It goes without saying that Brand New are a staple “Sputnik” band, and I mean that less in the sense that the site in any way gave rise to the band’s popularity and more in the sense that we’ve unquestionably worshiped them as a deity since 2006. They’re not the only band that we’ve collectively fawned over, but even out of the site’s most highly respected artists, they are still near – if not at – the pinnacle. With The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me receiving well over 5,000 ratings while maintaining a 4.5 average, their reputation around these parts is so high that speaking negatively about the band – and even more so, this album – is heresy. Part of this hysteria can be chalked up to the age group and genre fans that populate this site, as Brand New undoubtedly speaks to younger generations, but as a whole it’s difficult to deny – through any scope – the record’s status as a modern day classic. On November 20, 2006, the world of alt/indie rock was forever imprinted with the mark of Brand New’s depressive and highly existential work of art; their unquestionable magnum opus. Ten years later, it’s time to revisit this towering achievement and take a quick look at what it now means a full decade removed from its release date.
It all started with immense pressure to follow up the band’s sophomore smash hit, Deja Entendu, with something worthy of the band’s rising reputation. High expectations aren’t easy for anyone to deal with, but for frontman Jesse Lacey it cut straight to his core. At one point he was even on record saying, “I’m getting depressed with all of the anxiety about the album” adding that even then, he’ll have to to “contend with how it’s received.” When you’re the vocalist and lyricist for a band that became notable in part for their witticisms, the mounting apprehension is understandable. However, when you take that general restless feeling and throw in some unfortunate circumstances, the whole thing became rather combustible.
Several close family members and friends died during the recording of the album (as is noted in the physical CD sleeve), and then to make matters worse, nine tracks (now known as the Leaked Demos, or the Fight Off Your Demons collection) recorded for the album were leaked to the internet. Lacey denounced the leak, stating that “no one likes to show their creation in mid-process…those songs weren’t done” and “It put me in a state where I was under the impression that those songs had been wasted…that we had to go and write new things because those had been heard.” So, that’s exactly what they did…well, more or less. “Luca” and “Sowing Season” were retained, while “Untitled 9” (later re-titled “Battalions”) carried a striking resemblance to what became “Archers.” However, had it not been for the leak, we may have never been given tracks like “Millstone”, “Jesus”, “Limousine”, or “You Won’t Know” – which any Brand New fan knows would have been a travesty. So in all honesty, a lot of good came from what was at the time considered by Lacey to be an unfortunate incident…and time has a way of healing all things, as Jesse later officially commented on the leak saying that “…in retrospect, I want those songs to be on the album and many of them aren’t, and I’m probably more to blame for that than anyone. This record already feels incomplete to me without those tracks and probably will forever.”
In advance of the official release date, the band released a somewhat mysterious music video for the track “Untitled”, seen below, which consisted primarily of a young man spray painting a wall with “evil and good are raging inside me” before changing it to the album title.
What followed was almost certainly unexpected. After accumulating an almost unfathomable amount of accolades for their “mature” version of pop-punk in Deja Entendu, the world witnessed Brand New evolve double fold. Tongue-in-cheek self deprecation turned into all out self-loathing. Lines that loosely toed around the idea of death were replaced with existential crises – “before you put my body in the cold ground, take some time and warm it with your hands” / “Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die, but I’m a little bit scared of what comes after.” Melodic choruses were abandoned in favor of raucous screams and cacophonous instrumentation. Surely, more than one or two Brand New fans had their hearts leap into their throats 1:03 into “Sowing Season” and 3:54 into “Luca.” This was a new, much darker version of the Brand New that faded into the sounds of waves and acoustic guitars as “Play Crack The Sky” closed out Deja.
And the timing of this unfounded maturation couldn’t have been any better. Just as Brand New found it in them to create such a towering representation of the destruction of one’s innocence, the millions of teenage/young adult fans who related so earnestly to Deja Entendu found themselves entering high school/college and having every one of their beliefs challenged. It’s why “Millstone” couldn’t have landed on a more appropriate album for these guys; lines like “I used to pray like God was listening / I used to make my parents proud” were a perfect fit not only for Lacey and company, but also – intentionally or not – for their target audience. Everything from the questioning of religion to songs about death and failed relationships resonated in ways that many others tried to accomplish but fell far short, and a lot of that can be credited to Lacey’s delivery. The weight of his words and how he sings them are huge – you can literally feel the weight of every word as it hovers over your mind momentarily; and then again as it comes crashing down in a wave of utter hopelessness. I have yet to meet a person who’s heard The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me in its entirety and has had the audacity to claim that he is anything but one hundred percent sincere. The amped up guitars and heavier overall approach helped, but there’s no denying that the massive transformation presented on this album started and ended with Jesse – his hope, and his rage.
“Limousine” marked the ultimate peak for these guys both on the record and perhaps at all. The track is an epic written about the death of seven year old Katie Flynn, who was killed by a drunk driver. Narrated from multiple perspectives – including the driver responsible for Katie’s tragic death – the track climaxes with 7 repetitions (one for each year of her life) of One’ll/Two’ll…Seven’ll love you so much, but do me a favor baby don’t reply. Because I can dish it out, but I can’t take it before a well placed and emotionally charged guitar solo that eventually fades into static and an almost inaudible voice recording by the producer, Mike Sapone. If any individual track represents the band’s maturity from Deja to TDAG, this is it:
As most are aware, the band continued transforming all the way through their (to date) final release Daisy, but despite the separate kinds of milestones that record reached, the band’s best work seems to be very firmly rooted back in 2006 – with tracks like “Sowing Season”, “Jesus”, “Degausser”, “Limousine”, “You Won’t Know”, and “Luca.”
In looking back, it’s nearly impossible to say just how much my individual opinion on the album has changed. I still get chills when Lacey screams “I am not your friend, I am just a man who knows how to feel” and I still feel that his open letter to God, “Jesus” is one of the most personally relevant songs I’ve ever heard. “You Won’t Know” still plunges me into depression every time. From a more objective perspective, the album certainly seems to have aged well. In fact, the more that time has passed, the more it seems to be revered on a broad scale that extends well beyond the confines of this website. Many have tried to emulate the dark, brooding atmosphere of this record, but nobody has mastered it like Brand New did here.
After a decade of raging, this album remains one of the very best of our time.