OK, so maybe Propagandhi aren't a metal band, but they name Sacrifice, Razor and Voivod as influences so there must be something here, right? Well, yeah, and not just "The Banger's Embrace", the band's ultra-cheesy ode to Sacrifice. Still, these guys did record Less Talk, More Rock all those years ago and though their previous album Potemkin City Limits had few traces of their early sound it has made a surprising return on the new record, along with some of the band's heaviest songs, and an all new member, Dave "The Beaver" Guillas.
The band has been a power trio since its inception, and Guillas is a welcome addition to the band, providing the "axe of pain" in your right ear. Singer/guitarist Chris Hannah is, as always, shredding in your left ear and Jord Samolesky is on drums. Since John K. Samson left the band after the release of Less Talk, More Rock, Todd Kowalski has been taking on some lead vocal duties in addition to playing bass. The influence of Kowalski's previous bands I-Spy and Swallowing Shit has been clear since he was introduced on Today's Empire's, Tomorrow's Ashes, and now the influence of The Beaver's former band Giant Sons shines through. In fact, "Tertium Non Datur" is a re-recording of Giant Son's song "Repairing The Damaged Beard" with vocals by Chris. You can hear The Beaver all the time, playing down melodic lines while Hannah takes care of the rhythm playing. Check out Giant Son's Anthology and you'll see where he's coming from. It's odd to say, but with the addition of Guillas, Propagandhi seem to have taken on some post-rock influence.
What about the heavier side of things? Well, the album opens with "Night Letters", a track from Todd "The Rod" - one of only three he sings on this album. After a minute-long windup of chunky palm-muted guitars and wandering lead lines, the song takes off into a classic Rod track: fierce guitars and bellowed vocals, check. These four prairie skids thrash as hard as Sacrifice or Razor did - expect almost non-stop pounding drums and frantic palm-muted riffing. They even drop some Voivod-esque dissonance, a feature that has been increasingly prominent since Today's Empires, and there's an honest to god thrash freakout at the beginning of Dear Coach's Corner. It almost seems over-the-top, but then I remember that these guys once covered Venom. There's no irony here, just a nod to the great bands that came before.
Not to say the album is entirely straightforward thrash. The songs are all full of great hooks and some even remind me of Prop's melodic punk roots. Check out "Human(e) Meat (The Flensing of Sandor Katz)" - a throwback to Less Talk-era songs like "Nailing Descartes To The Wall" in both sound and lyrical content - until it builds to a solo trade-off between Chris and the Beaver. Catchy stuff. "The Banger's Embrace" straddles the line of being too goofy for its own good, but since it's fun and catchy, and more importantly a totally sincere tribute to one of the great Canadian metal bands, I'll give it a pass. Finally, Propagandhi's ultimate Sacrifice worship. The final track "Last Will and Testament" begins with a three minute instrumental that brings to mind the lengthy prog-thrash explorations of Soldiers of Misfortune - "A Storm in the Silence", "Truth (After the Rain)" and so on.
The lyrics are, of course, amazing. I'm tempted to just say look them up on your own and enjoy; the songs are so dense that I could write a whole review on each of them but I'll keep it brief. I can already tell that the title track will be one of my favourite Propagandhi songs ever. Just check out the last lines: "And so in these days, in this terminal phase, it's all left to chance. A piece of advice: if you're cast on thin ice, you may as well dance." That great riff kicks in and then Hannah drops the final words that tie the whole song, and much of this band's philosophy together: "Do what you feel you must, but as for me I was not put upon this earth to subjugate or serve." There are so many other brilliant moments - "Without Love" is absolutely heartwrenching, "Dear Coach's Corner" is hilarious and anybody who has ever had to sit through Don Cherry's moronic rambling can totally relate to it, and meanwhile "Incalculable Effects" is just plain spooky. "It's an ugly fucking world" indeed, boys. Glad to have you with me for the ride.
Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (It could not impair this rhapsodic, transcendental state)