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The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing / Brian Damage and Crystal (live at The Barfly) / Not Your Typical Victorians

London
10 September 2015

Sold out, The Barfly is pretty rammed tonight with the by-now-traditional rabble of goths, rockers and punks both steam and… erm… the other kind. For tonight is the launch of The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing‘s third and latest album, Not Your Typical Victorians.

As we arrive, bassist Marc Burrows is entertaining the crowd with a spot of stand-up, and the vibe is a good one as he introduces warm-up act Brian Damage and Crystal, whose music-hall parade of groan-inducing gags and actual music seems a perfect fit for London’s funniest (and also least cognisant of the laws of time and space) metal band.

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With a cult following like The Men’s, of course, most of the new stuff they play tonight, already put through its paces on the live circuit, is known to most of the heaving throng of humanity before the stage, who have yet to hear the album. I, on the other hand, was fortunate enough to hear a pre-release copy, and quite an album it is too. Where début Now That’s What I Call Steampunk (later renamed as The Steampunk Album That Cannot Be Named For Legal Reasons) was largely a collection of comedy songs that knew how to rock out, their second, This May Be The Reason The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons turned up the amps, tightened up the grooves and ramped up the social commentary while losing none of the humour.

Not Your Typical Victorians (Leather Apron) continues down this path, with an eclectic yet consistent set of snapshots into a fictionalised Victorian era that, like all the best science fiction, serves at times as a perfect vehicle for satire and comment on our own. And when I say “eclectic”, what I actually mean is they’ve achieved a sound which is perfectly at ease doing anything from a Chas And Dave style knees-up to goth-punk to balls-out Oi!, occasionally during the same song.

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Probably my favourite song here is “This House Is Not Haunted”, a genuinely creepy ghost story for atheists which oddly reminds me (in atmosphere at least) of Sol Invictus‘s “In The Rain” (although without the politically dodgy neo-folk connotations). Remember how half of William Hope Hodgson‘s Carnacki The Ghost Finder stories turned out to contain no ghosts at all? Then you’re on the right track. More classic literature is evoked on “Inheritor’s Powder”, which is to all intents and purposes an undiscovered Wilkie Collins novel discovered in a fireplace somewhere and the remnants turned into a Black Flag song by an unscrupulous realtor with impeccable taste in music.

It’s not all worryingly educational, though. “Worst Sideshow Ever” is like what would happen if the Carnival Standards Board ever happened upon Harry’s Harbour Bazaar from Tom Waits‘s The Black Rider and discovered the whole thing was a scam. Which, as far as I know, never actually happened, partly because the Harbour Bazaar was fictional, and partly because I think I may have just invented the Carnival Standards Board. But invention’s the name of the game back in steampunk London, as “Vive La Difference Engine” will attest, while sounding a bit like Conflict having a knees-up in (of course) the Queen Vic.

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A large part of what sets The Men apart from other steampunk bands is their focus on the fact that, for many if not most, life in the Victorian era was actually pretty shit. The Industrial Revolution was not without its substantial human cost, and the Empire was little else BUT human cost. “Miner”, with its ludicrously “We’re all gonna die of silicosis” breakdown, is a perfect example of this, showing the dark side of steam and industrialisation, as is “Clean Sweep”, though the latter is also home to their most groan-inducing gag since Now That’s… gave us Victorian Grindcore, and is all the better for it. “How I Became An Orphan” gives us a litany of disease.

It’s their apparent mission to show the world that steampunk isn’t all about airships. (Iron Maiden get away with doing songs about airships because they’re actual true airships, not sky-pirate toffs and not steampunk; and also, of course, because Iron Maiden). “Third-Class Coffin” you may have heard as a single, but it’s still one of the chunkiest, angriest and most awesome songs they’ve done; if you want toe-tapping accessibility, then “I’m In Love With Marie Lloyd” is the one for you, a tale of celebrity obsession nailed to Kinks-style English psyche-pop, with Andy Heintz doing his very best Bowie for the occasion. “Turned Out Nice Again” is like the worst ever TripAdvisor review for “fucking London Town” itself, which is equally applicable to the modern era if you catch the place on a bad day.

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And if after all that you need a drink? Fan favourite “The Gin Song” rounds the whole thing off with a nightcap. And a later nightcap. And an early morningcap. And a lunchtimecap. And an oh fuck I’m supposed to have been working in the cotton mill since five hours agocap.

It’s no lie to say that this is their best album yet, and follows the trajectory laid down by …Conventional Weapons without, of course, forgetting to spin off at random bizarre tangents. They’re already one of the UK’s best live bands, and there’s no better time to jump on the Necropolis railway than right now. Fuck knows where they’ll end up, but smart money’s on somewhere hilarious, rocking and awesome. So probably not Penge, then.

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Meanwhile on stage, Marc’s warning the crowd to mosh safe, citing the example of an audience member at their last Garage gig who managed to get quite badly injured. And who is also a friend of mine, who is gutted to miss the shout-out, and will hopefully not be too mortified about having it brought up again in this review.

The new stuff’s going down a storm, as expected, and people already have their favourites. But they’re not neglecting their history any more than they’re neglecting ours, so we get a stream of classics, from the Cthulhu-bothering “Margate Fhtagn” to the pop-punk polemic of “Doing It For The Whigs” and the insanely bouncy and bouncily insane “Bedlam”.

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Horns are thrown, asses are moshed off, and polite society is punched in the dick. “Charlie” still sounds as fresh and fun as ever, and they even play “Moon”, which I don’t think I’ve seen them do since a Nambucca gig several years ago.

After being almost kippered by Heintz’s throat cancer, they’ve come back stronger and better than ever. And they’re only gonna get bigger, so my advice is next time they play grab a ticket early, because they’re currently the best rock show in town.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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