4 out of 5
Label: Thrill Jockey
Produced by: Seth “Zebby” Manchester (recorded by, mixed by)
25 years on and these guys are still making an impressive, inventive clatter.
Lightning Bolt’s style – an all-out assault of Brian Chippendale’s nonstop drums and Brian Gibson’s fuzzed-up bass, with Chippendale distortedly hooting atop – should’ve run its course long ago. I figured it would, way back on their self-titled Load Records debut, when the hype train zoomed by and kids were telling me to listen in. And yet they kept coming with records, and doing enough growing from release to release to pish-posh all over my harumphing figurings, that by the time I caught up with the madness they’d been making… well, I felt a right fool for being so dismissive.
And it’s a quarter of a century on, and they’re still doing it – still growing; still being loud and intense; still putting out exciting music.
Sonic Citadel doesn’t deviate from the formula of noisy pummeling in any directly identifiable ways, but, as mentioned above, it still manages to be a step forward. There’s an amazing cohesiveness and bit of songcraft that stretches across the entire disc, rendering the blazes of instrumentation (and hollering) into things that are recognizable as songs, and as an album. There’s a distinct attempt here to make this into something of a journey, I feel, from its hard hitting run of opening tracks to a more experimental midsection, back around to rockers, and then a final, formless freakout, appropriately titled Van Halen 2049. The transitions don’t always work – it’s one thing the group will forever struggle with, I think: how to buffer their intensity across an hour of music, and Sonic Citadel again bears that mark after the fifth track explosion of Hüsker Dön’t – but the disc is a very well conceived attempt at sequencing and flow, and each individual song is a blast.
The lyrics are also pretty interesting. I haven’t dived into Chippendale’s words before, but the lyric sheet was printed legibly, and its tales of journeys and overcoming challenges, while not necessarily complex, are populated with solid imagery and thoughts, and written in an appreciably personal fashion. Allmusic tells me Brian had a kid prior to the album, which lends context to that.
25 years is an impressive run for a band just to stick together. To be able to continue to top one’s output along the way, and maintain a particular m.o. for VOLUME the whole while, is an accomplishment, one befitting of great releases like Sonic Citadel.