Album Review: The Murder Capital - 'When I Have Fears'

Discomforting and relentless, The Murder Capital’s debut LP is both an assault on the senses and a modern classic holding the Irish flame aloft across the globe.

'Desperate times call for desperate measures' cries the ancient Hippocratic saying yet, despite originating about 2400 years ago, the message manages to ring true for the alarming situations we find ourselves in today. Since 2017 with the advent of IDLES’ debut record, a musical shockwave has hit Britain. Battling through turbulent political and social times, IDLES, Shame and Fontaines D.C have honed-in on punk’s brutalist tendencies and shifted them firmly into the modern era, combining the genre’s prosaic capacity for arming swathes of disparate people with the tools to strike back at the establishment. Following the release of debut record When I Have Fears, Dublin-based five-piece The Murder Capital have not so much put their foot in the door of the scene as much as they’ve blown it off its hinges completely.

Until recently, the post-punk outfit, consisting of James McGovern (vocals), Damien Tuit (guitars), Cathal Roper (guitars), Gabriel Paschal Blake (bass) and Diarmuid Brennan (drums) opted to put out just two singles, choosing to let their live shows build their rising fan-based for them. Onstage they carry the smouldering look of five old-school gangsters, pounding the Irish cobblestones, led by the vivacious McGovern, brooding like a pantomime villain on-parole. At last the simmering menace recoiling in their minds is unleashed in full-force on their visually sonic debut record.

Image courtesy of Gavin Ovoca

The suicide of a close friend led not only to the birth of the band’s name, but to the philosophy of the record. Questioning the current social and political landscape in their homeland, The Murder Capital’s debut LP is viscerally animated, demanding perfection through every twist and turn. Written across a six month period, When I Have Fears is representative of the band’s insatiable need for unity and empathy both to banish and beautify the crux of loneliness.

As the dusk settles and dust clears with For Everything’s slaughtering opening, the hysteria-filled anticipation of the Dublin art-rock quintet reaches boiling point as the chainsaw-rugged guitars pulsate an eery excitement to match the hotly-built anticipation that has risen since the band followed Fontaines D.C out of the Irish waters. Lyrics ‘I am a weightless terrified and free / The possibility of symphony within my tragedy’ highlight defiance, whilst ‘I am the underworld, the one you want to leave’ possesses a glorified darkness. Within the track’s opening ten seconds, the Dubliners manage to touch upon the whole spectre of human emotion whilst the beating heart of their historic capital flows through the live-wire drums and frenetic guitar seizures.

"The chainsaw-rugged guitars pulsate an eery excitement to match the hotly-built anticipation that has risen since the band followed Fontaines D.C out of the Irish waters."

What follows For Everything is nothing short of exceptional. McGovern relinquishes the image of a lost poet and picks up the mantle as a snarling provocateur on More Is Less, a coming of age track tackling a generational baggage handed down by virtue of blood and guilt. Lyrics ‘If I gave you what you wanted / You’d never be full / That’s the trappings of your boyish mind / Become unshakable’ highlight the band’s attempt to dismantle themselves in quiet revolution, whilst the cultish chant of ‘More and more and more’ matches the band’s propensity to hail down relentless guitar grooves upon its listener.

One of the two original singles released before the record, Green and Blue can only be described as a propulsive meeting of glam-rock and punk. As the band’s conductor relays his vocals with a dead-eyed stare into the distance, a faint essence of the natural beauty that seems to greet poets shines amongst the darkness. Gothic and indulgent, the single isolates each instrument in a world of its own, whilst lyrically the subjective nature of the verses springs to mind a thousand different stories for a thousand different people. As the tidal waves ebb and flow to the track’s intoxicating conclusion, glimpses of The Cure’s Robert Smith and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis can be seen through the bridge line of ’I felt you’, which illuminates over the ever-constant tom-drum shudder.

Came home from somewhere somehow covered in myself / Come home from nowhere somehow and now I’m someone else,’ rings the striking opening of Slowdance I, a slow-crawling, stalking beast which prowls and lurches in the same gutter that Lou Reed and Iggy Pop writhed around in five decades ago. With its stinging atonal guitar, the track is murky, anonymous and unsure compared to the elation of follow-up Slowdance II which continues along the path of its predecessor, with the five-piece weaving together intricate textures of high-line guitar before recoiling instantaneously and fading out with the help of a sombre cello arrangement.

"Slowdance I prowls and lurches in the same gutter that Lou Reed and Iggy Pop writhed around in five decades ago."

