Propagandhi - Todays Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
Released 11/7/2000 by Fat Wreck Chords
ALBUM RATING: 5 (Classic)
Seven words: Has to be heard to be believed.
Largely regarded by many of their fans (including myself) as Propagandhi's true opus, Today's Empires (Propagandhi's third LP) is one of those records that simply floors you with its ferocity. This album is a complete package. The band members jokingly call themselves a "progressive thrash" band, but well, this is a prog-thrash record, because that's the only way to accurately describe the re-invented Propagandhi's sound, as well as the impact it had.
Criminally under-noticed by many punk/hardcore/metal fans, TETA is/was waaaaaaay ahead of its time, featuring absolutely incredible musicianship that is light-years beyond the NOFX-ish (with a few nods to Voivod and Venom) sound of the last two albums, 1996's Less Talk, More Rock (very underrated record) and 1992's How To Clean Everything (also a fan-favorite record). TETA proves that punk rock/hardcore bands can not only play, but they probably play better than any other fast music band out there. Featuring seamless, dizzying meter changes at incredible tempos, incredibly catchy AND flashy guitar work (the shred solo at the end of "Purina Hall Of Fame" will melt your face off), as well as complex, hardcore-ish basslines ("Natural Disasters", "With Friends...", "*** The Border"), as well as some all-out freeform jamming, where the depths of the band's true musical talent becomes hard to ignore. I also don't know many other guitarists that can belt out rapid-fire, highly-literate, wordy lyrics while playing some of the extremely complicated-yet-beautifully-melodic chord voicings, wild soloing, and intricate riffing that Hannah uses throughout this album (good examples are "Mate Ka", "Ladies Night In Loserville", "Albright Monument, Baghdad", and the title-track).
New bassist and other vocalist/screaming guy is Todd The Rod, replacing the poppier John Sampson (who left to form the Weakerthans). Right off the bat, Todd fits the band better, because the band is better at politically-inspired hardcore than shoegazing pop-punk (check out John's songs from their first two albums). And Jord, the drummer, is perhaps the sickest skinsman you'll ever listen to in a thrash/punk band. Evidence? "*** The Border", "With Friends Like These...", "Bull*** Politicians", "Purina", basically most of the album. He shifts the meter at the drop of a hat, as subtle as a jazz drummer, then slips right back in without you even noticing the first time around, or simply pulls out some extremely fast, complicated fills mid-beat, just as fast as Travis Barker or Jordan Burns or Derrick Plourde or Dave Raun. Totally in-the-pocket, all-around talent. These guys are just that good.
The album as a whole is VERY fast, VERY pissed, and just flat-out vicious. The tone of the record is far angrier, frustrated, and has lost much of the sarcastic humor the band had been known for, but luckily, all that was left was the venom, which is quite potent. The band are simply incredible writers, with some of the most intelligent, thoughtful and sublime lyrics you will ever read. The band is extremely far-left wing, (pro-feminism, pro-gay, vegan, "meat is murder", animal rights, *** capitalism, you name it) and waste no time at all trying to de-toxify you from the media/TV brainwashing we've been under. But hey, with a name like Propagandhi, you shouldn't expect lukewarm views on things.
And to be honest, it's hard to ignore their message either way. These guys are REALLY smart and definitely know their sh!t, like it or not. Just go on their website and look at the news section, or put this CD in your computer, where you're given a HUGE . Often taking on issues not reported on in our media with a biting, pissed-off sarcasm (Jello would be proud), delivered out in a constant rapid-fire delivery, Hannah spits lines about a wide range of social/economical commentary as well as scenester politics, while at the same time conveying a palpable feeling of ferocious anger and frustration that you WILL bang your head to. An excerpt from "Back To The Motor League", a raging, palm-mute bonanza of power chords that basically gives the punk/metal/whatever scenes the finger, reads like so:
"What have we here/Fifteen-years later it's the reek of swill and chickensh!t conformists/Fists in the air/Like-father like-son rebels bloated on Korns, Eminems, and Bizkits/Lord hear our prayer/Take back your Amy Grant mosh-crews and fairweather politics/Blow dry my hair/And stick me on a ten-speed/Back to the motor league"
Their straight political numbers are ridiculously thought-provoking, too, right up there with Bad Religion, Refused, NOFX (The Decline and The War On Errorism, 'nuff said), but rarely has a punk rock band sounded so outraged at the state of affairs, so purely pissed off. "With Friends Like These, Who The *** Needs COINTELPRO?" is an album highlight, calling out the government-appointed taskforce used in the 70's for spying on and assassinating "politically suspicious" African-Americans (i.e., the Black Panthers) with some of the most incredible tom-roll beats you will ever hear in a good ol' punk beat, all while playing in perfect meter AND swiping lines from Iron Maiden ("but you got another thing comin'"), finally ending with a full-on jam of jazzy, Rush-inspired riffing and free-form, jazzy drumming. Fast, to the point, slow, quiet, raging but catchy all at the same time - in one song.
But, in all seriousness, the whole thing is great. Hell, the first 30 seconds of "Purina Hall Of Fame" will probably stop you from eating meat for weeks - trust me. Another personal favorite is the feminist-themed rager "Ladies' Night In Loserville", which ties together a lot of the album's wide palette of sounds: fast, catchy as hell, to-the-point (quite a few of the album's songs clock in under two minutes) technically impressive (check the chord voicings in the verses), with some extremely dark humor AND serious intelligence ("She slurs 'How much more bull*** you got left?/ 'cause you've been feeding me this crap/about free speech and thought-police like I'm supposed to sit and swoon.'"). The breakdown will send chills up your spine, with a rather simple but just perfect lead riff, while Jord plays a punk beat/high-hat paradiddle behind it. It may sound basic but it works SOOOOOOOO well, and moments like it are all over this album.
In my contender for angriest song on the album, it would have to go with "Bull*** Politicians", featuring some insane stickwork courtesy of Jord as well as intermingling three wholly-different sounding verses (going from BR-style cut time to full-on 200 bpm insanity), tied together with a purely speed-thrash, Slay-tastic chorus featuring all-and-answer vocals from Hannah and the full on hardcore scream of The Rod:
"Bull*** politicians/Lying cheating mother***ers/Bull*** politicians/Lie and cheat until we cease their power/We'll never learn, and nothing will ever change/If we stay this course of followers and slaves/I can't believe we're still content/Re-shuffling the same old dicks/This cornerstone of our democracies/And still we take them back!/Bull*** politcians/Brick by brick/Wall by wall".
Alright, this is getting too long. It's a fantastic album, and if you are intelligent and/or like fast music at all, you'd be an idiot not to get this. Absolute classic.
Chris "Glen Lambert" Hannah - Guitar, vox
Todd "The Rod" Kowalski - Bass, vox
Jord Samoelsky - Drums, back-up vox