Review Summary: Propagandhi’s most vicious offering yet and an easy contender for album of the year.
There’s few things people can be certain of in these troubling economic times, but if one thing is for sure, we know that every 3-4 years or so Propagandhi will release a kick-ass record. It’s pretty much just what they do. The band has been at it for the better part of 30 years, evolving beautifully from a snotty NOFX clone into a disgustingly-consistent juggernaut of incendiary punk, thrash and progressive that bring to mind 80’s thrash bands like Razor, Sacrifice and Voivod if they got to 3rd base with Rush and Bad Religion. To say that it would be difficult to top 2001’s Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes
or 2009’s Supporting Caste
– universally acclaimed releases with few if any flaws – is an understatement. But yet with Failed States
, Propagandhi may have done exactly that.
Throughout the record Propagandhi waste not a second, initiating Scorched Earth on your eardrums. It’s easily the heaviest, most unforgiving album the band has recorded yet, making even the hardest moments of TETA
look merely cute by comparison. Nowhere is that more apparent than Todd-barked tracks “Rattan Cane” with its sludgy down-tuned riffage, ball-shaking shouts, and manic energy that threatens to twist your head off, or "Hadron Collision", a gunshot of hardcore fury punctuated with a superb solo. Chris-sung “Status Update” (first seen about a year ago in a practice space video) is a furious rager that squeezes more melody, energy and notes into in one minute than some thrash or punk bands do on a whole album, while the title track does it's job in encompassing the whole of the album sonically into a three-minute explosion of indignant rage, air-raid harmonized riffs and utterly badass bass lines.
Intro track “Note To Self” starts off with a tense build-up only to go into an alarmingly mid-tempo metal stomp, punctuated with dizzying time-changes and an expansive, progressively-influenced bridge/outro combo with a repeating palm-muted riff pinning it all down. It doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before, and it’s one of the album’s highlights. One of the more surprising qualities of the album is how Todd carries the majority of the more melodic moments of the album such as "Cognitive Suicide", which still manages to stick in a quickie burst of Slayer spaz, and "Dark Matters", a serious contender for one of the band's top songs with a lovely arpeggiated main riff and shout-along chorus, reminiscient of many moments on 2005's Potemkin City Limits
. "Lotus Gait" starts with Chris singing in a lower register over a murky clean guitar before the full band comes in with one of their most urgent songs in memory. One of the album's finest moments is the bridge section that unexpectedly switches from militant punk fury to calm, clean strumming and quiet, proggy drum/bass jamming that really shows just how far these guys have come as musicians since their first two albums. Epic album closer "Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)" is possibly the best track on the album, seeming to meld the best parts of Propagandhi's classic closers "Iteration" and "Purina Hall Of Fame" into one behemoth monster of a song.
Singer/guitarist Chris Hannah is in his finest form, churning out incredible levels of shred alongside David “The Beaver” Guillas in a harder, more complex refinement of their exceptional work on Supporting Caste
. They’ve stepped it up even farther, putting melody and catchiness on the backburner for more of an aural assault of buzzsaw gallop riffs, flat-out shredding and abstract chord changes that threatens to inundate the listener but never fails to interest. If you thought Supporting Caste
stepped up the guitar interplay for the band, you really haven't seen anything yet until you listen to Failed States
. The rhythm section of Todd on bass and Jord on drums turn in their individual finest performances on this record, meeting a matching every twist and turn of the twin-guitar attack with on-a-dime precision and power. Basically, take everything they’ve done before, turn it up to 11 (maybe 20) and you have Failed States
in a nutshell.
Where this succeeds in comparison to their prior records is that the album really flows exceptionally well. It doesn’t have as many obvious “holy crap best song ever” moments as much as Supporting Caste
at first (again, due to the harder/heavier nature of the record), but a few listens is all it takes to realize that the band really has NEVER sounded this good. It blends the tasty riffage of TETA
and Supporting Caste
with the expansive, unconventional song structures and deliberate pace of Potemkin City Limits
, and pulls it off pretty flawlessly. If a flaw can be attributed to it, it's that it's a much harder listen than their previous records since it's so relentless, although calmer moments pop up a lot more on the second, stronger half. And either way, any of the fans and holdouts of the How To Clean Everything
and Less Talk, More Rock
era (do they still exist?) are going to be more alienated than ever.
isn’t perfect. It’s not the greatest album ever, nor will it completely change your life. It’s just the absolute best punk/thrash/prog/no-one-fucking-cares-what-it-is release you will hear this year, and probably for a while after, at least until A Wilhelm Scream actually releases something this decade. It’s Propagandhi playing to their strengths and then some, and that’s all anybody wanted, really. Can't recommend this enough.