In 2006, Brand New were a band known mostly for their work as one of the Long Island based pop-punk bands that managed to make it to a national stage. They were winding down from the success of their 2003 sophomore record Deja Entendu, an album that saw the band eschew the pop-punk tag in favor of more complex and dynamic songwriting, in addition to exploring more introspective themes than their contemporaries.
The sonic shift experienced between those first two records was nothing, however, when compared to the shift between the second and third. Complications arose in January of 2006 when nine demos leaked. This leak stalled the band’s creative process, further delaying their third LP. Though the band was vocal in their disappointment about these songs making it to the internet, it may have been for the best. And then, on November 21st, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me was unleashed onto the world. I think it’s fair to say that most of the people who have listened to the record have found themselves greatly affected by it. Why is that? I can only really answer by explaining my experience.
My first brush with Brand New came in 2008, when a friend’s sister showed me “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades.” I loved the song so much that I went and bought the record on iTunes. The catch? I bought the wrong record. What I bought was The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and that one simple mistake would turn out to be life changing. I remember playing a Star Wars game on my family computer, that same night, unknowingly listening to the wrong record and waiting for the signature “Sic Transit…” bassline to start. It never did. But the journey I took listening to the record was anything but disappointing. I was amazed by the soundscapes so carefully crafted by the band their producer, Mike Sapone.
Up to this point in my life I was constantly on the search for aggressive music to provide a soundtrack to my angst. Metalcore bands were my bread and butter, down-tuned guitars and heavier-than-possible drums were all I wanted to hear. So you can imagine my surprise when some of the angriest songs I had heard in my life had spacious mixes, lightly distorted guitars, and layers upon layers of instrumentals to dig through. This was unlike anything I had ever heard, and while there have been many imitators since: no other record has come reasonably close to achieving that immediate connection I felt upon my first listen.
Flash forward to high-school and this record, more than any other, resonated with me and carried me through difficult times. Lyrically, songs like “Millstone” touched on the melodrama of shifting friendships and a transitioning worldview, especially in the verses:
I used to pray like God was listening
I used to make my parents proud
I was the glue that kept my friends together
Now they don’t talk and we don’t go out
While a song like “Degausser” seemed to sympathize with the ending of various relationships: “Take me take me back to your bed / I love you so much that it hurts my head.” Each song seemed to have its place in my life, especially given the absence of band-confirmed lyrics. It’s easy to make a song work the way you want it to when you can play with the lyrics.
Even now, in the early half of my 20’s, I frequently return to The Devil and God because the songs seem to provide a soundtrack to my life, one that, despite all evidence to the contrary, makes me feel as though it was tailor-made for me. The end of my three year long relationship will probably always feel encapsulated in “You Won’t Know,” while my current struggle to find and maintain a new love feels well explained in “Not The Sun.” Deeper topics such as religion and death are ones that I find myself having to tackle with more and more frequency, and in songs like “Jesus Christ,” or “Handcuffs” I can find solace, knowing I’m not the first or last person to grapple with such feelings. The latter presents a unique challenge because of its lyrical content, specifically the reference to “drowning crying babies,” and while on the surface this seems grotesque and unnecessary, it works as a commentary on the darker, nasty parts of the human experience that people tend to suppress. The quieter moments on the album signify those suppressed feelings and reflect moments of pensive thought. But suppression is a temporary measure, and when it becomes too much we tend to lash out. The guitars getting louder, the drums pounding faster, and the vocals becoming howls of fury; symbolizing these emotional outbursts. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me seems designed to imitate life. The loud/soft dynamics mirror the dynamics of love/hate and peace/anger experienced by so many.
What’s most interesting is the way the record continues to feel fresh and entertaining, all these years later. The album art, even now, confuses people. The small girl looking calmly at the ground, juxtaposed with the two masked and slipper-clad beings standing on the front steps of a house evokes various emotions, ranging from the aforementioned confusion, to discomfort and even fear. Musically, the rhythm section is unlike any record I’ve ever heard before, with fills that take center stage where drums are so often relegated to the background. The bass dances around the drums — one second being the main focus and the next reinforcing the rhythm guitar. Layers upon layers of instrumental and vocal tracks are hidden throughout each song, meaning that if you’re listening carefully enough: even ten years after the album’s release, you may be able to find something new.
It isn’t really any wonder why The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is heralded as a classic even at the relatively young age of ten. Lyrically, it dances between moments of relatability so strong you swear it was written about you, and moments of such profound sadness that even if you’ve never experienced such loss, you begin to feel the pain anyway. Instrumentally, it’s so complexly layered and tied to the lyrical content that it’s near-impossible not to follow through with the rest of the record after listening to even the first 15 seconds of “Sowing Season.” The mythology surrounding the record helps too, from the “pre-gap” track and the “Luca” reprise, to the leaked demos and the lack of press cooperation from the band leading up to, and especially in the wake of, the record’s release and subsequent critical acclaim. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me has just the right amount of legend surrounding it, with more than enough technical proficiency and emotional weight in the music to back it up. All of these elements add up to ensure that the record transcends the term “scene classic” and rightly settles on a simpler term: “classic.”