Hymns - Cardinal Sins/Contrary Virtues (Pink Mist)

Ex-Blakfish man forms new band with great results

Released Dec 16th, 2011 via Pink Mist / By Francis Newall
Hymns - Cardinal Sins/Contrary Virtues (Pink Mist) Praise the Lord! Despite the album cover looking like a carbon copy of Frank Turner’s England Keep My Bones, Hymns have presented a delight of a double debut album. Proclaiming themselves to be “not religious, not in any way what-so-ever,” Cardinal Sins/Contrary Virtues delivers what can be seen as a brilliant self-exploration into the mindset (“I know your head is a storm and it’s frightening” – ‘Repent and Rebuild’) of a man who although he has renounced religion personally, still revels and is strongly interested in its existence. This is evident on a basic level from the titles of tracks such as ‘Repent & Rebuild’, ‘Revelations’ and the fierily titled debut single, ‘A Punch To The Temple’.

The material on disc two is more suited to a matinee performance (the superb ‘Miracles’, for example), and those on the first disc, a late evening session; this being exactly what the Leicester two-piece intended and have subsequently carried out in practice across England to great acclaim from their growing army of fans.

Upon first listen, the album seems underproduced - the intention being rather ‘less is more’ – and feels slightly underwhelming in contrast to Hymns’ fierce live performances. However, upon repeat listens it is clear that Seamus Wong has done a fantastic job; the lack of any form of heavy distortion leaves room for Sam Manville’s distinct vocal tone and phrasings, with Peter Reisner’s methodical, spacious drumming providing the perfect accompaniment to both guitar and vocals.

The religious theme is gratifyingly unrelenting, the opening track ‘Prologue’ being from the Leicester University Chamber Choir – who also feature on ‘Miracles’ – with ‘Repent & Rebuild’ conjuring up visions of the rapture: “Repent! Sinners hold hands, when they can.” The aforementioned trope of self-reflection continues throughout, the brutally honest ‘Idyllic In Nature, Horrendous In Habit’ stating “I love myself more than anyone else // That means there’s no room for God”.

The patently fantastic lyrics are exemplified during the single 'A Punch To The Temple': “Screaming hail Mary’s and deliver me please // I’ve got a fist full of rosary beads”, Manville’s individual, outspoken lines themselves offering some kind of deliverance from any kind of manufactured, indie-pop.

You might be hard-pressed to find many Hymns fans that are totally unaware of Manville’s previous band Blakfish. There are two tracks on this album – both appear within the second half of disc 1 - that could be interpreted as reactionary towards the other ex-members of Blakfish (now playing in &U&I). The first of which is ‘Lily’: “You put the words in my mouth, all I did was make a sound // And now we all know the truth, lord have mercy on you”, and the second, disc ones closer ‘Wicked Tongue’: “I cut loose all my friends, the puppets with no strings // This ain’t no martyrdom, I’m pretty confident, I said just what I meant”. Reisner’s own polished style of - almost robotic - drumming alongside the confident and sharp guitar riffs in ‘Wicked Tongue’ shows to what extent the duo compliment one another stylistically, something that fans who have seen Hymns live take for granted.

Disc 2 is emblematic of how stylistically different Hymns are from your regular two-piece, as well as how versatile their songwriting can be. ‘Miracles’ and its organ-inspired introduction is further example of this lyrical honesty: “It’s over and I’m just a shell of my former, irrepressible self // and I know you will help nurse me back to help, but I can’t expect a miracle”

The beauty of Manville’s great songwriting coupled with viciously honest lyrics is captured perfectly with piano track ‘Revelations’: “I can’t bear the thought of going to sleep in case I dream”, whilst ‘Dilligence’ is very much an anomaly genre-wise, with very much a travelling feel; Tobias Hayes performing the banjo (Shoes And Socks Off, Meet Me In St. Louis). Indeed ‘Epilogue’ seems the perfect way to end this astonishing debut, a slow piece performed on the organ at the Stoney Gate Baptist Church in Leicester, albeit not by Manville.