Essential listening for anyone with an ear for uncompromising, politicised rock sounds.
Mike Diver 2009
It’s unusual to see a deluxe version of an album hit shelves just six years after its original release, but such was the appetite for material amongst the Million Dead faithful that it makes perfect sense to reissue their out-of-print 2003 debut with extensive live and promo footage, plus a spread of bonus tracks, in a hardback book-style package.
The band’s remained in the press thanks to the ever-rising profile of their frontman Frank Turner, who has transformed himself since Million Dead’s spilt in 2005 from hardcore screamer to folk troubadour. Throughout A Song to Ruin the lyricist crams as many words as he can into the gaps between cascading drum beats and frenetic riffs, occasionally unbalancing the compositions with his rhetoric but mostly delivering rallying cries that match the might of the music around them well.
The London-based four-piece were no strangers to the road, their hard-touring attitude winning them loyal fans nationwide, and the music press was no less impressed: A Song to Ruin attracted a multitude of positive reviews. Although founder guitarist Cameron Dean left after the release of this album, the band went on to record another excellently received slice of British hardcore, 2005’s Harmony No Harmony. But it’s for their debut that Million Dead will always be most fondly remembered.
Lead single Smiling at Strangers on Trains set the scene well for what would follow on its parent album: loquacious lyricism coupled with the sort of ferocious post-hardcore dynamics that characterised so much Scandinavian punk. (The name Million Dead was even taken from a song by Swedish band Refused, so at the merchandise desk influences were literally worn on sleeves.) Breaking the Back, their next single, presented a heavier groove-based sound to the fore, with guitars chewing their way through speaker cones and Turner electric with eloquent ebullience.
Ultimately Million Dead burned so brightly, so early, that they were never likely to last the distance, but A Song to Ruin is a welcome reminder of one of the UK’s best-ever hardcore bands at their passionate best. The DVD footage, including their last-ever London show at the Camden Underworld (which this writer was at – that’s me crowd-surfing, sorry), is a neat bonus, but the album speaks for itself. Essential listening for anyone with an ear for uncompromising, politicised rock sounds.