31 March 2021

Borstal- At Her Majesty’s Pleasure

There are few scenes in the history of rock music as beloved as the New York Hardcore scene. Whether it’s Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags or Sick Of It All, the bands from this scene have the highest pedigree, and therefore a lot of imitators. Despite being made up of members of underground UK bands, Borstal have decided to ape the sound of NYHC. Many have tried, but will Borstal be able to deliver the quality that many others have failed to? 

Once the initial sample at the start of opener Refuse To Lose, it’s fairly apparent what we’re in for with At Her Majesty’s Pleasure as a whole. Beefy, mid-paced riffs with thrashy bursts of speed. In other words, classic NYHC. This is the record’s biggest strength, and its biggest weakness. If, like me, you love all things hardcore, you’ll like this. If you’ve got a more discerning ear, or dislike NYHC generally there’s not a lot here for you.  

Now that we’ve weeded out the people with no chance of liking this album, you may be wondering exactly where this lands on the quality scale. The performances from all band members are solid here, with the drumming during mid-paced sections being particularly enjoyable. While some of the riffing is fairly bland NYHC fair, there’s nothing I would describe as less than good- and there are even a few excellent riffs here and there. The opening riff on Karma is great- a perfect riff for punching holes in walls, which has been my bench mark for good hardcore riffs for a long time now. Vicious Circles’ thrashy riffing is also wonderful, it’s the sort of thing I’d love to hear more of on future releases. 

There are plenty of instances great gang vocals here as well. A good gang vocal simultaneously delivers increased impact and a feeling of togetherness. Often, they’re used to deliver a catchy little slogan. While there aren’t many memorable slogans here the gang vocals are still deployed well. On Karma they are used to set up quite a catchy refrain on the chorus. It’s a little bit of a shame then that this is over shadowed so much by what is the best use of gang vocals on the best track on the record. It’s even more of a shame that the best track is a cover. 

The EP closes on a cover of The Last Resort’s King Of The Jungle. It does say something that I think the best written song we have on the EP is a cover, but the beefier, grittier, and altogether better production on this version does elevate it slightly and the triumphant gang vocals on the closing refrains of “he’s the king of the jungle” just warm my little punk soul. 

Overall At Her Majesty’s Pleasure is an enjoyable EP for fans of hardcore, but it never quite sets the world alight. The quality is solid but never spectacular and Borstal never push anything new or surprising. If you’re a big fan of classic NYHC and don’t need anything else then you should check this out. I’m excited to hear what Borstal do next. Putting an actual rating on this record is difficult, but I’ve tried to balance my instinctive love of this sound with my knowledge and understanding that, ultimately, there are things out there that are much more interesting, innovative and exciting- and that’s okay not everything needs to be that. 

 

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure is out 1st April via 4 Family Records, and can be purchased here

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