Over the course of ten tracks, The Murder Capital have managed to provide a sound that warps the electricity and danger of the streets of Dublin with the intense, literarily-captivated mind of frontman James McGovern. Whilst the five-piece retain the snarling intensity of a band who’ve had to battle their way through to where they are now, When I Have Fears follows an arch that gives space for the purging of guilt, before the exquisite moments of catharsis that follow later on. Slowdance II concludes part one of the record, and ushers in a second coming for the band.

Musically, On Twisted Ground offers a moment of respite for its listeners, but also unexpected surprises. McGovern’s vocals are steeped in reflective resonance whilst the track navigates a poignant path before being soaked in melancholic reverb and angular guitars. The piano-led How The Streets Adore Me Now further bolsters this additional dynamic to the band’s sound, but nothing could prepare the audience for the baritone gruff of McGovern’s vocals. Gone is the nonchalant Irish youngster with a point to prove; in his place lies a voice more akin to the gravelled depths of Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Johnny Cash. An unexpected ballad that proves there is a tenderness behind the raging brutality so extravagantly seen elsewhere across the LP, the ambience reverberating in the background filters in a message of hope and vitality. Whilst producer Flood lends a helping hand, having worked previously with the likes of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the finished product is a truly exceptional masterpiece, one that very few artists are ever capable of producing, let alone on their debut record.

An album of acceptance, asking its listeners to hold fear, hate and isolation within the same bracket as comfort, love and excess, When I Have Fears offers its share of poignance, but not before barraging its audience with vein-bulging alarm. As the opening spark of Feeling Fades ignites a raucous frenzy amongst his bandmates, McGovern chants lines ‘And as the feeling fades away / The tearing streets create a wave / The creeping sounds of children ring to turning toes in spring’ with the menacing gleam of a man ready for the ruckus that will follow. His introductory prose is unapologetically commandeering, entranced in the rhythmic onslaught that washes over his vocals. A blistering single released before the record as a teaser of what was to follow, nothing and nobody is spared. About as subtle as holding a gun to somebody’s head, Feeling Fades is a modern battle cry with its gnarly riff sticking its temple above the precipice, hoisting the band’s colours high in the air for all to see.

It’s no coincidence that both Fontaines D.C and The Murder Capital are springing alarming ripostes towards the Irish capital at the same time. The amalgamation of time, location, background and sheer tenacity has spurred the two Dublin bands to the point that they have not just their own capital, but the whole of Britain at their feet as well.

The dark grooves and tragic beauty of Don’t Cling To Live captures The Cure at their chart-topping peak, yet the single acts as the band’s bravest orchestration. Recorded inbetween the funeral of one member’s mother, the track accentuates a more poetic McGovern, deep in thought and reflection, as lyrics ‘The world collapses around my room’ rain down a new apocalypse. Whilst a cleaner production is present, due partly to the jangling guitar orchestration, the band channel the rawness and emptiness of death on a track more befitting to dance to. A struggle through love, loneliness and grief sits weightless upon their five shoulders, but The Murder Capital are now dancing out into the cold light of day.

"Lyrics ‘The world collapses around my room’ rain down a new apocalypse."

The quiet but violent contemplation of Don’t Cling To Life leads to the sobered ecstasy present in Love Love Love’s anti-chorus, shaped to depend upon the conflicting presence of sharpened guitars that clash alarmingly against McGovern’s spiritual wails. Able to leave a snarling final flourish of ‘goodbye, goodbye’ the singer rids his audience away amongst the noise-pool of reverberating guitar and a daunting bass trickle. Even the track’s bridge is constructed to be so gorgeously uncomfortable, keeping When I Have in a state that is tantalisingly unpredictable to the very end.

When I Have Fears attempts to hold a mirror up to emotion, reverberating an unequivocal suffering as sharp as a shard of the reflective glass that the five-piece have shattered. Across ten expansive tracks, The Murder Capital straddle the bare bones of punk, liquifying some of the genre’s icons whilst reflecting musical visionaries like Pixies, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Interpol and Joy Division, whilst the landscape of which the album speaks is both a mountain and a valley, encompassing everything and nothing at all.

A relentless crusade on the senses, the band have produced a tirade that demands attention. In an increasingly competitive industry where the pool of talent is being filled to the brim, the Dublin quintet have a product aching to be heard. When I Have Fears is a call to arms, a snarling riposte against fear and isolation that uses McGovern’s literate mind and prose to counter the maelstrom of instrumentation that swipes inroads into its listener. The wistful journey of the five-piece has been a long one, but from that they have crafted a record that bridges audacity and beauty, a beauty in the manifestation of a musical assault rifle.