Review Summary: The Effort find their focus on "Wartime Citizens" and lock in a frequency worth sticking to.
The Effort are what you'd call a pessimistic bunch. “Wartime Citizens” is an unrelenting downer; it’s 30-ish minutes of straight-ahead spinning blades of melodic hardcore, seamlessly stringing together a compilation of manic dissertations that mourn the slow death of any remaining virtue America has left to offer. Militarism, imperialism, nationalism, racism, classism - 1950, 1980, 2010; nothing’s changed.
2018: still nothing. Music as bluntly misanthropic as that on “Wartime Citizens” runs the risk of aging poorly and becoming a unique kind of embarrassing. I used to sit in the passenger seat of an old girlfriend’s car and roll her windows down so that I could subject her and any bystanders to 90-decibel ranting and raving from the fully-unembarrassed likes of Zach de la Rocha and Chris Hannah. Which is not to say that those guys aren’t still among my heroes, nor that they didn’t form crucial vertebrae, then, in the backbone of my growing musical tastes - but only that, when we’re younger, we gravitate towards extremes, only to discover that some of these former declarations fizzle awkwardly when we revisit them expecting to feel the same.
Such experiences are not representative of “Wartime Citizens”, which has continued to grow more relevant and damaging in the 7.5 fruitless cycles of American Independence Days that have passed since its release (which was, after all, on a Fourth of July). The subjects constituting these stricken, breathless screeds have only grown more malignant, more shameful over the course of the past decade - we careen ever more senselessly away from the sticking points we’re supposed to depend upon in modern society and as a race.
The lyrical ambition and a subtle tinkering with interwoven narrative concepts, as compellingly outlined by the stellar vocals, are those elements of “Wartime Citizens” which persevere in distinguishing it from the releases of contemporaries and, too, The Effort’s own discography. That’s not to denigrate any of the accompanying instrumental elements here: they’re proficient, sometimes perversely catchy, and they underscore a uniquely palpable feeling of despair. But they never rise far above serviceable frameworks of melodic hardcore. The content of the transmission is what gives this album its true character.
Take the opener, “Prince of Man(ipulation)”, which sees the group ushering listeners into a packed underground bunker filled with marching drumrolls and swelling chords, rendered hair-raising by dint of an urgently shrieked marathon of bloodletting barbs and observations. The intent is clear from those opening seconds: This show is fast-moving, and it slows only to offer eerie stills from the frontier’s ravaged scenery as envisioned within. Don’t keep hitting snooze, say The Effort, or you’ll get left holding the bag when all that’s left is smoldering.