Haggard Cat - Challenger (Cover Artwork)

Haggard Cat

Challenger (2018)

Earache Records

Rising from the ashes of UK thrash/punk/math-types Heck (previously Baby Godzilla before a lawsuit forced the change of name), Haggard Cat is the latest creative outlet for Matt Reynolds and Tom Marsh. Based in Nottingham, England, and given the sonic mix of their previous band, you might be surprised to hear that the sound of Haggard Cat is a lot more motor city than Nottingham in its style, although it’s delivery does at times still hark back to the incredibly spasmodic foundations laid by Heck.

This might be a contentious thing to say, but there are limits to the sounds you can make when you’re a two-piece, guitar-and-drums outfit. When you think of this type of 2-piece (at least in recent history), then you might well think of The White Stripes, probably The Black Keys or even Royal Blood possibly. Given those names, you might not be totally surprised to hear that we’re (broadly speaking) in the same territory here, sonically. Blues-based, boot-stomping rock songs with a whole heap of swinging hips. Reynold’s guitar work is actually more contained and conventional than I’ve heard it before, but that is only down to the utter chaos that was the core of Heck. His command of this more traditional style of rock music is clear from the start. He is overflowing with the kind of riffs that make you involuntarily nod your head and put you in mind, at turns, of a spit and sawdust bar, a sweaty northern basement show or a hazy, hot, afternoon festival stage.

Basically, Reynolds is front and centre on this record and he does a decent job of holding your attention given the limited resources available to the pair. His vocal is more varied than it maybe has been in the past, with moments of quasi-crooning that Alex Turner would be proud of. The intro to ‘The Legend’ being the best example of this. The way the guys develop this song shows a greater degree of songwriting subtlety than is seen in the first half of the album as well - although even this track drops into a scuzzy, blues-funk breakdown at around the 4 and a half minute point (there are plenty of these – maybe not surprising if you know Heck’s music). In the main though, Reynolds relies more on his more unsophisticated, yet pleasingly rabble-rousing trademark caterwaul - but it’s so in-keeping with the tone of the pair’s music, that I really have no complaints.

Marsh, meanwhile, pegs the songs down where necessary, not overplaying his role, but still showing dexterity and flair at points. Overall, he gives just the right amount of room for the elastic-feeling riffs to flex and expand, bordering on reckless abandon, before dragging things back in line just as things were threatening to derail - normally with a full-blooded 4:4 stomp which brings enough familiarity to the song structures that they don’t feel completely alien.

I’m not going to say that Haggard Cat are doing anything completely new here, because they’re not. In fairness, they seem conscious of this. Their own Facebook profile describes them as “White Stripes Wannabe Bullshit Hipster Pseudo Rock”, which is both pretty funny and pretty accurate. The humour and sense of fun that is somehow infused into the music makes it all the more appealing and the fact that there are some honest-to-goodness rock ‘n’ roll ragers on this record doesn’t hurt, either. My only question is the same as it is for all 2-piece acts of this ilk: Where do they go from here to keep things fresh? That being said, I’m just really glad that Reynolds and Marsh are back making music and (I have it on good authority) putting on killer live shows again. You can’t keep a good man, or cat, down it seems.