Review Summary: A thrilling, fully-immersive indie-rock album...and a triumphant return to everything that this band does best.
Sometimes it all comes together. The Republic of Wolves, independent alt-rockers hailing from Long Island, have been a perfect storm waiting to happen for nearly a decade now. The multi-faceted talents of the band – which includes vocalists/guitarists Mason Maggio and Christian Van Deurs (both of Tigers on Trains), drummer Chris Wall (of The Kickdrums), keyboardist/vocalist Billy Duprey , and bassist Ryan Sean Cullinane – have seemingly been on the fringe of breaking out since their 2009 debut EP His Old Branches
. The band has always thrived on mystique: the darker their themes and the deeper they tumble down the mythical rabbit hole, the better. From nature and spirits to literary folklore, The Republic of Wolves have always managed to transport their listeners through existential lyrics, hauntingly vivid atmospheres, and aggressively rock-rooted overtones that breathe fire into it all. When you consider all the greatest successes of their past – from the alluring mystery to the bone-chilling darkness – and roll them up into one cohesive product, you get shrine
. The group’s third full-length album is easily their most accomplished, correcting the pleasant but overly soft-spoken sophomore detour, No Matter How Narrow
, while also channeling Varuna
’s best traits with better production (thanks in large part to Dan Gluszak, of Envy On The Coast) and more gripping melodies. shrine
is a triumphant return to everything that this band does best , and it’s a thrilling, fully-immersive indie-rock album that finally puts everything on the line.
All of this becomes apparent immediately. “The Canyon” is a five-minute piece that begins like an interlude; soft but persistent acoustic strumming gradually fades to a flare of drums and electric guitars clashing together in grand cacophony. Spine-tingling screams char the background, while Maggio steps in to confess ‘every lie has its disciples…so maybe I’ve been too devout’
. There’s a moment a little more than halfway through when the entire band comes to a full stop and keys/chimes rain down. As the opener begins to wrap up, it only gains momentum – Maggio laments over and over, ‘it’s hard work, having a soul’
, and the vocals are layered to make it sound like some kind of divine harmony. “The Canyon” wastes no time making shrine
’s intentions known…this is going to be an existential, instrumentally complex work with plenty of melodic hooks and a few surprising twists. The song cuts off a tad suddenly, but somehow it blends in seamlessly with the equally abrupt gang-chant that commences “Bask” – a shouted ‘let’s get to work!’
that perhaps also doubles as the group’s mission statement. Electric riffs immediately barge down the door, searing through the air and setting the tone for hellish screams of ‘I'm telling lies about myself, to myself'
' – the likes of which we haven’t heard since 2010’s “Greek Fire.” A dense bridge comprised of echoed, overlapping vocals and electric feedback gives way to yet another wrinkle – a pristinely produced, resonating mantra of ‘where do all the lost minds go’
, which features backing vocals from All Get Out's Nathan Hussey. At the end of what can only be described as an insanely catchy hook, the band dives right back into the bleak shouts, screams, and deceptively complex riffs that defined the core of the song – and then ends it all with a spry, completely unanticipated acoustic guitar outro. “Bask” is both beautiful and ruthless, and quite possibly the best song that they’ve ever made.
The opening duo feels like a drug meant to get you hooked on shrine
, and it works. The entire course of the record continues down a similar path to what is established early: a dizzying blend of furious upheaval and flourishing moments of acoustic and lyrical beauty. “Sundials” is actually more of a compromise, floating atop a mid-tempo rhythm that seems to progress effortlessly towards a contagious chorus of ‘I’ve heard suffering is easy, as long as you’re still free / so where does that leave me’
. “Birdless Cage”, on the other hand, marks the first instance in which The Republic Wolves actually pump the brakes and remind us that somewhere underneath all of the heavy, clashing influences, there’s an indie-folk outfit not all that far removed from the band’s acoustic alter-ego, Tigers on Trains. It’s a gorgeous number that you’ll want to sway along to, whilst the gentle to-and-fro of the rhythm carries you out to sea with its melodic tide. Despite possessing soothing undertones, the song does go somewhere – building to what might be the album’s most charming full-band moment. The drums slowly start to echo with more authority, and atop subtle strings and the chants of his backing vocalists, Maggio sings ‘…I’ll be fine, if we never wake up from this.’
