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Benefits unleash their furious invective on the state of the nation with NAILS


Release date: 21 April 2023
Benefits nails art
20 April 2023, 09:00 Written by Greg Hyde

The UK’s political situation in the early 2020s is enough to make even normally moderate observers scream.

Some heavily politically charged music from artists as diverse as slowthai and Bad Breeding has been written in response to the atmosphere of malaise that continues to permeate the country. In this year, however, I’ll wager that few artists will come close to recording musical protests against our ongoing state of misrule that are as angry as NAILS, the debut album from Teesside noise collective Benefits. This is a record that can barely contain its fury at the state of the nation, its broadsides as eloquent and poetic as they are despairing.

Lead vocalist Kingsley Hall has spoken of his strong desire to keep Benefits anchored in the musical (not just the spiritual) realm of punk, despite their growing deployment of electronic instrumentation across their songs. NAILS succeeds in this aim. Lead single “Warhorse” exemplifies the band’s approach to marrying these two contrasting musical forms very effectively. The song opens with some up-tempo, Pissed Jeans-esque drumming that are joined by some humming synths after a few seconds as Hall yells to the listener about how sick he is of being told to “tighten [his] belt.” He then snarls, Johnny Rotten-style: “Recognise your enemy / Let them rot […] let them fuckin’ rot.”

The electronic instrumentation on tracks such as “Flag” actually bolsters the music’s punk credentials rather than undermining them. The drum machines add a rhythmic quality to Hall’s lyrical excoriations of jingoistic reactionaries who like to “imagine some good old days [they] think existed” that makes the distortion playing underneath his vocals sound even more attention-grabbing than it would do otherwise.

Despite the overwhelming bleakness and pessimism of the music and lyrics that have preceded it, “Council Rust”, the closing track on NAILS, offers the listener the barest of slithers of optimism about the future of the island about which it was written. Hall’s narrator resolves “to never let them grind me down / To never let the bastards win / To stay alert” to the accompaniment of some contemplative orchestral sounds. After half an hour of poetic fury, this semi-hopeful resolution is an intriguingly ambiguous note on which to close such a caustic record. The lyrics’ (very) cautious optimism feels hard-won after so many outpourings of despair. Whether it will be rewarded with societal improvements is anyone’s guess. What is for sure is that with NAILS, Benefits have delivered an unusually powerful debut album.

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