It’s been 25 years since UK underground legends Huggy Bear put out a record, but Chris Rowley’s voice is recognisably rugged and charged from the opening moments of the debut album from his new band Adulkt Life. Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t released anything in the interim, but Rowley sounds just as vital as he did then, not showing any of his 55 years or the fact that has children – that is, until you look into the lyrics, where you might catch the odd mention of fatherhood and pets among the barrage of burns, bruises and decapitations.
Supposedly, Rowley just didn’t feel compelled to be in a band for the last last two and a half decades, but once he met John Arthur Webb of Male Bonding, “suddenly it felt super exciting.” The resulting Adulkt Life, completed by bassist Kevin Hendrick and drummer Sonny Barrett, make music that’s not too distant from Huggy Bear. Book of Curses is full of the same kind of super-charged guitar smashes, in-your-face instrumental scorches, and abstract-yet-pointed lyricism – Adulkt Life just just sound a bit more modernised, with the production allowing each element to really buzz and batter.
All of this is immediately brought to the fore on Book of Curses’ opening track “Country Pride”, where we’re introduced by a squiggle of sax, before slabs of guitar and bass synth pound their way into the picture. In this fray, Rowley announces: “You wanted muscles / Give me some manners,” at once conjuring both the sneering young punk he used to be and the middle-aged father he now is. The key is in his delivery though, which puts his dissatisfaction forward, the tip of Adulkt Life’s sonic missile, and it remains the focal point throughout.
Book of Curses is an album of loud protest music, and even if it’s often hard to fully comprehend Rowley’s scattered lyricism, there’s no denying the urgency of their instrumental flurry, which makes his frustration land like body blows. “Taking Hits” finds him buffeted by the bullshit of the world around him, but standing tall and ready to keep fighting as zombified post-punk emboldens his bolshiness. “Stevie K” is a punk tornado, where Rowley fully unleashes his acerbic poetry to paint a scene of complete no-hopers and the titular character, who seems to be some kind of otherworldly being come to their rescue. “Clean (But Itchy)” is pure presence, Adulkt Life showing off the muscularity of their playing with serrated waves of noise, like a sea in a thunderstorm, while Rowley demonically repeats “In your hands a ticking cock,” resulting in a pressurised punk explosion.
The dissonance with the modern world doesn’t always result in retaliation though. “Flipper” is the album’s centrepiece, and by far its longest track at four minutes, where Adulkt Life take the opportunity to stretch out a bit, using their guitar squall to create a disorienting clatter that perfectly couples with Rowley’s collection of murderous and dystopian images. Closing track “New Curfew” is an imposing lurch through a joyless near-future world, where disquieting tones build in tandem with Rowley’s numbness, rising to a riotous peak as he repeats “I don’t know what I feel when I hear sirens outside anymore.”
That Book of Curses sounds like both a continuation of Rowley’s work in Huggy Bear and an album that is very much influenced by the modern day is amazing for fans of the legendary 90s band – but worrying for what it means about the current state of the world. There may only be 26 minutes of material in Book of Curses, but the amount of unsettling ideas and reflections of modern disenfranchisement are more than enough for it to leave its impact. This is very much not the kind of music that will help you escape from the world – rather, Adulkt Life have provided the sonic kick up the arse to get you out on the front lines protesting.