Return of Jacques de Molay
Crisp guitars churning out raw mid-tempo energy, stripped to the bitter essence, over which gravelly vocals that suggest a sense of lassitude try to make sense of social calamities (e.g. class politics, racism and political malfeasance), these are the Templars. Return of Jacques de Molay and Phase II are reissues of perhaps two of the best punk albums since the Clash’s London Calling. In fact, when first hearing this band it is hard to believe that they are not from the same epoch as the Clash. While the grittiness of the Templars’ sound is very British (circa 1977) it’s by no means derivative.
The Templars have long occupied an ambiguous place in the oi!/street punk scene. While they avow a unrelenting solidarity with working-class values, they are careful not to shoehorn themselves as a specifically “working-class” band. Their impetus is more tenable and articulate than the misguided agro of so many of their contemporaries. In recent years, working-class tropes in punk have become played out, especially when considering the doubtful authenticity of so many of these oi-boys. Being working-class involves more than shaving one’s head, lacing up the steel-toes boots and partaking in some good ol’ pugilism. The Templars seem to understand this. This is not to say that they don’t sometimes fall victim to some of the oi!/street punk trappings, it’s just that they aren’t as contrived.
Sure, Return of Jacques de Molay has its obligatory skinhead anthem (“Skinhead Rule O.K.”), one of the best nods to the spirit of ’69 I’ve heard, but the band’s purview is much boarder. “Our Generation” is a veritable blues song performed in a punk idiom: “The future’s looking bleak for the young . . . Betrayed and beaten by the leaders of the nation.” “Those Who Build This Country” and “Pride” are both strident calls for dignity and solidarity among the working-class, the fundamental prerequisites for toppling oppression. Here, and throughout, the uncompromising smartness of the Templars belies the too often accurate notion of oi-boys being narrow-minded thugs.
Phase II is the more radically political of the two albums. The message of “Freedom Has its Price” is palpable today as we find ourselves disenfranchised in this so-called democracy: “Don’t wanna be ruled by the chosen few whose interest is political gain/I want my voice to be loud and strong, not a scream from the bottom of the heap.” Similarly, “Their Plan” distills the Us/Them dichotomy at the heart of American politics. Phase II doesn’t necessarily provide any answers to the burdens of the powerless, the Templars themselves may not have the answers. However, the album does begin to ask questions about the way things are, and proclaims that we mustn’t be complacent. Their music delivers power to the powerless.
Unlike other bands who fall under the rubric oi!/street punk, the Templars’ beliefs are not circumvented by blind nationalism. They exude an indelible sense of pride (and patriotism for that matter), but are cognizant that things are pretty fucked up and social calamities must be dealt with. Their heads are shaved, but their ideology is rooted in the Left. They are familiar with the predicament of the common worker, yet realize it is only one facet of the American power structures continued attempt to oppress those who are most vulnerable. These reissues are refreshing additions to a banal oi!/street punk repertoire.