Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Verbal Terrorists - The War On Terra

The album cover of the year award goes to...
This second album by young Newcastle-born hiphop collective Verbal Terrorists lived up to - and even surpassed - all the expectations I had before I had the privilege of hearing it. And those hopes were already pretty high, after hearing free download No Ifs No Buts and following Nobull's Twitter feed for a few months. But yes, I couldn't have anticipated such a high standard of lyrical flow, hybrid musical experimentation and production values from a crew still only just beginning to find their voice.

In case the album title leaves you in any doubt about the concept, the intro brings it home with excellent use of sampled news soundbites. Yup, we are in a war on land and over land, not with the terrorists dangled before our eyes by a compliant mass media, but with those at the top - the bankers, the big corporations and their political servants. And this war is poisoning and destroying the resources which future generations will need to survive. In different times and in lesser hands this could sound 'preachy', but over the next fourteen tracks VT combine poetic skill with often killer delivery, and political insight with intriguing, bouncy beats, as if Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva started working with...I don't know...stic.man of Dead Prez.

But more of him later. First song Don't Believe opens with gorgeous eastern style strings, and an analysis of how the media pushes a corporate agenda, featuring a fairly lengthy - but nonetheless welcome sample of Mr Chomsky himself. Dreamer encourages us to look beyond the limited horizons of our daily lives, before Mass Production manages to rubbish consumerism without - as so often happens - rubbishing the working class people who are attracted by that illusory lifestyle. Extra points for not coming off like hippy tossers when discussing this, because I have heard too many hippy tossers lecture me about consumption! After all, "my class has to suffer for this crap to function". See hippies? All you need is class politics!

VT in action
No Ifs No Buts follows, bumping along at a steady marching pace - perfect for a track clearly shaped by the autumn 2010 student movement and the early days of UK Uncut. "No ifs no buts/No fees no cuts/No more buying lies from these evil fucks" it stridently demands. What more do you need to know? Give Thanks is a sweet moment of appreciation for the people who make struggling worthwhile, before the title track sees Nobull and Fred link up with the legendary stic.man as they revisit the album's main theme in greater detail. Stic.man's sign off of "Verbal Terrorists/RBG [Revolutionary But Gangsta] worldwide/Dead Presidents/Solidarity is the movement/Git power or git out the way/Salute!" is a very nice touch, and no doubt the stuff that dreams are made for a group who surely grew up on DP's Let's Get Free.

Actually, there are too many highlights to detail. But Root Of All Evil reminds of the truest verse in the Bible, Let's Start A Riot ("What's a broken window when you're from a broken home? They've robbed our futures - all we stole was phones") is a rapid response to the fire of August, and Build Bridges Not Borders puts immigration myths to bed whilst arguing for working class unity.

In fact, the name of that last track neatly summarises what Verbal Terrorists are all about - building bridges between working class people, between philosophical themes and between musical genres and sub-genres. Accessible without being commercial, and clever whilst still being extremely relatable, The War On Terra is far from just being a politics lesson, and it brings to mind some of the best in the artistic spirit. This is inspiring stuff, and I hope many more people get to hear it.

The War On Terra is available to download from Verbal Terrorists' Bandcamp page.
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