Interesting titles and messages don’t mean shit if you don’t have the music to back it up though. It’s like pissing in the wind. If you suck, you’re going to get sprayed in the face, no matter how intelligent and deep your statement is. That’s the sad fact of the matter. Thankfully, the Sons show no signs of letting up on LP #2, and have more than enough musical chops to get their themes of America’s (and the world for that matter) changing historical faces across loud and clear. If you liked the first one, you’ll be more than pleased with this record, and despite some clear melodies shining through, this album is largely more aggressive, punk-laden and riff driving than its predecessor Hope is not a Strategy. There’s even a few straight-laced rock n’ roll riffs tossed in for good measure, all ragged and blown out of course, but it’s still there. Influences like Season to Risk, Shiner, Neil Young, Hammerhead, Unsane and Today is the Day still come floating to the surface, but I hear them taking some cues from Akimbo this time around, as they lather up their catchy skronk riffs with haggard rock n’ roll licks throughout.
Whereas, Hope is not a Strategy, kicked off with a slow-burning epic, “The Treaty of New Echota,” gives us whiplash this time around. The noisy, lacerating guitar work begins things proper, working in tandem with the dynamite rhythm section for a jazzy introduction that builds things up just right, always pushing things forward but breaking down into short, biting tidbits of instrumentation (embodying the whole idea of “stop/start” noise-rock). Still the same great musicianship from Russ, Chad and Bill, as the verse employs punchy noise-riffs (very, very Fugazi-esque), tight drum/bass workouts, and Russ’s hollering vocals (brought up in the mix this time around). The chorus punks things up considerably though, with piercing feedback squeals and rampaging stop/start riffs and structuring, with Russ and Bill doing the ol’ gang punk thing on the microphone for the single word chorus of, “war!”
Dancing their way around high-octane, minor key chord riffs and fuzzy, damaged noise-punk, “Signing Contracts, Building Stockades,” continues the band’s usage of the classy Mid-Western template (Season to Risk and Hammerhead really come to mind here). It’s very much in line with some of the quicker, nervous breakdown slugfests of the band’s debut (“SSR I Part II,” and “By Virtue of Virtue”). Great licks permeate this one, as the nimbly picked, screechy riffs sound like Russ could break a string on his guitar at any moment, with Bill’s low-end and Chad’s kit combining into an unstoppable, bowel kicking unit that anchors the high-end guitar work with some necessary subsonic lard.
The rocked-out aspects that I mentioned were more prevalent this time around, start popping up hereafter. “The Forced March of Manifest Destiny,” while still shaking and swelling with messy feedback and head achin’ white noise, grasp onto to some downright groovy riffage. There’s some Black Flag’s My War, and additionally some classic rock prowling Unsane’s NYC alleys in this one, creating a turf war of gigantic proportions. The catchy, epileptic fits get the head bobbing, Christ it’s actually “groovy” if I may so boldly use the word, while the sheer overwhelming noise-hurricane explodes your bobbing head into a pulpy, irreparable blob. The clank and clatter of the Sons’ strictly Am-Rep side makes a late appearance to the party, rounding out an ending full of grime-encrusted, Into the Vortex, style menace. You’ll need the Union pulling for your worker’s rights after this jam gives you an on the jobsite beating.
Then what about, “White King, Red Rubber, Black Death?” It fuckin’ sounds like the Dazzling Killmen at first glance. Really twitchy, complex instrumentation here, with Russ doing his riff stop/riff end type of buoyancy minded guitar licks, while the bass and drums provide the needed propulsion for the trajectory’s success. Loving the bass tone and playing all throughout this one, as it again teams up with the rabid, fill intensive percussive strikes for a math-y, hard-to-pin-down attack. The vocals crack out their intentions with loud, clear as a window shouting that booms over deserted factories and industrial strongholds, winding down to a monster sludge-y riff that toys with the thickness of Cavity, before more acerbic, cleanly delivered guitar/bass interplay winds us to the chorus and a friggen TKO rock riff. Here a massive vocal hook (still gruff, but ringing with pleasing listen ability) catches the ear in an instant, with a background riff/rhythm arrangement that could have been played by early Soundgarden if I didn’t know better. It’s so damn catchy, and classic-rock minded you’d be more than happy if it makes a repeat pass through your friendly skies. Thankfully, it does. Fuckin’ A!
And the boys don’t lay off the kill switch either. Despite two creeping, restrained breaks and some decidedly, Hope is not a Strategy, melody appearing before its climactic noise deconstruction, “Invention vs. Intention,” is more noise-rock that deftly emphasizes the ROCK, while sifting through the debris of vintage noise-punk. And the Sons totally had me buffaloed on, “A Spectre is Haunting Europe.” At 6 minutes in length, with an opening full of echoing clean chords and unusual effects, which are about, as ominous as a circle of black helicopters making repeated passes over your domicile, the Sons really have you fooled into thinking this track will be complete peace bargain. Punk-minded riffs provide the first false start as they wind their way through a labyrinth of layered beauty, shimmering with Shiner’s touching chords, fluid bass grooves and accentuating beats. I was expecting breathy vocals, and extended moments of quiet but that’s when someone smashed me over the head with a brick. A lone, signifying squeal of feedback provides the telltale sign for the entrance of some brute force noise-dirge, hazy distortion and capillary bursting vocal screams. Oh, you sneaky bastards! We’re back in Hammerhead land, getting ourselves buried beneath a landfill load of dirty, sickly garbage and fetid noise-rock.
Another riff heavy beating follows, with “The Irish Problem,” ramming more traditionally bent rock n’ roll riffing against the rusted, long-forgotten assembly lines of quality noise-rock, leaving the band room to exorcise all of their pent up, outright, melodic demons on, “Simplify, Semper Fi.” It still has a razor sharp edge, slashing outward with portions of slavering vocals, rugged guitar riffs, and ugly, oozing bass groove that wrangles with a sure n’ steady drum crush, but there’s a wealth of those desolate melodies spliced into every corner of this jam, ringing true of both the opener and closer on, Hope is Not a Strategy, even if the restrained singing is nowhere to be found.
I can already tell the Sons are a progressive lot based on the differences between, Hope… and Lions... They obviously had two intentions going into this record. Firstly, they wanted to continue to develop and expand what they are already doing, and secondly they had no desire to make the same record over again. Sure, everything that made “Hope…” fantastic is still here, but they obviously wanted to tweak and experiment with their compositions. Mission accomplished fellas! Lions…won’t alienate anyone who enjoyed the first record, but the added lumps of traditional rock n’ roll and a decidedly more aggressive edge sure make for a boiling, esophagus singing stew; great stuff, and I am already looking forward to their forthcoming third LP with new drummer Jason Jensen manning the skins!