but compelling fusion sound. There is a niggling frustration, which is that this band seems currently to lean in part more on potential than on fully realized material, but minor successes of this record indicate two important things which make this a more than adequate debut: first, that there’s a lot more space to be mined in the brackish water of these two genres, as amply demonstrated by this material; and, secondly but most importantly, that this seems like a hell of a lot of fun live in the pit, soaked to the bone with the same sweat and heat that I am now at my computer.
In truth, I had been cooler on this record (ha!) prior to sitting down to draft in this packed club-replicating humidity and heat, but the way it called to mind what should have been obvious to me before, the obvious live and lived nature of punk at its best, revealed that vibrant edge to this record that suddenly made sense why they were signed in the first place. Given a few years and a couple more records, I can easily see some deeply exciting records coming from this group off of the promise of this debut.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.