Review Summary: "BEAT THE BASTARDS! BEAT 'EM NOWWWWW!"
The six years that passed between “The Massacre” and this, The Exploited's seventh full-length album, must have changed the band somehow, because “Beat the Bastards” is simply a step up in musicianship, progression, and most noticeably, songwriting. There's something about this particular album that could perhaps impress even those who hate the very existence of Punk Rock or Thrash, and although the lyrical content or thematical concerns deep within Wattie Buchan's mind and soul haven't changed one bit, this is a monster that you won't find any traces of on any of the band's first six albums.
The first thing that instantly comes to mind when playing the first song and title track is that there is no music to be heard, making way for some very well introduced songs. There are snippets from such politically influenced films as 'A Clockwork Orange' (Law for the Rich, Police TV) and even genuine dialogues from Scottish news channels (The title track, Systems ***ed UP, They Lie), not to mention a humorous yet meaningful argument between two Scottish blokes on the verge of ripping each other's head off (so it seems). This is how much The Exploited have matured ever since the release of their youthful and adrenaline pumped debut “Punk's not Dead”, and even though you still may hate this album, there s bound to be something to raise your critical eyebrows.
The maturity covers the one annoying thing that has ever occurred in The Exploited's entire career, and that is variation. Variation, not just in terms of song structure or concepts, but also the musicianship, and it works damn well with the latter. Yes, there are faster paced, thrashier songs in the brutal title track and 'Affected by Them', but with the slower paced, groovier likes of 'Don't blame Me' and 'If You're Sad', it's hard not to nod in appreciation of the band finally exploiting (No pun intended) their respective instruments. In the former, Willie Buchan celebrates his return to the band by showing off how well he has mastered his precious bass, and somehow, when the song finally evolves into one, the other instruments centre around the instrument, as if the bass here was organizing the song itself. Then there is the fully mid paced nature of the latter, the crunching guitar work and marching drum beats providing a headache inducing yet somewhat hypnotically charged anthem, that even Wattie himself seems to slow down for. It's all excellently produced work that perhaps makes this the band's crowning achievement. Even on the vicious yet sinister closer 'Serial Killer', there is just a hint of progression in the sound when the guitar takes centre stage and even features a few acoustic guitar interludes to soften everything, before coming back to haunt you and probably bash your head in with its heavy grooves. It's also a fitting end to an album that is not only The Exploited's longest to date, but is also their most progressive and varied.
Of course, we can't simply forget the meaningful lyrics and thematical concerns. Wattie Buchan has evidently been quite busy writing the lyrics for each particular song on “Beat the Bastards”, but don't think for a minute that he's toned down his aggression or venom-inducing violence. In fact, each particular lyric reads as if the dosage of these two personalities have been doubled. The more simplistic nature of both 'Law for the Rich' and 'Fightback' speak volumes when Wattie spits out that “There's a law for the Rich/A Law for the People like you and Me” and ordering everyone to “Fight back don't give in/Shut your mouth go away”. Yes, maybe a bit too simplistic for some listeners, but it evidently supports the phrase “Less is more”. However, on other songs, Wattie somehow lets loose his more poetical edge and at times almost seems to have written a perfectly comprehensible story. The creepy, sinister likes of 'Affected by Them' and 'Don't blame Me' feature Wattie almost choking on his own voice as he shouts that “It's sad to say that Children/No longer scared of Bodies/Pass Corpses Everyday” and emphasizing that “They blame Television they blame rave scene/Blame video Nasties and Computer Games”. These lyrics may not seem that well written at first glance, but compared to the likes of earlier records, the content seems so much more mature and adult.
“Beat the Bastards” is a great album, but it's not perfect. On both the monstrous 'If You're sad' and closer 'Serial Killer' Wattie almost attempts to sing alongside the accompanying instruments, and whilst this is a good idea, it is clear that a voice as rough and as harsh as his could not simply allow clean vocals to be produced. It sounds horrible, but thankfully he only does this in two particular moments on the album. The only other thing the album may suffer from is the appearance of filler material. Yes, it has been said earlier in the review that variation is more than just a little apparent on the album, but that still doesn't mean that the likes of 'Sea of Blood' and even '15 Years' aren't monotonous and repetitive, because they actually are. It's something that the band had suffered from on sub-par albums such as “Death before Dishonour”, but thankfully not as much on “Beat the Bastards”.
With a change in sound, a maturity of songwriting, instrumentation and sometimes even lyrical content, The Exploited have outdone themselves on this, their seventh full-length album. There may be a few songs that some listeners would baulk at because of their unnecessary repetition or risks, but it all works very well compared to how much The Exploited didn't do earlier on in their career. It is certainly one of the band's best albums, and may even be their heaviest. Listen with extreme caution however, for it may cause you to beat a few bastards.