Review Summary: So I heard punk was dead
Remember when Punk was declared dead? Exactly, neither do I. On the verge of celebrating their two decade anniversary as a band, Canadian Punk Rwak outfit Propagandhi tick off pretty much every checkbox in the to-do list of Punk Rwak and then some – Angry? Tick. Political? Tick. Influenced by Progressive Thrash? Um, that too. Evolving from their early days of ska-influenced bedroom punk of How To Clean Everything
to the aggressive, fretboard blistering sounds of Potemkin City Limits
, the band have been nothing less than an raging monster in their respective scene, tearing down and discarding traditional notions of Punk Rwak since their defiant break out in 1989. That said, album No. 5, Supporting Caste
is everything I thought it wouldn’t
be. Album after album of ever refining technicality, I had half expected the band to take a turn in the way of A Wilhelm Scream’s Career Suicide
, with solos abound and taking the hints of the jazz influenced leads on City Limits to a complex progressive masterpiece.
This is what the band expressly did not do.
Of course, (vocalist/guitarist) Chris Hannah did already let the ball drop on that fact when he mentioned to Sputnik in January that the band would also be taking a leaf out of the rifftastic effort of Less Talk, More Rock
, rather than follow in the lead of City Limit’s
shreadtasticness. I should have listened. With the inclusion of new band member and second guitarist David “The Beaver” Guillas, the final effort sounds as if Propagandhi dosed itself up with a literal syringe shot of guitar riffing, dropped into a studio somewhere then pounded their guitars to pieces with sheer melodic and rhythmic force. Never have the band sounded so serious and focused – Supporting Caste
is the sound of band in full flight, fresh with the wind of experience and passion behind it and up there with the best of Propagandhi’s efforts at creating their progressive thrash opus which they’ve been gunning for their entire career.
Distilling their sound from their idols like Voivod and early Exploited, opener "Night Letters" makes it immediately clear that Propagandhi are serious about their new direction, with some mega chug-chuggage going on in and amongst the flailing licks and Chris’ clear and passionate delivery – usually involving some sort of pronouncement of the band’s fervent left wing stance and staunch veganism. And of course, while the band have always managed to draw the line between being aggressive and falling into cliché of hardcore, lyrically at least, they’ve taken up early hardcore’s sense of angry sarcasm, with songs like "This Is Your Life" and "Human(e) Meat (the fleshing of Sandor Katz)" brimming with the witty social commentary of the kind found in Black Flag’s "TV Party" or The Descendants "‘Suburban Home". Never a band to be subtle though, Hannah does very often also just dive into the deep of the band’s politics, with lines like ‘History exalts only the pornography of force/That of, murderers and psychopaths’
, and occasionally using the rest of the band to awesome effect, with sharp riffing of "Tertium Non Datur" calming down into an acoustic lull before breaking out into a conservative’s heart attack of: ‘All they can see, are rigid dichotomies/of the sacred and the profane/salvation ashamed… well f'uck all infantry!’
…And none of this mentioning “Last Will And Testament’s’ hidden ode to Satan. Still, aggressive as the veneer of band’s punk ethics are, Propagandhi’s sound has always been deeply rooted in a sense of pop, with catchy melodies and hooks abound, carefully threading the line between overbearing heaviness and three-chord-one-sound masterpieces of, oh say, Anti-Flag, to pick a name out of the proverbial hat of cliché punk. Not that the band don’t indulge every once in a while of course, with “Dear Coaches Corner” letting loose a salvo of shread-spazz before settling down again, as if the band are almost saying ‘we could melt your face, but we’d much rather just stay in this for the long run’. It’s reflected too, that in the scheme of all things Propagandhi, Supporting Caste
may in fact be their least accessible album yet, if only because the band have mastered a way of writing dynamic, tension filled musical passages to compliment their philosophy of capitalist/rich people/the man mistrust. This isn’t a bad thing, but newcomers to the band and fans of more mainstream punk may find their earlier albums an easier pill to swallow. And while the album does taper off towards its second half, the first six songs alone would be worth the album’s price, with songs like “Tertium Non Datur” and “Potemkin City Limits” among some of the best material the band has ever written.
In short then, Supporting Caste
is everything Propagandhi. It’s not angry, pissed off, or irrationally maniacal, no – the Props are serious here, and they want to make sure you know it. And if they have to blow your mind along the way, well, so be it.