2 out of 5
Label: Secretly Canadian
Produced by: Mike Mogis
I never listen to this Racebannon album. Never. I put it on; I get bored. It’s possible I’ve never made my way through the whole thing awake until listening for this review.
While not a fan of crassness for the sake of being crass, something about Racebannon’s fuck-off style has always worked for me, existing in a realm of self-awareness and willful brashness and can’t-help-themselves effusiveness that’s all coded into their multi-layered noise wash hardcore; the shoulder-shrugged dumbness name of this album is another prime example of that, and the thought of the group’s insanely scattered approach applied to a rock opera – Rodney sells his soul to the devil to become the ultra popular Rhonda Delight – is so bonkers promising. Good reviews poured out that promised this release topped In the Grips of the Light, and I was ready.
Well, see above.
Produced again by Mike Mogis, whose muffled approach made the group’s general assault especially pointed when it would resolve into riffs, Satan’s sound rarely makes use of that, as it’s a narrative-first deal for a good majority of its runtime means we’re forefronting Mike Anderson’s rants, and the guitar and drums are just chugging along repetitively for stretches of minutes. This also means the slabs and slabs of vocals are dialed in to be in the same range – we’re meant to follow along to all of this, and not necessarily get swept up in the music.
And, look, lyrics are subjective, but the story just ain’t interesting enough to merit that; Mike’s words are (to me) more gripping when he allows himself off the leash a bit, and this feels like very typical territory, if sprinkled with some Racebannon-isms in the way some of its pointed sneer is delivered. Furthermore, let’s say that it’s an average story mapped to Racebannon music; this might work, even with the music being downplayed, except that all of the hooks feel / sound recycled from their previous album, and in an uninspired fashion. The opening drumbeat-to-breakout is reminiscent of Grips’ opening; the punky breakdowns the same; and the rest is just chugga-chugga. Due to the aforementioned production and focus, this does not amount to a repeat being more of a good thing – it’s rather just something you’ve heard before.
The final two songs / parts of the tale do finally find some unique form, bringing outright noise and bluesy hooks into good use, and stepping off the path of controlled storytelling and limited musicianship; these are actual songs. It’s worth noting that this seems to be when the narrative is reaching its climax – deal made, and now we have the aftermath – and so the music appropriately hits a peak as well, and then gets to do some mighty deconstruction in its final track. While this is way late in the game to finally add some definition, I am glad I managed to stay awake this time to hear it.
I did go back through another time to see if further familiarity / lowered expectations would change the experience, but it’s much the same. After all, I’ve owned this album for multiple decades – this isn’t really the first time I’ve tried to give it another go. But: perhaps this was a good exercise in indulgence, getting it out of the group’s system. Racebannon took a long pause after this, and then came forward again with a more dialed in version of their madness on Acid or Blood.