HARMFUL
"7"

(Kool Arrow)

01. Old Mistakes
02. Another Life
03. Elaine
04. Tension
05. Tenderly
06. Not In Love
07. Hide
08. Recipe
09. Mesanichta
10. Break Point
11. Long Gone

RATING: 8.5/10

This German band has finally been getting some worldwide press, on the eve of their cleverly-titled seventh LP, thanks to their affiliation with former FAITH NO MORE bassist Billy Gould. At first attached to the band as their producer, Gould has since joined the group and, for now at least, is their touring rhythm guitarist. Not coincidentally, Gould's Kool Arrow label has made "7" available in the U.S. — only the second HARMFUL album to see Stateside release, following the barely-noticed SPV issue of 2003's criminally underrated "Sanguine".

Good for me, since I had to pay over $30 for an import copy of previous album "Sis Masis". But why should anyone else care? Well, that all depends. If you cut your teeth on '90s bands like HELMET, BARKMARKET and PRONG, and you have a thing for catchy songs with odd minor chords and expressive, but deadpan vocals, HARMFUL might just be your new favorite band. "7" finds the band moving still further in the more textured, less heavy direction they started on "Sis Masis" — there are moments here that are practically pop, such as the acoustic-tinged "Not In Love". Even on this song, though, the instrumental midsection contains jangling, unnerving chords (with a guitar lick that nods to JAWBOX's "Savory") and a seething tension just below the surface.

And a song like "Tenderly" seems deceptively accessible, but there's a push and pull going on here, a tightly-wound desperation woven into the band's straightforward approach. "Another Life" is a hard-driving single with insistent downpicking and an infectious vocal line, while the careening "Recipe" uses a hammering Morse-code beat and big chiming chords to create an unsettling vertigo effect. "7" takes a few listens and some attention — a quick skim of this album will give the impression of catchy but inconsequential alt-rock, but there's plenty more going on that'll have these songs burrowing their way into your head almost without you noticing.

"7" isn't as dissonant as 2001's "Wromantic", or as overtly metallic in attack as "Sanguine", but in its own maturing way, it's a better album from a better band. This is grown-up hard rock with a melancholy, winsome bent, still perfect roadtrip music and full of plenty of rockin' riffs, but mentally in a whole new space where many hessians will fear to tread. Just left-of-center enough to alienate some, while becoming a new religion to an open-minded few.

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