Review Summary: An incendiary, yet melodic 31-minute assault from a Swedish quartet that brings to mind a very young Strung Out/NOFX mix.
One of the most powerful storylines in novels and films is telling the tale of the underdog. Its versatility and seemingly limitless number of possibilities is what makes this theme so powerful and recognizable across all ages. What was your first encounter with the underdog? The story of David vs. Goliath in Sunday School class? The Little Engine That Could
? The Mighty Ducks
? But something, too, can be said about the protagonist and his/her initial portrayal. What induces the audience to rally around him/her, especially when [typically] he/she isn't initially painted in the most illustrious of colors?
Arguably, sports and the underdog theme (with a specific motif in mind, such as courage and strength in the face of adversity) are one of the best combinations in literary and cinematic works. The list is more or less all-pervading, but there are plenty of powerful examples: Rocky going toe-to-toe with Creed, the 1984 American men's hockey team toppling the USSR in the Olympics, the triumph of a desegregated high school football team uniting together despite facing racial tensions within their own town ("Like all the other schools in this conference, [Hayfield is] all white. They don't have to worry about race. We do. Let me tell you something: you don't let anyone come between us. Nothing tears us apart. In Greek mythology, the titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well, that football field out there, that's our universe. Let's rule it like titans") juxtaposed with the agony and anguish of losing the only thing you know ("Only Nate Hearne had a different perspective on it all. He understood the psychological pain Boobie was going through, how unimaginably hard it was to sit there and watch someone else perform with brilliance a role that had once been his. But he also understood the world of high school football. When Boobie got hurt, he became obsolete") - all of these examples, and many more, can be drawn upon.
Short of maybe a concept album and Susan Boyle, it's a little more difficult to argue the role of the underdog in music, but Gothenburg-based quartet Rebuke (Petter Mossberg [guitar, vocals], Philip Nordling [bass, vocals], Sam Rönnberg [guitars], and Simone Perini/Micke Jörstad** [drums]) exhibit an underdog mentality with their no-nonsense, DIY-ingrained work ethic. For over seven years, this Swedish melodic hardcore outfit has independently released several records, and the band's notoriety has been bolstered through extensive touring rather than MySpace (to paraphrase their rationale for never using MySpace: the News Corporation led by Rupert Murdoch is extremely outspoken about its ultra-right-wing, neo-conservative agenda and "to confine oneself in a hegemonic and insidious system like MySpace is not only licking [its] technologically-stagnating asshole, it's an insult . . . to the Internet as a medium for information and entertainment. Media centralization leads to deceit, corruption, and disinformation. Don't let these fuck
ers dictate the Internet").
If you can picture the city of Gothenburg being transplanted off of Sweden's southwest coast and dropped smack into the middle of Southern California, you would have a pretty good heuristic of Rebuke's trademark sound. However, as you are well aware, heuristics can be dangerous if utilized as lazy shortcuts, and while there's no denying the palpable influence of bands like Propagandhi, Strung Out, NOFX, and Belvedere have on their core sound, Rebuke's instrumental individuality and lyrical prowess shines through repeatedly throughout Wouldworks
Although not every adjustment is perfect, one of Rebuke's greatest strengths is how they seamlessly segue in between transitions throughout the record. Album opener "Bartenders & Tarbenders'" middle breakdown is bookended by rapid-fire percussion and blistering guitar interplay, and the juxtaposition between shouted and sung vocals is executed with unparalleled fervor - all in a neatly-constructed ninety-second blitz. Every track on Wouldworks
clocks in below a 3:00 threshold (save for closer and album highlight "Mission Solved, Problem Accomplished," which has an extended decrescendo to conclude the record, but its powerful message and brilliant instrumentation cannot be overstated), making the record easily digestible in one sitting without boring the listener. While some upstart hybrid acts hide behind excessive distortion to disguise sloppy picking or pride themselves on a homogeneous songwriting formula, Rebuke deviate from these norms and offer fourteen distinctive short stories.
While briefly alluded to earlier, the guitars on Wouldworks
are impeccably written. For example, the palm-muted power chord-driven structural riffs provide a sturdy backbone to the lead guitar, as they do in the "Wings" mini-trilogy ("Wings," "Wings II: The Bastard Idioms," and "Wings III: Driving the Point Home"). Mossberg and Rönnberg are complemented wonderfully by a very precise and stalwart rhythm section: each cymbal crash and snare hit rings clear while Nordling's engaging, balanced bass lines add another melodic element to Rebuke's sound. The quintessential cut on Wouldworks
would most likely be "Affection, Abandon, Affliction" and its fiery introduction, torrid drumming, impassioned dual vocals, and diverse guitar synergy, especially when the two guitarists weave between each channel. The track's anthemic lyrics ("The level of success is not measured in paid checks / . . . that empty seat, that vacant chair made me doubt anyone would ever care as much as us - and some of you - but the beautiful music we listen to . . . we sing these songs and share these dreams") also highlight the band's knack for alluding to their heroes while providing their own personalized insight.
Drawing upon their own social and civic efficacy as well as their own personal tales, Rebuke's lyrics have enormous crossover appeal rather than suffering from being one-dimensional. The vocal teamwork of "Death-Defying Stunts" implores the listener to keep hold to memories and have no regrets, while "Take to the Seas," "(It's Not) Rocket Surgery," and "Mission Solved, Problem Accomplished" (among others) echoes the same anti-war messages and big-government cynicism that the band vehemently supports.
While Rebuke confirms its melodic hardcore roots throughout Wouldworks
, they play to a wide spectrum of sound: there are some poppier cuts (i.e., The Artist in the Ambulance
-esque Thrice, as in "Gonzales" and "Snow Day") interspersed with some heavier, metal-tinged tracks (especially "History Doesn't Repeat Itself... We Repeat History"). Perini's performance on Wouldworks
is simply sublime - there are occasions where studio drummers stick to basics and don't do anything innovative, but his drumming is consistently captivating. While the record is not without its flaws - its problematic mixing levels (especially with the vocals) can make for a confusing listen, the stop-start transitions are not as smooth as the more seamless segues, and some of the band's cross-genre injections hinder a song's development - but Wouldworks
ultimately affixes a pretty solid stamp on the ever-growing hybrid hardcore sound, and it goes without saying that hearing this record live at Rebuke's signature cathartic, insanely-energetic shows will be simply awesome... and any artist that refers to MySpace as "a disaster" that's "licking its stagnating asshole" is probably good for sharing a beer or two with afterward.
Mission Solved, Problem Accomplished
Affection, Abandon, Affliction
The Wings trilogy
** Simone Perini (of Actionmen) served as the studio drummer on Wouldworks
, while Micke Jörstad plays live when he can (as he is busy with his full-time band From the Tracks)