Impressive dynamics, scathing lyrics, and artistic cohesiveness have accurately characterized Propagandhi in the past; the same applies here, on Propagandhi’s sixth full-length and Epitaph Records debut, but these characteristics are on such prominent display this time around that I can’t help but hail Failed States as the band’s best release.
On Failed States, Propagandhi critiques subjects ranging from human nature to the often deafening effects of social media — some broad subjects, for sure, but their vitriol is just as passionately applied to specific current events. On “Rattan Cane,” bassist Todd Kowalski assumes the menacing voice of an Indonesian police officer as he, in his fascist act of “spiritual cleansing,” shaves the head of a young punk. The empowering “Cognitive Suicide,” meanwhile, addresses the degrading “gender verification” of Olympic track runner Caster Semenya in 2009. “Are they terrified of unobscured and brilliant colours?” asks Kowalksi. “Perhaps you cracked the door to their own forbidden worlds.” The song is annotated with additional words of encouragement for Semenya.
Failed States is an album filled with relentless instrumental assaults as well. Thrash and metal influences do occasionally show, but it is more accurate to call this a punk rock album through and through.
“Things I Like” is an upbeat, no-frills punk song and the most traditional-sounding track on the record, one that would not have sounded out of place on 2001’s Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes. “Devil’s Creek” is a melodic powerhouse of heavy riffs, and comparable to something A Wilhelm Scream might produce. The melody at the beginning of “Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)” is revisited midway through the song, then abruptly cut short as the verse becomes an aggressive attack of frantic guitar and drum work.
Failed States is neither complacent nor overly preachy. It is undoubtedly sophisticated, intelligent, and intense. “We’re so frequently seduced by such novel, exotic views,” observes Hannah on “Duplicate Keys Icaro.” “Our confirmation biases leverage everything we perceive.”
Put simply, it’s not enough to call Propagandhi a political band; this is an album written by educated, intellectually formidable songwriters, and Failed States is built upon complex, critical thought rather than myopic sloganeering. Propagandhi is as good as it ever has been.