Rabid Bitch of the North - Nothing But a Bitter Taste - (7.5/10)
Published on November 21, 2017
Given that they have a name like Rabid Bitch of the North, you would expect these Belfast natives (it’s Northern Island, but not exactly, you know, North) to be either snotty punk rockers or a haggard-faced bunch of Game of Thrones fans. There is certainly some attitude to their debut Nothing But a Bitter Taste, despite the fact that it’s not of the kind that might be described as socially menacing or feudally charged, so the rabid bitching aspect of the moniker also comes into question. As it turns out, both the punk and GoT classifications fit the three-piece to a certain extent, though the group’s niche is far better described as grotty NWOBHM revivalists with a few aces up their collective sleeve.
What those aces are is slightly tricky to explain, so pay close attention or you might well find yourself scratching your head while listening to the album. The basic design is of underground trad metal that confirms the group’s power trio aesthetic by the inclusion of simple hooks and riff-based action that doesn’t conflict with the presence of lead guitar, more on which in a rabid bitching moment. Along with extremely conventional song structures, the set-up of the band is not designed to inspire great thoughts of originality or even excitement, yet the execution of the eight songs here show a band close to mastering their chosen style. Having taken a basic template from Angel Witch, Satan, or (Di’Anno era) Iron Maiden, Gerry Mulholland manages to come up with a new, distinctive riff for just about every song, not to mention seizing the opportunity to accelerate plenty of the time, which combines with the high-pitched vocals (he and bassist Joe McDonnell share singing duties in roughly equal measures) to drive “Gilded Men” and “Demon Mind” into more adrenalized arenas.
Other songs like “Gods of Punishment” prefer a more measured approach, chugging steadily on the dark ‘80s guitar tone to build atmosphere along with lower-register vocals, though neither singer has enough mastery of his voice to achieve the desired effect. However, these slower moments, particularly on “Gods of Punishment” bring another element into the sound, more of occult metal as peddled by Mercyful Fate and outsider doom group Trouble, who never played according to the rules about doom being a slow genre. In addition, the shriller vocals bear some resemblance to the latter group’s Eric Wagner. Another feature that marks Rabid Bitch of the North out from the NWOBHM bands they initially resemble is the guitar leads, which are a peculiar hybrid of classic metal melodies and reverb-drenched atmospheric playing. When Mulholland breaks into his solos, they are often entirely detached from any backing rhythm guitar, the soft rumble of bass and rather flimsy clatter of Chris Condie’s drums barely fighting for attention as the guitarist shoots repeated hooks across the song’s wasteland, sometimes in eerie poignancy that might be expected from Solitude Aeturnus, occasionally in more speedy style.
A similar formula repeated eight times does pose some problems for the album as a whole, though the brevity of the experience is a mediating factor, particularly as Nothing But a Bitter Taste seems to gain velocity as it progresses, culminating in a manic finale of silliness with the shrieked chorus of “Trapped in 1999”. This incremental factor is helped by the hooks in the verses and choruses of cuts such as “Defending Two Castles” and the title track, the success of which is largely down to the riffing approach and seat-of-the-pants quality of the vocals, never settling into a comfortable groove.
Nothing But a Bitter Taste plays much like a rough debut album, displaying strong initial ideas but a slight lack of studio polish and finesse that makes the group sound immediate and vital, yet rather provincial – you could easily imagine hearing this in the local boozer. As such, anyone with an affinity for denim jackets and who fancies their metal a bit dirty and ragged would be advised to check out Rabid Bitch of the North, especially the superior “Demon Mind”. It’s odds on that band patches sell well when these guys play live.