Review: The Levellers – Static On The Airwaves

 

Brighton-based folk-punk group The Levellers are a band who are full of all the pure, traditional energy that you would expect from a band who are now on their 10th album. Having consistently produced music since 1988, they have made the top ten in the album charts three times, once charting at number one, and have achievements such as attracting the biggest Glastonbury stagefront crowd and being awarded the Roots Award at last year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

The Levellers have always denied that they are a folk band, but their new album Static On The Airwaves is full of as many folk influences as the rest of their discography, with the band continuing to favour the folky liveliness of harmonicas, banjos and fiddles to create a powerful instrumental sound. With punk inspired lyrics and the traditional feel of Mark Chadwick’s vocals, they are like a gritty, well-aged Bellowhead and continue to make relevant and distinctive music.

Static On The Airwaves begins quite aptly with the buzzing sound of static, overlapped with echoed chanting and the electronic voice of Chadwick singing the introduction like a declaration of war – even in the introduction it is obvious that The Levellers have not begun to slow down yet after 24 years. From this we are thrown straight into the anthemic, part-fiddle, part-robot track We Are All Gunmen, which sounds like a dystopian post-apocalyptic national anthem.

Surprisingly, there are slower points on this album, which, with credit to The Levellers, contain just as much raw soul as the quicker tracks. After The Hurricane, the opening single of Static On The Airwaves, is a fine example of this as it begins with the distant sounds of a fiddle, before Chadwick’s sombre words, as well as the light plucks of a banjo, come in, and it is the masterful use of the array of folk instruments they use that allows The Levellers to have such variety within their songs. As the album has done from the start, After The Hurricane doesn’t take long to break into one of their characteristic booming choruses.

The album is consistently powerful all the way through, each song beginning with a crash big enough to make you forget the last. Our Forgotten Towns opens with fiddles moving quicker than I thought possible, and carries on all the way through, with the band echoing Chadwick’s words like some caffeine fuelled traditional sing-a-long. As well as energy, Static On the Airwaves shows a perfect mix of electronic – almost Steampunk feeling in places – and traditional folk; Raft Of The Medusa seamlessly mixes a throbbing electric bass with the vigourous screech of fiddles, showing that as well as doing something quite different to the majority of punk or folk musicians nowadays, they do it with unequalled passion and quality.

For album number 10, Static On The Airwaves is far from a desperate cry for attention from an ageing band, but rather a statement of authority from a band who knows exactly what they are doing, and how to do it successfully.

Josh King