THERAPY? – HARD COLD FIRE
“The Hard Cold Fire of the Northerner, frozen into his blood from the fire in his Basalt, glares from behind the Mica of the eyes”
– Louis McNeice, poet, 1907-1963
For Northern Ireland-originating rockers Therapy?, resilience and survival have become watchwords.
Enduring over three decades as the musical, cultural and social landscapes have shifted around them, the trio have forged and retained a powerful and lasting connection with a dedicated fan base around the world, doing so by putting their emphasis on the music, solidifying a hard-won reputation as forward-thinking writers and a fletce live proposition in the process.
As Therapy?’s fourth decade finally gets underway in earnest, sixteenth album ‘Hard Cold Fire’, written and pre-produced during an unprecedented time for music, is hefty, compact, and accessible, a distillation of everything that has made them what they are – hewn from County Antrim basalt, still possessed of their stoicism, but casting a renewed focus on catharsis and healing.
“One thing we did decide when we were eventually able to rehearse, was that we didn’t want to make a ‘lockdown record’,” says vocalist and guitarist Andy Caims, “because people have been through enough”
“When we began to rehearse the songs, we realised there was an empathetic quality to them.
We wanted to make something that was a bit more relatable, and less standoffish and claustrophobic – which we have a history of, and it stands in places – but we wanted to make something more approachable and open.”
“We wanted this album to be one that felt good to play live, almost a release after this period of stasis, but then also not dwelling on the whole situation – we’re moving forward, and we wanted that energy to be there,” adds bassist Michael McKeegan.
The serrated, chugging riffage, chuming low-end and propulsive rhythms that are hallmarks of the band’s sound are all present and correct, but met with a new-found sense of resolution and release, as most readily displayed on the one-two punch of ‘Joy’, exemplifying that heavy/euphoric dynamic, and the strident focus of ‘Bewildered Herd’.
These concise examinations of said turbulence and its underlying causes set the tone for explorations of collective traumas (Two Wounded Animals’), the managed decline of late-stage capitalism (“*Poundland of Hope and Glory’), and fragmented perceptions (‘Ugly’), among other aspects of the modern condition – with fleeting breaks into soaring choruses representing moments of hope, catharsis and the sharing of common scars.
Working once more with renowned producer Chris Sheldon (Foo Fighters, Feeder, Biffy Clyro), a consistent good-luck charm for Therapy? dating back to 1994’s breakout album Troublegum, the band decamped to the newly-opened Marshall Studios in Milton Keynes toward the end of 2021, working furiously to put the album down in its final form after spending the crisis period refining its ideas and working out its songs during intermittent in-person rehearsals.
“We know Chris. We’ve got a similar mindset, a similar outlook in life, a similar sense of humour,” McKeegan says. “It works really well, and it’s a very easy, collaborative environment.
There’s no agenda to making the album, apart from ‘let’s make this absolutely brilliant’.
“He’s excellent at getting sounds up and getting the performance out of you, knowing when to push a bit harder, knowing when something doesn’t need to be over-complicated. There’s an enthusiasm and a connection with him that really does bring something to the band, and to the vibe we have together.”
While ‘Hard Cold Fire’ represents the next milestone in the band’s long and ongoing journey, it sits at the front of a long body of work, with sixteen long-players seeing Therapy veer between noise-rock discord and sparse, groovy experimentation, and million-selling, mainstream-friendly pop and noirish, cinematic vistas.
For longtime fans, the new long-player will reward an attentive ear in terms of musical flourishes and Cams’ trademark lyrical substance, but as a finished product, the band has set out to create something that stands alone.
I think we all wanted just to build on what we’ve achieved artistically with our last few albums, and in particular ‘Cleave'” adds McKeegan. “This record encapsulates a lot of the classic Therapy? elements, but layers something new on top, just trying to push those elements forward a little bit. It’s an interesting tightrope to walk, but there’s core Therapy? musical elements there, and elements of the bands we like pop up as well.”
‘What I love about it is, it has a uniformity,” says Cairs. “It sounds like one entire body of work, there’s no song that goes off on a tangent or sounds out of place. It’s the same mindset and same goal – that brevity, that sense of euphoria in the vocals, that sense of urgency and energy, I think we managed to capture that. When I heard it back, I thought ‘mission accomplished’.”
“We put together something that floats our boat,” longtime drummer Neil Cooper says. “That can go right back to listening to bands from the early nineties, something that’s left of centre, but still sounds amazing. That’s where I’m trying to in the honesty – it’s almost like a remembering of what music means to us, in a weird way.
“That escape | found as a kid playing drums, and gives me something I absolutely require. I do think when we wrote this album, those uplifting choruses, mixed with the anger of everything else – there’s a thread there, that will always be there.”
With 30th anniversary celebrations and the past few years’ events firmly in the rear-view mirror,
“Hard Cold Fire’ serves as a point of departure for Therapy? as the trio sets its sights on the future, including summer festivals in the UK and Europe, and a round of touring the new material this autumn.
Rather than rest on their critical and commercial laurels, the boys in black are gearing up to get back out into the world, continuing to do what they’ve always set out to – create, innovate, make sense of ever-unpredictable times, and display that hard-wom resilience and longevity on their own terms.
“There’s a reinvigorated feel to the band, it really feels as though things are moving forward,” Cooper says. “I’m very excited about people hearing this. It’s not just about turning up and performing, there’s a real family feel to the whole thing. Everyone’s so invested… we’re unbelievably lucky, some bands don’t get that privilege, and I appreciate that. We’re in a fantastic place.”
“Therapy? is a place of comfort, a place of security, and a good place for friends, where I feel like I belong,” muses Cairns. “It’s a really comfortable space, and the last year as a band has solidified that. I certainly know that without this band, I would be a completely different person. If I didn’t have this output, and I didn’t have these people in my life, my life would be completely different.”
*I suppose the joke is, ‘So Much for the Ten-Year Plan’, ‘So Much for the Thirty-Year Plan!… I’m really excited that the album’s coming out, and that it sounds the way it does,” says McKeegan.
“We’re in really good shape, mentally, physically, musically – and I think for a band that’s been around as long as us, that’s all you can ask for.”