Stirling's Notebooks first surfaced in 2010 and have been plugging away diligently since, on the back of a reassuringly back-to-basics model which seems to be working quite well for them. The Notebooks’ agenda is quite simple: gig mercilessly, sell t-shirts and CDs, play dark and heavy modern hardcore. And a year or so down the line, their work has culminated in their debut EP Merit/Privilege. The CD is sharply packaged and clocks in at just 17 minutes, concise in every way. Beginning with Network, featuring a sample from the film of the same name that quite neatly sums up the whole record, and blasting through five tracks of pure intensity. Merit/Privilege never lets up but never overstays its welcome, which is always a big plus.
The first "proper" song on the EP, Sorrow, serves as a nice introduction to the band's sound: a breathless rush of aggression that collapses into a brilliantly heavy groove with the furious roars of vocalist Chris Gregg unrelenting throughout. Gregg's vocals are one of Notebooks' strongest assets; they are devoid of the melodic-to-unmelodic shifts that are common in metalcore. While these shifts are not always a bad thing, staying away from this style prevents the songs on Merit/Privilege from ever falling into overly melodramatic, scene-orientated pitfalls. The songs on the EP play on the band's grasp of straight-up, deeply confrontational aggression. The structures are fairly simple and riff-driven, which does lead to structural and dynamic repetition at points. On the other hand, this allows the emotion of the songs to bleed through, putting emphasis on Gregg's passionate song writing and the sheer heaviness and darkness of the band's music. It's good to listen to a band that encroach on a scene that too often veers towards what's almost self-parody, yet emerge proudly brandishing their songs with their own sound and credibility firmly intact. The EP's highlights include the pummelling Four Walls and Being Human’s brutal, head banging intensity.
As a body of music, Merit/Privilege serves as an immaculate portrait of exactly why Notebooks are here. Whilst sounding very much like the work of a band still finding its feet, everything from its presentation to its songs indicate a young band who already have real depth and integrity in their grasp.