What do you get when you cross a dandified occultist comedian (Andrew O’Neill) with the jovial former frontman of Creaming Jesus (Andy Heintz, now rather splendidly decked out in purple muttonchop whiskers), the drummer (Ben Dawson) from Million Dead and another comedian, Marc Burrows, on bass, all with a penchant for brass eyewear and dressing up like their great-grandfathers at work, rest and war? The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing of course, which band of jolly good fellows proceed to plunder various and several favourite tropes of the nineteenth century through the medium of gorblimey musical hall skits, pub singalongs and hefty doses of decidedly anachronistic thrashouts which put TMTWNBBFN at the forefront of the VWBHM (the Victorian Wave of British Heavy Metal). Naturally, the album is available in several formats: CD, download and decidedly old-fangled retro-chic wax cylinder too.
Chugging into life on a cloud of smoke and cinders, Now That’s What I Call Steampunk! Volume 1 veers from the expectedly ribald and just plain old-fashioned filthy via some infuriatingly catchy songs – who would think to find themselves with a number about the many and varied eminent Messers. “Steph(v)ensons” of the Empire’s heyday as an earworm of an evening? – into more alternate universe material, drawing on imagery of an imaginary age of ironclad cyborg workmen and recounting a Jules Verne-referencing quiet-loud-quiet-loud ballad about an abortive balloon trip to the moon accompanied by HG Wells and Captain Nemo along the way. While the inspiration for these idiosyncratic anachronisms may owe as much to Harry Harrison -his A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! being an early classic of Victorian SF revivalism from the (Nineteen) Seventies – as to Alan Moore‘s postmodern mashup The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and hopefully not to the disastrous film which sullied a splendid work unjustly), it would also be marvellous to find some references to William Gibson & Bruce Sterling‘s seminal clockwork cyber-thriller, The Difference Engine, emerge in the steampunk genre, though that is probably for another band with a different sound.
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing prefer to rock out to the sound of that ever so modern contraption the electric guitar with occasional sonorous appearances by Victorian parlour favourite the musical saw. Songs like “Goggles” swagger gleefully in their appreciation of hard-fighting women mechanics, and the band like to keep the scene set firmly in a darkly humorous socio-historical mode with devilishly catchy refrains like “let’s go down and see the nutters in the Bedlam” from a song slumming it in the darker side of London entertainments in the notorious asylum of the same name. The virtues of a stiff upper lip and cold politeness are extolled with a twinkle in the stirring “Etiquette,” while “Charlie” re-imagines “When Father Painted The Parlour” as a rollicking shanty on the life and theories of Darwin; and there’s a perfect untitled three-second thrash vignette which encapsulates neatly one particular Victorian upper/middle class obsession with the most suitable place for children.
As with Billy Childish‘s various forays into Edwardian garage rock with the Buff Medways and the Musicians of the British Empire, the class divide makes for a rich seam of songsmithing, with “Sewer” (sounding like it was recorded live at the boozer) combining both pathos at the disappearance of working men’s graves to make way for the progress which is flush toilets with an earthy sense of singalong camaraderie. “A Traditional Victorian Gentlemens Boasting Song” provides plenty of opportunities for one-upmanship in an increasingly blue parade of bluff manly braggadocio, giving rise to what could easily be the steampunk motto – “we’re living the dream through the power of steam” – as the band thrash away like pistons at full pump (with all the innuendo milked dry long before the song’s end). But it’s the snarling “Blood Red”, with stirring samples from Zulu of Welsh male voice warfare opening a fuming shred through the geopolitical heart of militaristic darkness beating bloodthirstily at the core of Empire, which finds The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing in vituperative anti-imperial mood, and it’s here they really come into their grindcore best.