Science vs. Religion is a debate that has raged for centuries, not least on our own shores. It’s taken a back seat over the past decade or so as we’ve ridden the wave of liberalism that often accompanies economic progress, but it’s reared its head once again in recent months with Minister Dermot Ahern’s bizarre decision to re-introduce blasphemy laws to the statute book in spite of the fact that nobody had actually asked him to.
It’s always a little awkward to watch an organism slowly cannibalise itself, but Fianna FÃ¡il’s latest catastrophe has at least led to some interesting public debate, with the internet staging eloquent (and sometimes not-so-eloquent) arguments on both sides of the issue. As such, the stage is set for Dublin science aficionados BATS to launch their fiercely opinionated debut record, Red In Tooth & Claw, on an unsuspecting public. Well, unsuspecting is a mild way of putting it: Red In Tooth & Claw’s 49-minute running time takes in topics as unusual as theoretical physics, stellar explosions and epilepsy – and that’s just the first three songs.
BATS, named in reverence to one of nature’s more finely-tuned specimens, is led by Rupert Morris, a film graduate from Dublin with a keen appreciation for science, and biology in particular. ‘We’re genuine science appreciators, enthusiasts and promoters,’ says Morris. ‘One of the main aims of BATS, for me anyway, is to promote science and fight against the decline in interest in science and rise in popularity of anti-science and pseudo-science like astrology, homeopathy, faith healing, psychics and other new age/old age practices.’
The band formed in 2006, from the ashes of another project in which three of the members were involved. Morris recaps: ‘I met Conor [McIntyre, guitar] at college; we both studied film in Dun Laoghaire. He was in a band with Timmy [Moran, bass] and Noel [Anderson, drums] called Martha Washington. He asked Craig [Potterton, guitar] and me if we’d like to jam and we began playing together in Noel’s back garden shed. It progressed from there until BATS was formed.’
Progressing quickly, the band hooked up with Dublin DIY label Armed Ambitions (now amalgamated into the Richter Collective, co-owned by Adebisi Shank drummer Mick Roe and promoter Barry Lennon) and released their debut EP, Cruel Sea Scientist, at the tail end of 2007. It was a rare statement of intent, opening with the uncompromising -Death To Kent Hovind,’ a brutal love letter to the self-styled ‘doctor’ of Creationist theory and disgraced (and currently imprisoned) tax cheat. Having wished death upon another human being (technically human, at least) right off the bat, where could they possibly go next?
Red In Tooth & Claw is itself named in honour of the most famous line from Lord Tennyson’s proto-evolutionary opus, -In Memoriam, A.H.H.’, and Morris gleefully explains the inspiration behind the 11 tracks on offer: ‘I’ve extended into some new realms certainly. There’s more physics on the album, and some chemistry; a good bit of sex too. I’ve touched on Gamma Ray Bursts, burning witches, prehistoric marine reptiles, carbon, Napoleonic naval warfare, the American purity movement, temporal lobe epilepsy… to name but a few.’
Punk rock has its fair share of snarling, agenda-driven acts, but it’s safe to say that the genre never seen anything quite like BATS. Musically, they take a little bit from every quarter. There are strong echoes of underground emo (not to be confused with modern guyliner-fuelled pop-punk) legends Circle Takes The Square in Morris’ throat-shredding vocals, while the three-pronged melodic guitar assault calls to mind math rockers Don Caballero, but there’s also a distinctly groovy, electronic dance undertone that would give even Franz Ferdinand a run for their money in the rug-cutting stakes.
Morris adds another name to the mix, that of Converge: ‘I don’t think any heavy band today can claim they’re not either directly or indirectly influenced by Converge. They’re monoliths.’ It helps, of course, that BATS managed to rope the band’s guitarist, Kurt Ballou, into producing their debut album. ‘We sought him out. We were actually amazed by the options we had. We emailed lots of producers and all of them said they’d love to do it. We also really wanted to do it with Andrew Schneider. It was a toss-up but in the end we went with Kurt. We’ll do album two with Andrew!’
The band flew into historical Salem, Massachusetts in late February to record in Ballou’s Godcity Recording Studio and, by Rupert’s own account, it was quite the eye-opener. ‘Recording was a fantastic experience,’ he enthuses. ‘Salem is a weird place, a strange mixture of commercialised witch culture and unnecessary death remembered. I think it had a really positive effect on the mood and tone of the album. Just to be out of our element, so far away from home.’
Ballou is an imposing figure in many ways, but Morris has nothing but praise for the bashful former biomedical engineer. ‘Kurt was great. [It] took some time to crack him, he’s a man of few words, but we definitely won him over with our Irish charm. He has an amazing Chihuahua called Geezer Butler. I thought I hated Chihuahuas before I met that dog.
‘It certainly was an education though. Just seeing how he did it was really interesting. He really spent a lot of time crafting a sound for each of us. He also threw his two cents in during times of uncertainty, and that really helped a lot. He himself said he wasn’t really producing because we already had a definite set of songs formed, but he definitely affected certain parts.’
Red In Tooth & Claw is scheduled for release on August 31 via the Richter Collective. Pre-orders are available from the label’s website, here.
Download: BATS – -Credulous! Credulous! (MP3)[audio:http://www.richtercollective.com/mp3/CredulousCredulous.mp3]