3 September 2012
by Alex Andrews
The story goes that Propagandhi formed after Chris Hannah and Jord Samolesky pinned-up a poster in a Winnipeg record store advertising a “progressive thrash band looking for bass player.” It wasn’t until their third bassist that the band released its debut album, but the resulting snotty, skate punk must have confused the band as much the rest of us.
These days, Propagandhi is a very different beast. It’s been three years since the last the Propagandhi album, and though there are no shortages of injustices for the band to rail against, you have to wonder exactly what function a new Propagandhi record serves in 2012. Now with their fourth (and longest-serving) bass player, as well as an additional guitarist poached from the alumni of instrumental post-rockers Giant Sons, the band has crammed recent albums full of challenging song structures and densely-layered, impossibly widdling guitar parts.
Failed States begins with one of the band’s more straightforward compositions, as gentle arpeggios melt into a procession of crunching power chords. Having long proved his fretboard supremacy, it doesn’t take long for Hannah to hit his stride, but where things get really interesting is in the intricate style of playing that relative new recruit David “Beaver” Guillas has brought to the band. Following the opener, the title track and subsequent ‘Devil’s Creek’ are more obvious tributes to the titans of thrash, whilst hardcore-referencing ‘Hadron Collision’ is frantically heavy.
Hannah’s clean, soaring vocals are present throughout most of the album, and although they light up tracks such as ‘Lotus Gait’, they occasionally come across as a little ham-fisted. What is surprising is that the stronger songs tend to be the ones sung by bassist Todd “The Rod” Kowalski. Kowalski’s delivery, though gruff and often bludgeoning, appears to be a better match for the band’s more progressive approach and allows Hannah to concentrate on what he does best. ‘Cognitive Suicide’, in particular, features manic riffing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Fall Of Troy record, whilst ‘Dark Matters’, built around an intriguing Kowalski refrain (“Somewhere in the alleys of our minds / We all have our secret worlds”), provides the album with its most strikingly melodic moment.
Whether you class Failed States as a fresh take on modern, melodic metal, or an accessible update on the hardcore punk format doesn’t really matter. What does is that it’s a compelling listen, which shines a spotlight on the band’s jaw-dropping musicianship and technical prowess in a genre that doesn’t usually care for either. It’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself humming many of these songs, but Propagandhi have succeeded in making their peers look comparatively amateur and that’s as good a function as any.
Sounds Like: A master class in shredding
Standout Tracks: Cognitive Suicide, Dark Matters, Lotus Gait