If it feels like a special moment, it’s because it is. The song was contributed to a charity compilation for the ACLU entitled Music for Everyone
in an effort to raise awareness for the organization, and was also entered into NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. “Birdless Cage” isn’t the flashiest song on shrine
, but it definitely carries some extra weight for every member of this band.
It doesn’t take long for The Republic of Wolves to delve right back into the chaotic heaviness that defines this album. “Mitama” is a fever dream, gliding in on a current of feedback that gives way to Maggio’s poetic voice, while the band around him slowly builds to a lengthy mid-song instrumental breakdown. The song is actually reminiscent of “A Weather Vane”, with its beautiful welding of atmospheric elements, blood-curdling shrieks, and heavy, distorted guitar solos. It’s moments like “Mitama” that were sorely lacking on No Matter How Narrow
, and as one of the record’s singles, it is just the kind of song that should rekindle the interest of fans who were hooked from the moment they heard “Spill.” “Dialogues” clocks in at just over seven minutes and it feels like the mid-album epic
; it’s a slow-burner that gradually raises the stakes as it progresses through soft and loud versus, including a chime-laden midsection, before culminating in a couple of frenzied chorus repetitions, replete with even more soul-baring shrieks and beefy electric guitar riffs.
By this point on shrine
, it already feels like one of the most satisfyingly exhaustive listens that The Republic of Wolves could have crafted. That’s why the placement of the record’s two most accessible tracks – “Northern Orthodox” and “Colored Out” – feels ideal. Both songs possess earworm melodies that are structurally conducive to mass consumption, with the former thrusting the lyrical hook ‘don’t bother asking what would Jesus do’
into your brain while the latter is essentially one unrelenting, multi-part chorus. Both songs still retain shrine
’s instrumental integrity and thematic weight though, which is to say that neither of these sound even slightly out of place despite their pop-sensibilities. The penultimate “Ore” is probably the record’s least immediate song, with no definable draw-ins other than the fact that the quick-spoken verses are something unique to the rest of the album. It’s a grower, however, and also one that does not betray the record’s sheer immensity or dark lyrical themes. The entire album is a very cohesive experience from start to finish, retaining its motifs with the consistency of a weather-beaten rock and the fluidity of a dream – which is appropriate, considering that the band has regularly referred to shrine
as something of a dream-inspired concept record.
As the album draws to a close, there’s this sense of breathlessness – from the gentleness of Maggio’s whimsical vocals and transcendent lyrics, to the ferocity of the background screams and searing riffs, and even to the surprising twists, however brief, that turn the formula up on its head – it’s as if they’ve somehow done it all
. “Worry If You Want (Yume)” serves to tie it all together, bringing the album to a conclusive and epic finish. The most impressive moment of the track, other than the mystery female singer who contributes to a brief but heart-stopping vocal harmony, is the near two minute guitar solo that winds shrine
down to its final seconds in a display of instrumental mastery. It’s one that makes even the sick breakdown present on “Mitama” feel tame by comparison. shrine
truly does feel like The Republic of Wolves bringing it all to the table, deciding once and for all to throw everything they have at us in a single album that leaves nothing behind, save for the incredible feeling of fulfillment that follows forty-eight minutes of gritty, uncompromising, and darkly imaginative indie-rock. It’s an album that does just about everything right, possessing both the immediacy to be enjoyed right away as well as the depth and emotional layers to be appreciated years from now. Every so often, an under-the-radar band such as The Republic of Wolves releases a gem that could be considered by some to be a classic within its genre. shrine
is at least in that conversation, and it’s a record with lasting appeal that should be adored by fans, eagerly discovered by newcomers, and appreciated by all. If The Republic of Wolves have a magnum opus at this point in their careers, this is it. It's a perfect storm...so you'd best be ready.