You probably have an image of Frank Carter in your mind. Leaning out into a moshpit, stripped to the waist with nearly every spare inch of flesh covered by a tattoo and screaming so hard the tendons in his neck threatening to burst through the skin.
It’s a perception of Carter cemented back when he raised himself over the parapet as the frontman of Gallows, the vital hardcore act for which he was the righteous anger-fired totem-head and while anyone listening to Modern Ruin can hear that Frank Carter shouting back across the years, he’s only one small part of the picture. Something the second Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes album makes abundantly clear in its sheer scope, scale and audacity.
Even taken next to the first Rattlesnakes album, 2015’s incendiary Blossoms, Modern Ruin is the most complete record Carter has made. Pulling together so many different strands to weave its story in a way that will surprise and delight both ardent fans and those with only a passing knowledge of Carter’s journey so far.
“We’re multi-faceted people. Humans are incredibly complex in their nature and I want to embrace that,” notes Carter today. “The problem that people have found with me is that they don’t really know how to judge an artist on their output when it’s so eclectic. But that’s me, unfortunately. I’m a complicated guy. I like a lot of things.”
Having found himself at a creative impasse, Carter left Gallows after two era-defining albums, Orchestra of Wolves in 2006 and 2009’s Grey Britain, to embark on a new project, Pure Love. While Pure Love’s muscular melodic rock wasn’t a complete volte-face artistically, he found people weren’t ready to accept quite as sudden a change of direction from a performer who had been such an intrinsic part of the hardcore landscape. “I was really surprised at the number of people that just couldn’t accept it,” he recalls. “It was such a shock to these people that they just could not digest it. They couldn’t even understand what happened, because to them, I am aggression, that’s all I was. So that 90-degree turn was a bit too abrupt. It’s like if you’ve got a car that’s going 100 miles an hour and you try and make a hairpin turn: you’re going to struggle.
Carter laid Pure Love to rest after just one album, 2013’s superb Anthems, and the following two years saw him navigate an intense storm of tragedy, doubt, negativity and life-changing adjustments. Having nearly turned his back on music completely, he emerged from the flames with a new band and a new album, which he poured his pain into. If Blossoms was a cathartic howl into the void, filled with a fire and energy familiar to his roots in hardcore punk, listening to Modern Ruin, it’s almost inconceivable that it was written immediately after its predecessor was finished, such as the breathtaking leap forward it takes musically, sonically and emotionally.
“I think there’s never been a clearer progression in a band than these two albums,” says Carter. “Blossom was cathartic in an incendiary, explosive, very instant way. This is more like a slow blood-letting process. It’s been as cathartic, if not more cathartic, as what we did in Blossom, but it’s been a much more controlled process.”
Giving the band time to stretch themselves and experiment in the studio, that process has paid off in spades. Opening with the gently woozy, rueful lament of Bluebelle, Modern Ruins leaps into the thundering Lullaby. Drummer Gareth Grover’s hammer of the gods pounding ricocheting off Dean Richardson’s piledriving guitars and hurtling into the one-two punch of Snake Eyes’ blood-splattered regret like a pinball machine.
“I needed to surround myself with musicians that were, by my standard, much better than myself,” recalls Carter. “That meant I felt completely out of my depth. It drove me to want to do better, I was really reaching and trying to find new ways of doing everything.”
The most instant manifestation of that is in Carter’s vocals. At one moment a beautiful, hushed croon, the next a soaring, soulful wail the next – of course – a full throttle, larynx-fraying scream.
“I brought the intensity of delivery down in order to find where I could place these songs properly in my vocal range,” he notes. “The minute I found that it was like someone had given me the keys to the fucking library - ‘Here you go, all of the information’s here, go and get whatever you want.’ I always thought in the studio you go 1000% and whatever you leave there is left and committed forever. This time around, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go hard when it calls for that and the other times, I’m going to go clever. I’m going to try and make something of myself and prove to myself that I should be doing this. I never really believed that when I was a kid, I always felt a bit like a fraud. Now for the first time in my life I understand that this is what I was born to do, this is why I’m here. This is my reason for living.”
While Carter found the keys to the library as a performer, musically Modern Ruin flicks through an entire Dewey Decimal System of textures, sounds and moods. From the numbed desert blues of Acid Rain to the epic sprawl of closing track Neon Rust - a dreamlike, semi-dystopia casting its sights forward to the world Carter’s baby daughter will inherit. It is in Carter’s opinion “the best song I’ve ever written”.
Lyrically these songs don’t pull any punches. When writing, Carter reached deeper into himself than he had been prepared to go previously making this his most honest set of songs to date. Songs that scrape away at the complexities of human relationships, the struggle of life and the terrible unknowns that keep us awake at night. It’s a record about where we are right now and the ruins that our lives and achievements will leave behind once we’re gone.
“I wanted to make a classic album, and with Modern Ruin, we’ve made a record that takes you on a journey, the same way all of my favourite records did when I was younger. Records that really changed my life: Adrenaline by Deftones, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence by Glassjaw, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Volume 4. by Sabbath, Nevermind by Nirvana. All of these records take you on a journey, they enable a band to show us versatility and they enable the artists to put a flag in the sand and say, ‘This is who I am’. I’ve never really had a flag that truly says that in one bold statement until now, and that’s what Modern Ruin is. You can put this on and get a lot closer to understanding the whole of me from this one record.”
It’s time to meet the real Frank Carter.
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