Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Label: Sub Pop
While some heralded The Hawk is Howling (2008) as a return to Mogwai’s strong beginnings, it’s not the most subtle or thoughtful work of the spacey guitar-noodlers’ career. That album’s boisterous instrumental noise can certainly be confused for renewed energy with Mogwai’s trademark flurry dominating so many of its songs. Yet cranking up the volume repeatedly didn’t have the same punch as it did on Young Team, nor the novelty of that anticipated first effort. Doing everything bigger works for many of Mogwai’s ideas, yet this approach ignores considerable talent for mining as much zest as possible out of relatively static melodies.
Nevertheless, The Hawk is Howling made it pretty clear Mogwai hadn’t lost their edge, and Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will proves they still know what to do with it. The textures are just as varied but Mogwai reigns in the booming fury – more carefully straining those guitars and letting the layers breathe a little bit instead of piling them high. Again Mogwai reunited with a producer from their past, this time Young Team producer Paul Savage, and a lot of what made that project great – the surprising way the songs flow together and everything about “Like Herod” with its suspenseful wandering in between crushing peaks – similarly does so here.
As usual, Mogwai’s deceptively contained tracks are the most effective (and surprisingly, memorable), a lot hitting the speakers at once, though in an amazingly deliberate manner. “Mexican Grand Prix”, one of a few tracks with vocals, does wonders with the way it wraps its various sounds around a square drum beat and avoids making the vocal contribution too important. Groaning organ kicks off the track with voices – either soft and buried or tweaked out and bristling – coming in after, sparring with a guitar lick that ascends slowly and sharp pulses of another wrapping things up. “San Pedro,” “Rano Pano” and the standout closer “You’re Lionel Richie” make more obvious nods to metal, the latter’s stretched out runtime and growling climax bursting forth from a fairly sedate lounger. Even on the the soft twilight of “Letters to the Metro” – a song that avoids bearing its teeth altogether – Mogwai puts some piano here and sighing guitar there, but keeps it all firmly in the confines of a teasing, firm pace.
Mogwai likes big sounds, and does them as well any post-rock contemporary, but what’s really impressive is their sense of control. Seven albums in, maintaining that technique is much more important than sounding gigantic, and it’s decidedly what makes Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will so worthwhile.