4 out of 5
Label: Estrus Records
Produced by: Tim Green (engineered by)
Before being whipped into a more outright 70s-riffing, hard-edge rockers by producer Steve Albini, Federation X worked that old school influence alongside some punk and more modern post-rock notes on their debut for Estrus Records, American Folk Horror. Appropriate to the name, the album incorporates an omni-present gloom that maps well to some of the vaguely framed narratives such as opener The Hatchetmen – vague because often what can be made out or just some selected shouted / chanted phrases – but even when delivering lyrics that are perhaps closer to fantasy or roots-rock, Bill Badgley brings an intensity and focus to his singing that makes these things instant fist-pumpers. That’s backed up by the ongoing romp-n-stomp of the group’s dual guitars and drums, segueing between chugga-chugga verses that explode into pounding blasts of beats and distortion, stuffed to the gills with the kind of instantly catchy melodies the group would deliver from album-to-album.
There’s a looseness to American Folk Horror that leads in to some incredibly awesome climaxes; the live sounding engineering by Tim Green and the sort of slippy playing makes these moments feel like they can come out of nowhere – in a good way – such that your head-bobbing turns into head-banging in an instant. At the same time, you can appreciate the commodity Albini would later encourage, as these 4+ / 5+ minute songs occasionally hang around for a bit longer than necessary to make ultimate impact; shaving off a riff or two could’ve boiled this already potent pot of music that much hotter.