Captain, We’re Sinking’s The Future Is Cancelled was one of the most impressive punk albums in recent memory. It’s a tense listening experience, as songs burst and crash with little warning; vocalists Bobby Barnett and Leo Vergnetti jumped between near-inaudible whispers and throat-damaging howls at the drop of a dime, singing harrowing stories of depression, alcoholism, and suicide. It all felt spontaneous, necessary.
The King of No Man feels a bit more rehearsed. Where before the band had more jagged edges, they’ve smoothed them over. Instead of finding catharsis through ragged shouting as on The Future, No Man finds it in quieter moments, to varying effects. Opener “Trying Year” ushers this new era of Captain, We’re Sinking in appropriately, pumping the brakes every time one would think Barnett’s getting ready to let loose (although he or Vergnetti does sneak a pretty impressive guitar solo in there). “Hunting Trip” is a slowburn comparable to “A Bitter Divorce” with a less intense payoff, finding Barnett singing the song’s climactic final lines over a clean guitar line. It feels a bit toothless in the end, like there should’ve been a little more push to end out the song, and it sort of sputters out rather than exploding. Then there’s “Dance of Joy,” a bizarre, drum-led song that would never fit on The Future Is Cancelled. It’s weird to even think the same band wrote this song and “Shoddy Workmanship,” but it ends up being one of the album’s highlights, due in good part to Vergnetti’s powerful vocal performance.
While the softer moments may be more indicative of the album as a whole, there are certainly a couple of moments on No Man when the band returns to the heavier territory of The Future Is Cancelled. One, appropriately, is “The Future Is Cancelled, Pt. II,” an unpredictable start-and-stop punk song that feels like a perfect bridge from the last record’s aggression to this one. The best song on the record is “Smash 2,” which perfectly captures the urgency of The Future Is Cancelled. Its shifts from quiet intro to frenetic verse to pop-punk chorus would feel absolutely jarring in the hands of a lesser band, but Captain, We’re Sinking execute it perfectly. But elsewhere is “Don’t Show Bill,” the heaviest song in the band’s catalog, borrowing heavily from the Discord Records sound. It falls a little flat here though – the more abrasive moments always worked in contrast to the poppier parts of this band’s songs, and the straight-up hardcore song falls flat, particularly placed before the slower “Cannonless.”
The King of No Man ends up as a bit of a disappointment. While a good listen overall, it’s hard to not to miss the energy of The Future Is Cancelled. Even though this album’s best moments aren’t too far off from the highs of their last, No Man does away with a lot of what was so appealing about that record. What it replaces them with is good, for sure, but it’s hard not to wonder how much better the album would be if they had gone in the opposite direction.