ALBUM REVIEW: Grade 2 – Graveyard Island (Hellcat Records)

Formed on the Isle of Wight in 2013, when its members were just 15, Grade 2 are one of the brightest up and coming bands in the UK punk scene.

Sid Ryan (bass and vocals), Jack Chatfield (guitar and vocals) and Jacob Hull (drums) quickly discovered their options on a small island were limited, so jumped on a ferry bound for the mainland, before venturing further afield, for shows in Europe and, lately, the United States.

Through solid touring and a couple of decent albums, 2016’s Mainstream View and the following year’s Break The Routine, they started to make a name for themselves. Both had their moments, but to me, didn’t come close to capturing how they sound live.

While on tour, Grade 2 met Lars Frederiksen, the rhythm guitarist with legendary US punks Rancid. He thought about producing their third album, but in the end passed them on to his bandmate Tim Armstrong. The man once described as “the Bob Dylan of punk” agreed to produce the record, and signed them to his label, Hellcat.

Grade 2. Pic: Bill Chatfield.

Last December, Grade 2 flew to Los Angeles, and, over the course of two weeks, tracked the dozen songs that make up Graveyard Island. The resulting record is their best yet – by some distance.

Full of anger and energy, it’s an album which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in 1977, yet it’s very modern at the same time.

Grade 2 started out as an oi! band, but that makes them sound much more one-dimensional than they are. Yes, their message is delivered with passion and no little aggression, but it’s also tuneful, with plenty of melody.

Like most of the best punk albums Graveyard Island is short and sharp: only two of the 12 songs clock in at over three minutes, and four of them don’t even last for two.

Grade 2 playing at Newcastle University in 2018. Pic Gary Welford.

Opening track Tired Of It is an upbeat, strident two-fingered salute to the giant corporations who track our every move through the devices we’ve come to rely on: “I’m tired of it, they’re full of shit, when they say, privacy’s a privilege” .

The closing track, On The Radar also deals with the same issue, and delivers a response in no uncertain terms: “They know what you say, they know where you’ve been …  fuck you, get out of my life!”

Look Up is a very commercial-sounding song – a possible single perhaps? – while Murder Town bears the unmistakeable stamp of Tim Armstrong, particularly in the chorus. They’re not bad songs, but the best is yet to come.

Grade 2 playing at Newcastle University in 2018. Pic Gary Welford.

Dover Street is a standout track, with urgent vocals, a catchy chorus and some great Cock Sparrer-like guitar. It wouldn’t look out of place on Rancid’s classic album And Out Come The Wolves.

J.S.A. is about the trials of claiming benefits: “Who would have thought I’d end up here/My future, intentions, J.S.A had no mention”, while Monsters is a frantic examination of paranoia: “Now, now, don’t be scared/It’s all up there in your head.”

Grade 2 are still a young band, and they’re improving with every record. They’re planning to get in the van again to tour this album. On this evidence, their shows will be unmissable. 8/10.

You can catch Grade 2 on the following UK dates:

7 December – Edinburgh, La Belle Angele

14 December – Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Lymedale Bar

15 December – Southend-on-Sea, The Venue

20 December – Manchester, Star & Garter

21 December – London, 100 Club

Gary Welford owner