Some music comes to you as rain into your sun-parched throat as you traverse a desert. Such is the vitality that music can bring into our lives. Some songs are as necessary to some people’s lives, if not sanity, that it reminds us why we love the art form. In desperate times this music can become even more important than that smattering of water over a sun-baked landscape desperate for a single drop to produce even one skinny blade of grass.
That’s the new Propagandhi album for punks and other heavy rock, politically-left leaning people. But even outside of those audiences Victory Lap is something even more transformational. This is a sudden deluge unleashed after watching as the wasteland underneath the building clouds continues to burn. There are moments of profound intimacy for a band that tends to keep audiences at arm’s length as well as those trademark, “frantically search Google for the meaning” references that also makes listening to any Propagandhi album worthwhile because you’re bound to learn something.
With the opening, thunderous thrash-based riff and the ever present pounding of Jord Samolesky’s drums on the eponymous title-track, Propagandhi drops the curtain on their latest offering. In the span of 3 minutes the stalwart political punk metalheads sum up the dismal state of world political affairs and we’re off and running (this time with new guitarist, Sulynn Hago, in tow). By the time Chris Hannah shouts the line “God are you there? Can you confirm that I’m on the right god damn planet?!?” you get the sense he’s not just speaking for himself but millions of people who find themselves living on a planet that has suddenly (or not, depending upon any number of factors of your personal makeup) revealed itself to be even more hostile to them than previously imagined.
Subjects range from Christopher Hitchens’ discourse on “Columbus Day” via the slow-building, almost prog-ish “Comply/Resist”, stymied dissent in the current climate on “Letter to a Young Anus”, the life of animals on “Lower Order (A Good Laugh)”, and rocking single moms on “Tartuffle” (which is really a treatise on male privilege and what we qualify as meaningful actions towards ending oppression), the irreplaceability of life on “Nigredo”, among others. As ever, there is no societal issue that seems to have escaped Hannah’s (or the band’s) gaze of ire on this record and we’re all better off for it.
“Comply/Resist” might be one of the more impressive pieces of writing the band has engaged in as it becomes a spinning and tangled web of guitar lines that merge periodically into straight up thrash with Hannah’s diatribe illustrating the continued absurdity of racism and cultural appropriation. And it’s important to note that as impressive as the band has become technically, they are still driven by Hannah’s story-telling ability to get his points across with equal parts disdain, anger, disbelief, and humor.
If “Lower Order” doesn’t make one reconsider their treatment of animals or at least better understand those who view things like animal rights with some seriousness then it might be questionable where their heart lies. You may not be ready to renounce that hamburger after listening but one has to hope you might weigh up the where, how, and why it came from. Larger than that, the song describes the degradation of animals in such a way as to also be read as metaphor for all of those who feel downtrodden. This is without even touching on the way the band begins with a mosh-inducing stomper of a riff that abruptly switches into something one might have imagined Jon K. Samson would have written if he had suddenly re-appeared in his old band for one night. It would be ironic if after all these years the band finally had a pop hit with a song that goes after such a staple of our modern society but in a world where a reality TV star and bankrupted businessman controls the nuclear codes, would it really seem so strange after all?
“Call Before You Dig” is one of the most “rocking” songs the band have ever written right down to an arpeggiated riff punctuated by the kind of floor tom driven drum beat that appears about :30 seconds in might invoke the charm of those old Cheap Trick favorites. But the song is primarily a rager that finds itself flipping the script on “white radicals” protesting the installation of a sewage pipe. And in this song lies some of the added majesty of Victory Lap, as a whole: the band’s execution of tuneful, memorable metal-tinged punk songs that lean far more heavily on brevity and concision than some tracks on the last couple of albums which provides a far more satisfying experience.
“Nigredo”, however, then jumps us into a meandering prog-metal-esque jam that bassist, Todd Kowalski, steps up to the mic on. We begin the track with the kind of playing that might not be out of place in something Architects might whip up before being accented by some typical Hannah guitar flairs. The lyrical fare here is, what appears to be, a harrowing tale of the loss of life of someone close to our protagonist. It’s worth noting that “Alchemists say that the nigredo lasts for 40 days, as 40 is the number of trial or probation: the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, the forty days of fasting between Easter and Ascension Day and the forty days spent in the desert by the Israelites… 40 is associated to the Hebrew letter Mem, which means Fountain of Wisdom. This letter is a letter of introspection that compels us to humbly go within and question ourselves on our existence. The aim of this soul searching is the urge to renew and keep working on a permanent rebirth.”
Aside from the topical importance of the material, there are definitely some very metal bangers on this album as well to placate the fans who show up more for the thrashier aspects of the band such as “In Flagrante Dilecto”, “Tartuffle”, and “When All Your Fears Collide”. “Cop Just Out of Frame” tells the tale of a bystander to the iconic image of Buddhist monk, Quang Duc’s, self immolation which is used as a metaphor for those of us standing by while watching the sacrifice of others. Musically, it’s another banger that has the most in common with the band’s back-catalog.
But the real, and actual, piece de resistance is in album closer “Adventures in Zooochosis” (zooochosis is defined as the “term used to describe the stereotypical behavior of animals in captivity. Stereotypic behaviour is defined as a repetitive, invariant behavior pattern with no obvious goal or function.”) which features an extremely beautiful prog passage in the intro underlined by the sounds of playing children before suddenly changing to the frighteningly ugly words of Dolt 45. The track brings in the heavier riffs that carry it for the remaining duration. Hannah’s start/stop, odd-timing riffs, well-supported by Hago, and the ever dependable “Rod” and Jord rhythm section all combine in one final flourish that, well, “motherfucker gonna get a load of what I got planned” after our narrator has finally snapped from a life lived inside a box.
The real strength in what Hannah has delivered on in over 20 years of doing this with Jord and the many talents who have passed through this banged up operation is that he continues to take aim at the obvious and not so obvious elements of our society that hinder equality and, really, just a better world that would make more sense. Less Talk, More Rock presented a now iconic (for many, anyway) image 21 years ago in the album art containing the anarchist symbol with the words “Animal-Friendly, Anti-Fascist, Gay-Positive, Pro-Feminist” encircling it. Clearly, these are all still driving factors for the band who have also called people who might consider themselves allies out on their own bullshit. The necessity of creating something better out of what surely sometimes feels like a collapsing society is something that Propagandhi have been trying get people to look at for decades now. If Victory Lap is anything, it’s the band collectively saying ¯_(ツ)_/¯ . Perhaps now people will stop looking at them like the sandwich-board-wearing paranoiac and join in a kind of dissent driven by dissatisfaction about what the fuck it is we’re truly doing to the planet.
If you want to get your shit together and start digging for something better in a hard rocking way you can buy the new Propagandhi album, Victory Lap here or pretty much everywhere.