Albums Punk Forgot is a look back at excellent or important records within our community that, for one reason or another, have been lost or forgotten. It’s a tribute to those bands and releases that deserved to be heard, but maybe for some reason dropped off our radars too soon. We at Dying Scene hope to give these records the credit they deserve.
Today DS writer Robolitious takes a look back at Million Dead’s Harmony No Harmony and its underrated place in post hardcore history. You can read his take on the album below.
Whether you’ve been neck deep in punk rock, or embracing mainstream rock, pop, and folk music, there’s a good chance you know who Mr. Frank Turner is. The singer/songwriter hails from Hampshire in the United Kingdom. He has gone from humble origins touring his country by train and releasing small EPs to a contract with Interscope and playing at the Olympics with his band (The Sleeping Souls) in 2012. Despite this immense success, he’s never forgotten or shied away from his youthful roots in punk rock, performing at events to save DIY spaces he grew up playing in and often performing stripped down covers of NOFX, Bad Brains, and the like. What you may not know, however, is that before his solo career took off, he played in a moderately-successful post hardcore band called Million Dead, which was absolutely fantastic.
Taking influence from bands like At the Drive-In, Refused, and Black Flag, Million Dead played a type of punk rock that featured a wide range of dynamics, quite a bit of technicality, and whose songs were written to challenge the players as well as the listeners. The band released two full length albums, the second being the focus of this piece, entitled Harmony No Harmony.
Listening through this record nowadays is quite the journey: It still stands as a perfect sophomore follow up to 2003’s A Song to Ruin, but being the first with new guitarist Tom Fowler, the band had a lot to live up to and everything to prove – and boy, did they prove it. HNH kicks off with a bang in “Bread and Circuses,” one of the best opening songs I’ve ever heard. This song in particular is incredibly dynamic (while staying fairly up-tempo for the majority of it), and if you’re just hearing it for the first time, it’s a great representation of what to expect from the rest of the album. There are songs that are reminiscent of Black Flag (see: “Plan B”, “Father My Father”) as well as songs that sound more a little bit like Cap’n Jazz (see: “After the Rush Hour,” “To Whom It May Concern” – also, keep in mind that this was recorded long before this neo emo-revival thing going on right now).
As far as playing goes, few bands compared to Million Dead. The rhythm section – composed of Julia Ruzicka on bass (now in Future of the Left) and Ben Dawson on drums (now in Mongol Horde and UK Powerviolence band Palehorse) – was tight and driving, and didn’t really contribute to the background any more or less than the guitar playing by Tom Fowler. Fowler’s style was very unique and to be honest I’m not sure how to describe it, besides being very intentional and full of surprises. There’s no doubt the guy knew how to throw parts together that were both interesting and purposeful, easily filling the holes left for separate rhythm and lead guitar parts that didn’t exist, all at the same time. And while Frank Turner was the mouthpiece of Million Dead, his lyrics and vocals resemble very little of the folk singer so many of us have fallen in love with. His pitch traveled for octaves I wouldn’t expect from him and his scream was the kind of scream I always wish newer screamo bands had – strong, not too macho sounding, yet aggressive and emotional. His lyrics were also pretty mind-blowing, referencing things from history and local geography, and finding the most beautiful ways to paint pictures about the most mundane parts of life, as in working an office job or living out of a van, as well as some grilling social commentary and introspective thoughts.
Let me be clear: Frank Turner is not the point of this article, because he was only ¼ of Million Dead. And the fact is, if he wasn’t the same person who wrote “I Knew Prufrock before He was Famous”, Harmony No Harmony would still stick out as one of the most solid, catchiest, best, and underrated post hardcore albums of all time.
I have no idea why people have stopped talking about this band. Maybe it’s because they were only around for five years. Maybe it’s because of the members’ later or current projects. And maybe it’s because they just weren’t heard by enough people. But as one who found himself completely encapsulated by this band he knew nothing about at the time of their existence, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop talking about them.