Label: Deathwish Inc
There’s few bands more important to me than Planes Mistaken For Stars (PMFS), and it was a sad day for me when they played their final (at the time) show in 2008. Though the band started playing live again in 2010, I never truly expected a new album to ever materialize; so, the release of Prey is welcome in that it represents the return of one of my favourite bands. But it’s also a release that should appeal to more than just fans of old, as this is a wonderfully passionate piece of post-hardcore, full of grit and melody, with the kind of definite roughness to the edges that speaks of bad decisions and good times. There’s no one who sounds quite like PMFS, and that’s as true on Prey as it ever was. It’s one of the most unexpected releases of the year, but also one of my favourite. My hopes for the album were high, and they have more than been met.
The years since the release of the last PMFS album, Mercy in 2006, haven’t seen the band resting idle, and that shows on Mercy, but nor has the band’s sound undergone some huge revolution. The spirit of PMFS is still present and correct – soaked in sweat, the smell of whiskey and sex never far away, this is a band who sound like they’ve lived every single note they play and then some, most notably in frontman Gared O’Donnell’s hoarse yet powerful vocals. It’s as passionate as the band ever were, though they’ve added a few more tricks to their repertoire. Acoustic track “Black Rabbit” is the most notable example of this, recalling Gared’s solo band Hawks And Doves both in sound and in its heartbroken lyrics. Elsewhere, there’s shades of post-punk in tracks like closer “Alabaster Cello”, which features a guitar sound and atmosphere that would slot in perfectly with The Cure at their darkest.
The main component of Prey is made up by that classic PMFS sound and spirit though, full of raw emotion, rocking post-hardcore riffs, and achieving the kind of catharsis many bands will aim for but few achieve. Opener “Dementia Americana” is a 94 second blast of defiance that wouldn’t sound out of place on classic Fuck With Fire, whilst “Riot Season” demonstrates just how restlessly energetic the band can be, propelled along by Mike Ricketts’ hugely creative and underrated drumming whilst guitar and bass melodies weave in and out of one another. Elsewhere, the build-up-and-release of “Pan In Flames” recalls previous PMFS songs like “Keep Your Teeth” and “Rhythm Dies”, but perhaps most surprising is “Fucking Tenderness”, with its oh-so sweet melody that’s unlike anything the band have released previously, yet it fits in completely with their sound and spirit.
Each record PMFS have released over the years has seen the band’s sound change slightly, whilst still sounding unlike anyone but themselves. From the first steps of their self-titled debut, the band have trod a path very much of their own – be it the Rites Of Spring-meets-Motorhead of Knife In The Marathon, the furious hardcore intensity of Fuck With Fire, the post-hardcore ambition of Up In Them Guts, or the much darker territories Mercy ventured in to – and Prey sees them continue this way. Planes Mistaken For Stars are one of those rare bands who possess a distinctive character no matter how their sound changes, and it’s that spirit which comes through strongly on Prey. That the songs are, without exception, absolutely killer helps too. I’m far too emotionally attached to each of the band’s records to state how it ranks in their discography – ask me five times which their best record is and you’ll get five different answers – but it’s the equal of anything they’ve released previously. Anyone who has cared about PMFS before is bound to be more than satisfied by Prey, and anyone new to the band should be able to see just why Planes Mistaken For Stars continue to mean so much to so many, even after so long. In a year of excellent releases, this is right up there at the top.
Prey is set for release on 21 October 2016. It can be ordered on vinyl, cassette, and CD via the Deathwish Inc e-store, and digitally via Bandcamp. It can also be streamed in full via Noisey; this review is based on this stream.