The Rise and Fall: Million Dead Retrospective

S'like the Usual Suspects if the budget was 50 quid.Million Dead were a band that I’m sure a lot of people have found memories of. Their unorthodox take on punk rock, Turner’s engaging lyrics, their feedback-laden hum of determination and a sound not disimiliar to Swedish punks, Refused gained them many fans, during and long after their unfortunate demise.
Their 5 year career began in 2000, when guitarist Cameron Dean and bassist Julia Ruzicka, joined with drummer Ben Dawson and vocalist Frank Turner. The rather morbid-sounding moniker actually stems from a line in the Refused song, ‘The Apollo Programme Was A Hoax’ from their last album, ‘The Shape of Punk To Come.’ Interestingly, it is one of Refused’s most diverse sounding tracks, focusing on muted bass plucks, sinister chords and whispered vocals that sound like they’ve been channeled through an old radio.

I first discovered Million Dead through Rock Sound (I’d probably be still listening to Reel Big Fish if it wasn’t for this publication) thanks to an ‘exclusive demo’ the magazine used to slap on their free cover-mount CD every month. The song was a rag-tag recording of ‘The Kids Are Going To Love It’ (which went on to feature on their debut, ‘A Song To Ruin’); a track that was characterized by it’s fast, gritty punk-rock nature, fuzzy-guitar lines and Turner’s unique yelp and rapid-fire vocal delivery.

Million Dead kicked around for another 2-3 years or so, touring with a variety of different acts, from space-rock nutters Cave In, Buddhist-anarchic-punks The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and even noise-terrorist Alec Empire. They also supported Pitchshifter on their 3rd or 4th break-up tour. I expect every band in the world will have supported Pitchshifter on their ‘farewell tours’ soon. There’s probably one going right now. Anyway, the ‘Dead soon chucked out a debut single,  ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’ on Xtra Mile/Integrity Records, along with a low-fi video of a tramp pissing on guitarist Cameron. Good work guys. September 2003 saw the release of ‘A Song To Ruin’ their debut album and another single release in the form of ‘Breaking The Back’ which out-lived the bands lifespan by being on constant rotation on heavy metal music channel, Scuzz. ‘A Song To Ruin’ was an absolute DIY-beast of teeth-gnashing, blue-in-the-face surging, disordered punk rock. The guitars sounded like they’d been recorded in a beehive, whilst the bass rumbling on opener ‘Pornography For Cowards’ felt like it had been sunken in motor oil. The cymbals crashed like they’d been dropped down some stairs and Turner’s vocal howl was a series of sprawling monologues that fought each other in a mad dash to escape his larynx. But do you know what? It sounded brilliant. Sure, it was fuzzier than a muppet gang-bang, but that added to the appeal ”“ they were angry, intense, drenched in buzzing feedback that bled from the speakers like a hemophiliac playing with their new knife set.

Whilst the sound was the backbone of Million Dead, it was the lyrics that made them standout from the crowd. Turner’s words said something ”“ they weren’t just confusing non-linear observations, or the kind of mundane sob stories about not manning the fuck up when it comes to talking to the opposite sex; no, these lyrics were political, (‘I Am The Party’) social (‘The Kids Are Going To Love It’) and economic blasts of effervescent speech, that combined witty snapshots alongside quite barbaric bursts of intense anger. For example, ‘I Am The Party’ is a first-person monologue, tackling the subjects of the Bolshevik revolution, references to George Orwell’s 1984, as well as revolutions in Czechoslovakia in 1989. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the song, stereotypes many aspects of a politicians career (manifestos, humility, leafleting campaign, baby kissing, promise of ‘things getting better’). ‘Charlie and Propaganda Myth Machine’ satirizes that famous Roald Dahl book; as well as ripping into Walt Disney (“”¦pushing social and sexual hierarchy”¦”) and again Orwell’s 1984 with the line; “I just wish we weren’t so fucking mindless”¦” possibly referencing the Big Brother state of totalitarianism and lack of freewill. ‘Macgyver’ on the other hand, tells the harrowing tale of the hospitalization of ‘I can escape from anything with paper clips and rubber bands’ super-human, played by Richard Dean Anderson. “He couldn’t build a bomb to mend the splinters of his broken heart” croons Turner, shaping a grim visualization of this fictional, but brutal tale. ‘The Rise and Fall’ probably best encapsulates the MD sound though. Turner packs enough references into one track that would possibly fill any other bands back catalogue. Byzantium Empire, Trojans, Rome are all dissected, under this barrage and I mean barrage, of spiky, agitated driving post-hardcore buzz, with Dawson screaming his lungs raw over Turner’s quick-fire lyricisms. Truly a masterful piece of work.
After this, the band went on to support Funeral For A Friend on their the Welsh quintet’s break-through tour and played still to this day, one of the best support slots I have ever seen. The band then set out on their own headline tour; with welsh oddballs Jarcrew and Icelandic punks Minus in tow.

In 2004, the band released a single entitled ‘I Gave My Eyes To Stevie Wonder’, tackling the subject of blindness, along with the b-sides ‘Medicine’ and ‘It’s A Shit Business.’ Dean left the band soon after to get hitched and Tom Fowler was brought in as replacement. In May, they released their last album, ‘Harmony, No Harmony’ through Xtra Mile. Their second effort retained much of the intense fury of their first, spaced out with slower, progressive passages and even a choir. ‘Livin’ The Dream’ (a song which dealt with the pressures of being in a band) was the stand-out single, gaining a similar amount of play as ‘Breaking The Back’ on various music channels. The band toured the album’s release with punk rockers Engerica and Days of Worth.

Just when they seemed to be ready to make that breakthrough, Million Dead called it a day. The cause: “irreconcilable differences within the band mean that it would be impossible to continue”. They fulfilled their touring duties and the band was put to rest on the 23rd of September 2005 after a gig at the Southampton joiners.

Despite their short shelf life, Million Dead had a big impact on the scene – they were well known in various circles and constantly championed for their strong live performances and notably Turner’s lyrical outpouring. With two solid albums to their name, they left a good-looking corpse.

Where are they now?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, vocalist Frank Turner is a successful solo artist and has released double the amount of albums Million Dead managed in the same timescale!

Bassist Julia Ruzicka and guitarist Tom Fowler formed The Quiet Kill in 2005. Ruzicka now plays in Who Owns Death TV with some dude from Cars As Weapons and Dream of an Opium Eater.

Drummer Ben Dwason is the Josh Freese of the UK, having undertaken multiple session drumming projects and is currently the stickman for Palehorse, Armed Response Unit, Mothlite, Queens of Swords and some metal project. Has also drummed for The Big Pink.

Musical exploits of ex-guitarist Cameron Dean are unknown, probably enjoying married life and eating biscuits on the loo.

Links

Million Dead
Million Dead Fansite
Frank Turner Official Site

By Ross Macdonald

Lizard Hips

Lizard Hips

Junior Vice President of Keep It Fast. In other news: I work in social media, talk about dinosaurs, run a book club and have amazing facial hair. I am also a male man who is still not dead.

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