Since their formation in 1976, 999 might be the longest running of the original English punk bands as they've never broken up. With three of the four original members still playing in the group (Nick Cash, Guy Days, Pablo Labritain plus the Lurkers' main man Arturo Bassick rounding out the lineup), this isn't some revivalist, name-only cash-in. Punk historians always refer to the brilliant "Emergency," "I'm Alive" and "Homicide" singles and their first two albums (the self-titled debut and Separates) as the defining musical moments of the band. With such an incredible back catalogue of classics, any new material automatically gets compared to the virtually incomparable. Death in Soho continues on in the classic 999 style with lots of hooky guitars, sing-along vocals and upbeat tunes.
Kicking off the disc is the killer opening track "Gimme the World," propelled by slashing guitars, a driving drum beat, hooky sing-along lyrics and a very unusual monk-like chant that eerily twists its way into the brain. Being the first 999 album of new material in 9 years, any thoughts about the band 'not having it anymore' are instantly tossed aside. Followup track "The System" is a big, bouncy, bass-driven corker that features some very classy lead guitar lines as only Guy Days can deliver. About halfway through the third tune, "Innocent," I felt like I was having déjà vu with this song sounding like it was a lost track from their Biggest Prize in Sport album. No leftovers here as a little checking reveals the group wrote this whole record in 2006/2007.
Next up are the incredible "Last Breath" and "99 Days." Both are instant classics and worth the price of the disc: punchy mid-paced sing-along anthems with super melodic guitars and the hooks in all the right places. There's never been any question about 999's ability to write catchy tunes and it's obvious they haven't lost anything in that department. Nick Cash's vocals are still as strong as ever and he still has all the range and tone that made him instantly identifiable. While Death in Soho may sound like it was pulled from a time capsule, it is no rehash and is an incredible collection of tracks that have some really killer arrangements and lots of fresh ideas. "Horror Story" is a perfect example, an interesting exercise in creativity that pulses and throbs with some wicked guitar and bass interplay and a brilliant vocal performance.
The second half of the disc seems to find the band putting a little bit of high octane fuel in the tank and finding a harder edge for a lot of the tunes. "Stealing Beauty," "What Do You Know," "Too Much Money" and "Bomb You" rip with an infectious energy that groups half these guys' age don't seem to muster. "Life of Crime" in particular sounds like a call to arms, but maybe with a pitcher of beer in hand. And "The Avenue" is just so vintage sounding with the distortion turned down a notch for more of that classic 999 jangly guitar sound. I think it would also be amiss to not mention Pablo Labritain. His drum style has always been an integral part of the band's sound and with Arturo Bassick holding down the bottom end, the two make a formidable rhythm section and are beyond rock solid here.
Of the 15 tunes on offer, there are a couple of weaker ones but considering the wealth of good stuff, that's really a minor quibble and also a matter of taste. 999 have done the impossible in creating a record that could be termed a 'missing link.' Death in Soho would fit nicely between Separates and Biggest Prize in Sport, and if it was released back in 1979 would be considered a classic. It is full of the type of sounds that defined the band when they were frontrunners in the original English punk explosion. It is almost surreal to hear this and realize that over 30 years later 999 are still capable of putting out exciting, original and killer records. This about as honest and real as it gets. Punk is definitely not dead.