Sometime in 2011, the hashtag #ukswell began to surface on Twitter, Tumblr and Bandcamp in relation to a number of UK artists, predominantly those on the Tangled Talk or Holy Roar roster. What it actually alludes to is somewhat baffling. It seems to denote neither a genre nor a particular sound as such. Rather as it has always been prefixed with a #, it is simply a hashtag – used to mark out a certain trend, grouping together a group of artists who want to acknowledge a mutual appreciation for each others’ work.
It’s mostly about a scene forming an alliance and uniting over a shared belief that heavy music need say something intelligent, be played with the utmost passion in order to be credible and be inclusive rather than elitist. Such values have helped to break down boundaries and smash prejudices held by and against established ‘heavy’ scenes, leading to the bands in question joining diverse lineups up and down the country, with bills brought together based on a shared ethos and mutual admiration rather than a cross-reference in terms of genre.
Southampton’s The Long Haul have found themselves emerging as part of the so called ‘core’ of this syndicate of bands, those that most openly pray at the altar of their forefathers in ‘progressive hardcore’, Converge, Poison the Well and The Dillinger Escape Plan. The others that Holy Roar Records co-founder Alex Fitzpatrick places amongst them being his own band Pariso, Bastions and Kerouac – the latter of whom joined The Long Haul in a ferocious and well received split. This record went on to find itself on many a blogger’s best of 2011 list and has helped construct an aura of expectancy ahead of their individual debut. Thankfully, Debtors does not disappoint as the band’s definitive opening statement, proving to be a 16 minute tour de force of vital emotiveness.
As is evident from the title of the release, The Long Haul have something to say about the UK’s economic climate, and while much of the lyrical content may wash over you on first listen to the record, there is no escaping the bile which you can positively feel from beginning to end. The general atmosphere of impending doom is crafted from the instrumental opener ‘Lenders’ onward, with its sleazy, loose chords reverberating chillingly, evoking the murky morality of a big business banker. Taking his place, we are gently led down a dark alley before the onslaught of first track proper ‘Holes in the Ground, Bliss in the Sky’ which introduces Harry Fanshawe’s emotive guttural screams from the very first bar and batters the listener at breakneck speeds with little let up throughout.
This track serves as something of a release – the band break out of the blocks and spend some of their pent up frustrations in one big blowout before a sense of reservation is allowed to creep back in for the remainder of the record. That’s not to say that the tracks that follow are any less angry, but it is when the band toy with the dynamics that they are at their most poignant. In particular, when ‘Blank Canvas’ builds up slowly through feedback drenched guitars accompanying the vocal, the hopeless despair of lines such as "I’ve used all the words I have to describe what is real" is allowed to linger on the consciousness and the more widely dispersed bludgeonings appear all the more densely monolithic.
As the title track brings the record to a close with its satisfyingly repetitive sludgy progression, there is a palpable sense of foreboding; that this is just the beginning of what these angry young men have to say for themselves. While it may be argued that this burgeoning scene is yet to match the likes of Defeater and La Dispute, who are riding the crest of the current US ‘intelligent hardcore’ wave, The Long Haul have helped set the standard for the UK crop to follow with an accomplished and coherent first body of work. With the buzz of creative camaraderie surrounding this little group of bands, it will be exciting to see how they will be inspired to better it.