Review Summary: Go ahead and sing you guys! Sing you guys!
In 2009's Supporting Caste
, Propagandhi more or less perfected the increasingly frantic sound they had been developing for the better part of a decade. The album was not only a fusion of the melodic punk rock sound Propagandhi had built their early career on and their thrashier influences, but also saw songwriters Chris Hannah and Todd Kowalski at their most focused and meticulous. "Dear Coach's Corner" perhaps best exemplifies this improvement; Propagandhi opens with some of the most explosive guitar work they've put to record, but quickly transition into a more sombre atmosphere befitting of Hannah's poignant diatribe against militarism and nationalism in Canadian cultural institutions. It's a more subdued track than much of the album, which revels in the sort of breakneck riffing that Today’s Empires, Tomorrows Ashes
and Potemkin City Limits
only hinted at, but it's a good example of how far Hannah and Kowalski have come as songwriters.
In some respect, Failed States
operates in similar vein. Towards the end of "Note to Self", Hannah prescribes the solution to the bitter social criticisms they've spent their careers railing against ("rise"), and kicks off a string of furious, energetic offerings. The most instantly enjoyable songs here, such as "Ratten Cane" and "Status Update", again push Propagandhi's aggressive tendencies to the limit. In particular, the sludgy hardcore in "Ratten Cane" is among the riffiest romps Failed States
has to offer and fits the brutal ideological hazing detailed in the lyrics perfectly. Likewise, the blistering shred guitar in "Hadron Collision" and "Status Update" highlights the sort of technicality that has become a staple in Propagandhi's sound.
But behind the all the guitar wizardry, Failed States
returns to and expands on the sober themes explored in "Dear Coach's Corner", and it's this approach that is most attention-grabbing. "Note to Self" opens with gloomy guitars set to lyrics disparaging the traumas of austerity for working people and dishonest governing parties (which may as well refer to the Harper regime of the band's native Canada, although the song is vague enough to apply to past and present ruling parties of pretty much anywhere), and while it takes on a mid-paced, metallic sheen, it never loses the urgency it establishes early on. "Unscripted Moment" temporarily steps away from the social criticism to reflect on the more positive aspects of life (perhaps in spite of everything the band rails against), injecting some perspective into the record, while "Lotus Gait" laments the apathy and thoughtlessness that in part prevents real change. Even the relatively light-hearted "Things I Like" takes a darker turn towards the end; support for underrated Rush records and "inconsistent, fragile, internationally reviled" hockey franchises quickly turns back to a grim appraisal of the modern society.
In this way, Failed States
is very much a reflection of its time. Between continuing economic struggles, ***faced politicians, growing class divisions, financial corruption, etc, the band has no shortage of targets to aim its ire at. As with previous albums, much of Failed States
tackles these issues in the bitter, provocative way befitting of their love of thrashy punk rock, but it's backed up by an increasingly tragic flare that compliments the record's heavier moments exceedingly well. It helps that Propagandhi consistently reinvent themselves with each album, subtly or not, ensuring that there's always something interesting to come back to. Fans will debate whether Failed States
tops previous records, but certainly meets the standards the band has set for themselves. With a discography as constantly excellent as Propagandhi's, that's no small feat, and once again confirms their status as one of Canada's most accomplished punk acts.