Friday, March 13, 2009

Propagandhi - 'Supporting Caste'

ATTN P.C. Fascists: Propagandhi finally went full-on Metallica with its new record Supporting Caste. The signs were there pretty much after bassist John K. Samson, the band’s weary brain to guitarist/lead vocalist Chris Hannah’s raging heart, split to form The Weakerthans. Samson moved on to more mature songwriting (r.e. – less tunes about anal penetration), and Hannah has followed that path too, in a more metal way. With each subsequent release, Propagandhi has seemingly stripped itself of the NOFX-style hyper man-child humor that balanced the band’s pointed social criticisms. Goodbye “My brown power ass in your white power face!”, hello “History exalts only the pornography of force, that of murderers and psychopaths.” This more thrash-based style brings some pros (Hannah doesn’t rely on profanity as much, the riffs are way better) and cons (it’s not funny or skate-punk-y anymore, there are way too many guitar interludes). Perhaps the biggest con of all, though, is that while it’s great to have Propagandhi back, both in the studio and on the road no less, there’s that unshakeable feeling that, even by the band’s new metal standards, they’re still treading on old ground. 2005’s Potemkin City Limits was a solid skull-cracker, but its follow-up Supporting Caste rehashes the same tone with less intensity.

At the same time, though, there’s that nagging thought, “But it’s Propagandhi! They’re back!” And that feeling is somewhat validated. Supporting Caste is a pretty rockin’ disc with loads of introspection. “Without Love” examines death, aging, and senility. Hannah wonders if the human consciousness is just a by-product of our mechanical bodies with lines like “Is breathing just the ticking of an unwinding clock?” “Dear Coach’s Corner” actually takes sports commentators to task for forcing political messages (supporting the Iraq War) where they don’t belong (a hockey game). And the band even shows a flash of that old oddball humor with a straight-faced cover of Black Widow’s “Come to the Sabbat” at the album’s end. The punks in Propagandhi have been slowly going metal this decade; a ’70s prog cover (with synths!) is sensible yet silly, and that’s the sort of description that used to fit the band all the time. Side note: “Come to the Sabbat” is totally the best track on the album (best line: “Satan’s there!,” with “ASTAROTH!!” a close second).

Supporting Caste doesn’t ruin the band’s punk rock legacy so much as blur it a little bit. Nothing here is as anthemic or satirical as “Ska Sucks” or “Nailing Descartes To The Wall/(Liquid) Meat Is Still Murder,” but it’s still better than most of the harder rocking albums coming out lately. And a quick glance at the lyrics sheet shows that the guys are still smarter than the mooks in the pit. What fans get with Supporting Caste is a solid comeback disc in the vein of Dillinger Four’s C I V I L W A R or even The Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour: Each of those albums makes you remember why you loved those bands without embarrassing anyone involved, even if, ultimately, you’d rather be spinning How to Clean Everything or Versus God or Left and Leaving.

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