This is the story of how, with just two weeks left until the end of the 2010s, one album released by a trio of young Maltese musicians has managed to summarise the alternative scene’s most eventful decade… and give the fans some great music to close a turbulent shitshow of a year.
Entire decades are always very hard to pin down, summarise and discuss, be it from a political point of view or an artistic one. Add to the mix an insane decade, and you’ve got a virtually impossible task on your hands.
But one thing’s for sure: the 2010s were one of the most important decades for Malta’s alternative music scene, and one of its heavyweights is seeing to it that it all ends the way it deserves to.
The Violent Violets is one of those Maltese bands you might’ve heard of before and never quite managed to forget.
Whether it’s because of the hypnotically abrasive live sets, the individual members’ star-studded collaborations outside of the band, or the endless shower of praise thrown onto the young trio, the VVs is just one of those bands… and in the island’s tiny alternative scene, that’s a recipe ripe for cult status.
Eight years after first breaking out into the scene, the VVs are finally ready to unveil their second album tomorrow night – but listening to the record’s entirety sounds like a culmination not just of one of the most important alternative bands in Malta, but also of the whole scene that birthed them.
So what’s led to this moment, mere days before the end of the decade?
Hold on ladies and gentlemen, we’re going on a long and wild adventure.
The Violent Violets broke out on the scene on April Fools 2011… but what followed was anything but a joke.
Saying Malta’s alternative scene was different back then is a shockingly huge understatement.
Right in the middle of its own renaissance, the scene was exploding with new bands, collaborations, music video releases and weekly gigs. Spurred on by the fact that multiple venues like Coach & Horses and V-Gen were at their peak and gladly opening their doors to the multitude of young Maltese bands, the scene had also capitalised on the island’s increased use of social media to push anything from novel marketing ideas to video unveilings.
It was in this very fertile atmosphere that The Violent Violets were conceived, and by 2011, they were ready to show Malta what they were all about.
Taking to a music marathon for charity at Buġibba’s beloved Rookies, the trio hit the ground running with energetic tracks, heavy riffs and a wall of sound that instantly resonated with everyone in attendance.
To close off their debut year, the Violets took to Msida’s Coach & Horses (which had by then become a haven for the alternative scene) for a gig alongside punk trio Three Stops to China. The result couldn’t have been better.
By the end of 2011, everyone who was anyone had heard of The Violent Violets, and the three young prodigies behind the noise: drummer Samuel Xiberras, bassist André Farrugia and guitarist-singer Matthew Shields.
What came next is exactly what you’d expect: The Violent Violets ended up on everyone’s lips, going from newcomers to heavyweights in a matter of months.
By January 2012, less than a year after their debut, the Violent Violets’ first EP – a DIY recording of five original tracks – was freely made available to download, where it remains to this day.
Equal parts dancey and relentlessly heavy, the EP boasted tunes that quickly became fan favourites, from the infectious opener Velvet and electrifying Fantasy 3 (which sounds like Arctic Monkeys on steroids) to the sing-along closer Red Lady.
2012 and 2013 were the years The Violent Violets went from heavyweights to legends.
Following their debut EP release, the rest of 2012 and 2013 was dedicated to making the most of Malta’s continuously growing alternative scene, with The Violent Violets tearing up venues all over the island, headlining festivals and performing alongside big local names like Cable35 and The Areola Treat.
By the end of 2013, the trio returned to Coach & Horses for yet another collaborative gig with Three Stops to China, presenting a matured set that could hardly be contained by the small Msida bar’s glass doors.
The Violets were ready for more… and this time, they were preparing a whole album to show for it.
In 2014, The Violent Violets were finally finished with their first full-length, fully-mastered album TAME… and it was anything but.
58 minutes. That’s how long the VVs’ wall-of-sound of a debut album ended up being.
Over the duration of an hour, 12 grating, heavy, relentless songs blew listeners away, be it on headphones that could barely handle the over-driven riffs, or during live performances, where things would instantly be kicked into overdrive. The opener on its own, Dream Eater, was eight whole minutes of pure, unfiltered barrage of riffs. There was metal, there was sludge, but there was also so much more going on.
The band’s disarmingly deceptive look definitely helped them, too; here were three young musicians, quietly smiling in a corner of the bar, waiting for their turn to take to the stage.
All of a sudden, they’d connect their finely tuned instruments to a wall of chained and sprayed amplifiers and drown the whole place in noise for the best part of an hour.
The appearances all over the island continued, the heavy sets intensified and The Violent Violets had managed to secure their place in the local music scene’s hall of fame.
And then, just as soon as they had exploded onto the scene, the VVs kind of disappeared.
By the second half of the 2010s, the scene had fragmented.
Most of its biggest bands had grown up and grown apart. One by one, the venues closed down, and gigs started being more and more sparse. Only behemoth bands survived this purge, with evergreen legends like Brikkuni gearing up for their own album release in 2017 alongside an updated line-up of musicians… that included the Violets’ own Matthew Shields.
Fast forward to 2019, and the best New Year’s announcement for the alternative scene.
“Bad news, we are not dead,” the Violets announced on Facebook in the first couple of days of the year. “Good news, new album coming out this year!”
And just like that, the boys were back.
What followed was a series of teasers and announcements, from photos of beloved local musicians like Yasmin Kuymizakis, Fah Rouge and Jimmy Bartolo being announced as collaborators on the album to what everyone was waiting for: the Violets’ return to the live gigging circuit.
On the 27th of April 2019, The Violent Violets finally performed once more, this time at the newer venue of Rumors in Pieta’.
