Westgate Under Fire

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Blackkk Man
02. War Inna Babylon
03. Vibes In The Place
04. Art Of War
05. Reveal It
06. Mary Shelley
07. Bite Back
08. Coffin Lid
09. Crying Clowns
10. Get Back Up
11. Fun Done
12. Stay Together
13. Celtic Cross

Not content with being a world-class frontman in the greatest festival party band on the planet (that's SKINDRED, fact fans),  Benji Webbe returned to a rejigged DUB WAR in 2015 and "Westgate Under Fire" is the long-awaited result. The Welshman's former band briefly threatened to bother the mainstream back in the '90s, and their albums for EARACHE RECORDS undoubtedly paved the way for SKINDRED's boisterous revolution a few years later. But it was always a misnomer to regard the later band as the simple, logical conclusion of the former. Regrouping at a time when the Western world is in a pitiful state of disunity, DUB WAR deal in much the same blend of positivity and furious politics as Webbe's other band, but this is an album rooted in the wild spirit of the punk rock and reggae crossover of the late '70s, with all the anarchy and genre-mashing cockiness that goes with it. The party is still going, of course, but it's turned into a riot.

More ragged and rugged than their previous incarnation, DUB WAR still take their cues from dub reggae, hip-hop and punk rock, but clear lines between one genre and another have long since been wiped away. The result is songs like "Blackkk Man" and "Vibes In The Place": irresistible singalongs, buzzing on energy and mischief, with giant metal riffs, earthquake bass and several helpings of gritty reality. "Art Of War" interrupts some intense, BAD BRAINS-like hardcore clatter with a slick, skittering, jazzy detour; "Reveal It" is a disorientating wash of Jah Wobble-like, loping bass and psychedelic guitar squall. Take a few steps back and it's a patchwork of disparate ideas, but dive into the midst of it and DUB WAR still sound like everything at once, and immaculately so.

Elsewhere, the grinding, gothic "Mary Shelley" is a thunderous, breakbeat-driven salute to monsters everywhere; "Coffin Lid" is a delicious, rap-rock throwback, like HED (P.E.) in their pomp, but with a knowingly grim and gruesome central hook that provides yet another showcase for Webbe's astonishing versatility. "Fun Done" mirrors several other moments on "Westgate Under Fire", in that it has strong (and most welcome) echoes of THE RUTS, albeit in an entirely different time and context. For old punks, it's a particularly nice touch. Even better is a sublime version of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", which boasts a Webbe vocal so sweet and true that even the most recalcitrant metal purist will struggle to keep the tears in. The closing "Celtic Cross" restores things to a dubbed-out throb: a message of defiance and hope, born aloft on waves of bubbling bass.

A different animal from the band that made "Pain" and "Wrong Side of Beautiful" all those years ago, DUB WAR have made a righteous follow-up: the true sound of the streets, cranked to the maximum.

Author: Dom Lawson
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