U.K. buzz bands are a dime a dozen, and so Savages’ quick ascension to the top of the 2012 hype heap could very easily be dismissed. However, the London post-punk quartet quickly distinguished itself with its full commitment to disruption. Singer Jehnny Beth—whose vocals combine Siouxsie Sioux dramatics with Karen O hiccups—united with Ayse Hassan’s doomsday bass and Gemma Thompson’s grayscale guitar slashes to create a bleak landscape where relationships resembled a violent horror movie, and sexuality was capable of inflicting grievous injury. Live, Savages were even more terrifying: Video footage of early gigs felt like a relic from the late ’70s, when bands like The Slits, The Cure, and The Pop Group ripped up established rules and built post-punk from the ground up, one confrontational song at a time.
Indebted to various aspects of all three of those bands, Savages’ full-length debut, Silence Yourself, builds on this promise. For a young band, the group is incredibly self-assured and adept at flouting convention. Abrasive guitars spackled with spidery noise and saw-toothed distortion shudder above scorching bass influenced by dub disco, pogo-punk, and even hardcore, as well as martial drumming that’s just a smidgen warmer than Joy Division’s Teutonic rhythms. Taken separately, these influences are nothing special. However, together they form pockets of pummeling aggression, with highlights including the Fugazi-esque “No Face,” taut “Husbands,” and shrieking two-step “Hit Me.”
The trick to Silence Yourself’s overall success is that Savages temper their furious moments with more measured songs, which creates ominous tension. The two-minute instrumental death march “Dead Nature” is nothing but spooky, disorienting sound effects and eerie silence, while “Waiting For A Sign” blooms from dirge-like verses into noisy choruses full of thick, furious riffs. Better still is the album-closing gothic ballad “Marshal Dear,” on which macabre piano, a skronking woodwind, and Beth’s regal croon combine for a swooning, fatalistic farewell. This juxtaposition of dissonance and beauty adds more friction to Silence Yourself’s atmosphere, transforming a potentially monochromatic record into something with intriguing depth.