British band Bear Trade follow 2014’s ‘Blood & Sand’ with another addition to their distinctive flavor of melodic punk rock. The songs on ‘Silent Unspeakable’ are uplifting sing-alongs, fast-paced but not racing. Instrumentally, they’re not dissimilar to those of American band Iron Chic, but the raw honesty in Greg Robson’s rough and very northern vocals make Bear Trade uniquely endearing.
A solid rhythm section propels these songs forward, never straying from its snappy, simplistic roots. It has no need to. Enthusiastic gang vocals join in occasionally, a staple of the genre at this stage, yet a welcome one. Chunky rhythm guitar chugs along superbly throughout, throwing hooks in every direction. Robson, who wields it, knows when to pull back and let the chords ring, a skill many bands of this genre should take note of. Each song is peppered with the blissful style of lead guitar made popular by Midwestern U.S. bands like The Menzingers, injecting a necessary sense of life into the album. Also common to such bands is the life-affirming optimism that sneaks its way into most of the tracks on ‘Silent Unspeakable,’ such as in anthemic opener ‘Sea Legs’: “If it’s drowning you’re after / what’s the point in shallow water? / Drink deep, then after / we can drown when we are done.” As noted by Alt Dialogue, ‘Sea Legs’ also features more than one impressively infectious “Oooff.” Only a band this Northern could pull that off.
Lyrically, the subject matter of ‘Silent Unspeakable’ is broad. It expresses a personal experience of life as a whole, with a special focus on the anxieties of responsibility and rapid pace of modernity. Robson makes frequent reference to the news, perhaps commenting on the social media bubbles we inhabit. His frustrated exhaustion at the endless cycle of negativity is clear when he yells “I’m sick of reading the news / because this news is not news” on ‘Family Planning,’ or “Did you see the news today? / I can’t believe my eyes / Every time it’s mentioned / it’s like sticking a fork in my side” on the gentle, guitar-only closer ‘Transgressions in the Toy Shop.’ An almost shy sincerity shines through some lines. For example, “I’ve a swinging brick for a heart / It’s a start” and “Can we agree to start thinking about the future? / Think I might take a break and start a family.” It’s not Leonard Cohen, but that’s the point. It’s punk rock. And while Greg Barnett and Tom May of The Menzingers write lyrics that are breathtaking poems in themselves, Robson matches them in passion and honesty.
With twelve songs over thirty-five minutes, ‘Silent Unspeakable’ is a decent follow-up to ‘Blood & Sand.’ The production is a bit lacking, the songs can be difficult to distinguish from one another, and the tempo could be quicker on a couple, but Bear Trade aren’t trying to be anything they’re not here, and therein lies their strength. By paying homage to the punk rock they grew up on, flavoring it with the melodic sound of the Midwest, and ultimately using the music as a vessel for Robson’s heart and soul, Bear Trade have achieved exactly what they set out to. Fans of the shamefully overlooked cult favorite Leatherface (the greatest British punk band of all time, in this reviewer’s opinion) and their gruff Northern sound coupled with heartfelt, tender lyrics will like ‘Silent Unspeakable.’ Get it into ya. Oooff.