Taking the fifth

After a decade of silence, the Mark of Cain resume their punishing ways, writes Brett Woodward.

After a decade of silence, the Mark of Cain resume their punishing ways, writes Brett Woodward.

WHAT could bring Henry Rollins out of retirement? Turns out it's Songs of the Third and Fifth, the Mark of Cain's first album in a decade.

''I was told Henry's virtually done with singing,'' guitarist and vocalist John Scott says. ''But I sat down with him and went through the lyrics of our song Grey 11. He'd just come from visiting wounded soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

''Grey 11 is about the idea of returning from conflict: what do you do, how do you deal with it? Rollins had the knowledge and interest to lay down a whole section in the middle of the song that made perfect sense.''

The relationship between Rollins and the Mark of Cain can be traced to 1995, when the former Black Flag frontman produced their breakthrough album, Ill at Ease.

Brothers John and Kim Scott, sharing a love of Joy Division and US hardcore, formed the band in Adelaide in 1985. The Mark of Cain released acclaimed early albums Battlesick (1989) and The Unclaimed Prize (1991), and became a formidably tight and punishing live act. Steve Albini, who had just formed Shellac, was impressed enough to produce their 1993 EP, Incoming.

By the time of Ill at Ease, the Mark of Cain were riding high. Their single LMA was all over Triple J and Justin Broadrick - the dark genius of Godflesh fame - reinterpreted two tracks for the band's Rock and Roll remix album in 1996. The band signed up the Gang of Four's Andy Gill to produce their next album, 2001's This Is This. Then, a silence where thunderous riffs used to be.

''It's been 10 years of attending to the business of life, family, work,'' Scott says. ''I was trying to fit that in, still tour, plus we had the problem of the band not being in one spot.''

John Stanier has occupied the Mark of Cain's drum stool since 1998. Notoriously precise and powerful, he was also with Helmet for 10 years. While the Scott brothers were based in Adelaide, Stanier toured the globe with Mike Patton's Tomahawk and Battles.

''About 2006, I started thinking about writing new stuff,'' Scott says of Songs of the Third and Fifth's long gestation. ''Part of the reason why it took so long was that I hit a brick wall. I had to get into the studio but was finding it very difficult with a disintegrating family. It was a hard slog and, sometimes, knowing I had that music was the only thing that saved me, to be quite honest.''

The band's partnership with veteran promoter and tour manager Tim Pittman and his company, Feel Presents, has also been key to their reinvigoration, first managing them and then joining them in the studio.

Songs of the Third and Fifth is an outstanding return. It has everything a fan could want, from the familiarity of the band's crushing, minimal sound to the strong songwriting.

''I didn't want the band to go backwards but I did want to return to that early, melodic but heavy feel of Battlesick and The Unclaimed Prize,'' Scott says. ''Not a repeat of what we've done before but everything that we are, still moving forward.''

Songs of the Third and Fifth will be released on November 2.

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