For a band that have experienced somewhat difficult beginnings, Viet Cong make sure their audience know exactly where they’re coming from. Enduring the acrimonious break-up of former band Women – resulting from a notorious on-stage bust up in 2010 – together with the untimely death of former guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012, has no doubt had a residual affect on the Canadian punk rockers, who have responded in a most brooding fashion.
Labelled in some quarters as “labyrinthine post-punk”, the band’s eponymous debut bears all they hallmarks of the genre – moody, disillusioned, conflicting – to the point that they almost feel rooted in a bygone era. Channelling the likes of Joy Division, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Viet Cong discharge their own brand of generation disillusionment via the raspy vocals and unyielding bass work of frontman Matt Flegel, amply supported by some archetypal pounding drums, clanky guitar and distorted synth backing.
Despite immediately establishing an atmosphere of unadulterated gloom, none more so than on the austere, almost suffocating opening track ‘Newspaper Spoons’, Viet Cong are wise to the importance of melody which they proceed to slowly inject in requisite amounts. While the rhythmic qualities of ‘Pointless Experience’ matched with the outlandish, almost oriental strains of ‘March of Progress’ demonstrate an elevation of stature, the album’s strongest point is unequivocally it’s mid-section. The sheer intensity of tracks like ‘Bunker Buster’, Continental Shelf’, and ‘Silhouettes’ show Viet Cong at their very best, a band relentlessly changing gears to create a vigorously destructive sound. In true post-punk style the lyrics range from the subtly political to the overtly despondent, and while Flegel spits defiantly about being “pitilessly synchronised”, “illegitimate merchandise” and “being violated”, his passionately fierce delivery on closing track ‘Death’ (a tribute to the late Remier), reflects the band’s more poignant origins.
Given their sparse, abrasive sound and retro inclinations, its difficult to place Viet Cong in a modern context, (the band’s name alone being reference to a time departed), but what they’ve accomplished on this brief, yet unshakeable debut is certainly food for thought. Given the times we live in, and with full consideration to the reactionary birth of post-punk music, perhaps a band like Viet Cong are more relevant today than ever.