The scene had been waiting for something as sludgy and delightfully dark as the VVs to fill in their shoes… and it turned out that the only people able to do it was themselves. The set opened with a hauntingly heavy rendition of Ġesu’ Tiegħi, a traditional religious song played around Good Friday in Malta. The rest, was a beautiful, hazy mess.
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Last weekend, Jesus rose from the dead. This weekend, Malta’s alternative scene got one of its most important children back. Happy violent belated Easter everyone ????. . . . . #theviolentviolets #live #rockthesouth #aftermath #alternative #music #malta #rumors #lovinmalta
Eight years, eight months and 13 days after their very first gig, The Violent Violets are finally ready to unveil their second album, Jade, tomorrow. Here’s why that’s so important.
First off, if you thought the vacuum the Violets and their contemporaries left behind when they faded away a couple of years ago was bad, imagine how much worse it got by 2019.
Malta’s alternative scene has mostly moved on from its exciting and blossoming roots, becoming a shadow of its former self. It’s weird to look back on 2012 and think of it as “the good old days” as if it were 30 years ago, but that’s exactly what it feels like. So just having an album like Jade exist is already a massive plus.
But beyond the fact that this much-needed comeback is finally here, beyond all the collaborations, beyond the hype and the return of the Violets to Malta’s live scene, lies an album that’s as poignant as they get.
First of all, Jade is not Tame. Not even close.
Gone are the overly heavy guitar riffs, the instrumentals that convinced metalheads to leave their comfort zone and show up to gigs where the VVs performed in the early 2010s. Instead, sweeping synths have entered, accompanied by long, melancholic instrumentals and toned down vocals. Take tracks like The Summer and the closer 2015, for example. Starting with every single note and ending with the tracks’ own names, there’s a nostalgic void that’s slowly being filled and nurtured by a band that understands the scene’s loss all too well, but also understands that times – and the sounds that best describe them – have changed.
In the run-up to Jade’s release, the trio have released three tracks: the expansive title track (which is nearly eight minutes long), and the shorter-but-still-long-as-far-as-normal-singles-go, Green Lights and the seven-minute sax-featuring Grey to Gold.
Green Lights sounds like a toned-down industrial song from Nine Inch Nails’ back catalog on a dark acid trip. Jade sounds like it could be the soundtrack of a sci-fi cult classic, taking a whole new, demented life with the equal parts dramatic yet repetitive riff that comes in at the third minute mark. Both are way, way less heavy than what people are used to hearing from The Violent Violets… and yet they’re somehow much darker.
Even the colours used for Jade’s artwork (which sees the triumphant return of digital artist Carl Caruana) have changed drastically, from a monotone palette of mostly black on Tame to a beige shade of cream that’s nearly skin-toned.
In other words, if you were expecting a Tame Part 2, get ready to be very surprised.
That’s not to say that the old Violets have died… but they’ve sure as hell been reincarnated into something different. Something darker.
Tracks like Hold Still start off very different to what one might expect from the guys, but it only takes the track a minute and a half for it to very suddenly start introducing a heavy guitar riff reminiscent of a time gone by. In fact, by the end of the five-minute track, Hold Still goes from eerily calm and creepily quiet to something that sounds inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath. If you’ve got a candlelit ritual coming up any time soon, this should probably make your prepping playlist.
The seemingly random list of artists I wouldn’t have ever thought of comparing the Violets to doesn’t end there, either. The album starts off on a particularly different note, with openers like Foreign and Mirage sounding more like something Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker would write if he was feeling particularly moody. Grey To Gold’s closing instrumental nearly sounds like something Pink Floyd would write, and there’s also some Mogwai-ish moments in the album, with most of the 52-minute record sounding like it could have easily been the soundtrack of a weird sci-fi film. Run is definitely one of the tracks that come to mind here.
As dark as it all sounds, nostalgia is definitely still the reigning champion on Jade.
As with every piece of art, one pair of ears’ uplifting is another’s depressing. But it’s in the weird, contradictory grey area between the two that Jade seems to live. A lot has happened since the Violets released their last album. Hell, a lot has happened since they last took to the stage earlier this very year. And yet, returning to the scene with a brand new set of contemplative and much longer songs was the only way to go. Not just for the three young musicians who grew up making noise, but for the whole scene they represent. It’s almost like the sonic representation of that old cliché; don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.
And that’s what makes Jade essential listening for any local music fan. It might not be this decade’s best album (I’m not even sure I prefer it over the Violents’ own previous works), but it’s definitely one of the decade’s most important works.
Because, in a weird way, it’s the perfect embodiment of every single moment that’s led up to its release. Every drum beat, every bass groove, every guitar riff, every crooning chorus. It’s been a long decade, but these guys have always been there with us, living it themselves before going on to immortalise it.
We know you’ve changed, the Violents seems to tell their listeners. But so have we. We’ve all grown up and grown apart. But here’s another one, for old times’ sake. We all deserve this.
And if you’re looking for a bit of context from the horse’s mouth, here’s an important piece of trivia for you on the album’s name.
Jade is not named after a girl. It’s not named after the colour, or even the gemstone.
“It’s actually a reference to what farmers used to call the animals that would’ve gotten too old,” frontman Matthew Shields explains. “It used to mostly be horses, and their meat wasn’t as tender as it used to be, being mostly bad-tempered. They used to sell this meat to the poor.”
Ironic context, your name is Jade.
The Violent Violets unveil Jade tomorrow night in Valletta
Joining Matthew, André and Samuel on the stage at The British Legion will be four other local musicians (one can only expect – and hope – that these include some of the collaborators teased earlier this year), with Sam Christie opening the night with his own take on electronic-folk reminiscent of artists like Bon Iver.
If you’re looking for a dark but satisfying taste for the end of the year (and the decade), then this is definitely it.