Dark, dissonant, intense, eclectic, passionate; all of these words and more can be used to describe the self titled debut album of British post-punk This Heat. They formed in 1976 in Camberwell, England, headed by drummer and multi-instrumentalist Charles Hayward. Among his ranks were guitarist Charles Bullen and bass guitarist Gareth Williams.
While they are mostly known and regarded for their second album, it was on their first album where they created their unique brand of post-punk. It was characterized by their incredibly dissonant style, featuring atonal guitars, jaunty basslines, ghostly vocals and off-kilter drumming. They also incorporated electronic music into their works by manipulating the tapes of their own recordings and introducing harsh synthesizers.
The strengths of the album are tied to the strength of the artists. They know how to write a compelling rock track that sucks you into the dark world that the album displays. “Horizontal Hold” is hands down one of the greatest rock tracks and opening tracks of all time. It’s a nightmarish, polyrhythmic track that reminds me of what Swans would do on Filth a few years later. The bass mixing is perfect, being incredibly in your face and groovy. The drumming is just as good; Hayward finds a perfect blend between improvisational drumming and laying down a consistent beat.
The next great rock track is “24 Track Loop,” which takes all of these elements featured on this song and ramp it up with electronic meddling and distortion. “Rainforest” is the closest thing to a straight up punk track on this record, but that’s mostly due to its volume, length and speed. The trio lay down a scathing instrumental punk track in just three minutes.
The other side of this album are its ambient-rock hybrid projects. While a few of them have typical rock structures, more emphasis is placed on atmosphere rather than straightforward rock. “Twilight Furniture” is a great example of this, featuring heavy, tribal drumming but spacey vocals and guitar and electronic improvisations. “The Fall of Saigon” and “Not Waving” also play around with this ambient-rock style, but they are more dirge like in nature. The other tracks are cacophonous, electronic/industrial pieces that heighten the already oppressive and tense mood of the album.
In my eyes, this is an album with few weaknesses. I feel like it could have used more focused rock tracks over the electronic/industrial snippets, and the vocals aren’t quite there yet either. They’re good, but they seem to pale in comparison to the other instruments on the album, and are not present often. But still, it’s an album I love dearly due how well it all comes together. This Heat wanted to create an industrial, bleak, post-World War II and post-Vietnam landscape on This Heat, and they succeeded.
While the vocals were few and far between, they perfectly convey this sense of fear and dread when the world’s stage falls silent. It’s like standing in the eye of the storm; you’re left to sift through the damage while knowing more destruction is on its way. It’s an album that every music lover should listen to at least once, especially for people who want to get into post-punk. It may not click on the first listen, or even the second or third. But once it does, this record is incredibly easy to love.