Return of the Ranters
Normil Hawaiians have always operated as a collective of musicians rather than a band per se, and for this third album, the group comprised Guy Smith, Simon Marchant, Alun "Wilf" Williams, Noel Blanden, and Jimmy Miller. Recorded at Dave Anderson's Foel Studio in Wales (sonic home of Amon Düül II and Hawkwind) in the winter of 1985 and '86, a time and a place triangulated from political, social, and geographical aspects, Return of the Ranters extended their free experiments in compelling arrhythmia and seemingly organized sound, taking a loose trajectory from their previous albums and earlier, more confrontational approach. The release of this album marks the first step in Upset the Rhythm's plans to produce expanded reissues of the band's other two epic albums, More Wealth Than Money (1982) and What's Going On? (1984). It was during the austere years of the post-punk permafrost that Normil Hawaiians' third album, Return of the Ranters, was written, recorded, and shelved. The album opens amid vast clouds of atmosphere before the tape-looped violin of "Sianne Don't Work in a Factory" starts to drag the song out of itself and into a sparse yet tender love song, full of hope, exalted synths, and mechanized drum patterns. Acoustic guitars and walls of keyboard drone provide a fitting acre of space for the raw polemics of "Slums Still Stand," while "The Search for Um Gris" follows in full head-down, motorik mode with a miraculously hypnotic drum beat and whirling mood. "The Battle of Stonehenge" is a powerful and emotive recording detailing the band's personal experience of the police ransack of the Peace Convoy on June 1, 1985, and as a result provides the rallying point of album. Beginning bravely as a solitary spun-out voice, the song eventually becomes awash with choruses of guitar and reverberating synth, joined finally by adornments of violin and an entrancingly agile beat. "Mouldwarp's Journey" concludes the album with ten minutes of epic improv, drawing on field recordings, murmured vocals, slowly phasing tonal clusters, a miasma of percussion, and wordless rapture. Lucid, candid, politically engaged, rarely metronomic but always humane, tired but still fighting, Normil Hawaiians' third album has waited patiently for 30 years.