Propagandhi never deluded itself into thinking that it was a serious name. The part 1984-esque, part Indian icon portmanteau was merely an off-the-cuff invention from a group of sixteen year olds. Starting with How to Clean Everything and Less Talk, More Rock, the theme of child’s play ran the lyrical gamut from bare ferocity to side-splitters; Chris Hannah commanded the pulpit, telling patriotic blockheads to shove flags up their asses while inviting bomb-vested rendezvous to G7 “picnics”. Those wit coated antics tapered off eventually, and a relatively more stoic behemoth kicked in by way of Death and Voivod.
What’s even better is that while the potshots got curbed, the subject matter retained its socio-political posture and sensibility. Potemkin City Limits showcased a gloom driven introspect that had long been buried inside the former teenage McCarthyists, and the more focused, hard-rock weighted dementia Supporting Caste sweetened the flow of maturity, clinging to personability and risk-taking headbangers, as well as adapting to new axing personnel David “The Beaver” Guillas.
Failed States debuts second in line to a different adaptation process — it is Propagandhi’s first time being christened by a punk industry major, Epitaph Records. Some may groan as the word “sellout” purses their lips, but they are most likely hanging on to the days of John K. Samson. Failed States is not a sacrificial blunder, however. On the production front, it should be understood that the release was self-made, relying on the band’s aptitude for metallic shrouds and downright beastly blares. Haunting its cover is a near-effigy, in standard Propagandhi reminder that the catastrophic playground we know as Earth is still alive and kicking.
There’s a sense of whipping isolation to this album. Cocooned in delay and reverb, intro to “Note to Self” sparks the immediate visual of a flutist on a desolate mountain, while voices cascade around the chorus to give it a highly majestic/fantasy metal sound. The band’s long internalized comfortability with dark 80s metal is expressed via Hannah’s Hetfield-style “Uhn!”, and even the song titles themselves have taken truer form to the transformation (“Devil’s Creek”, “DarkMatters”).
”Rattan Cane” assumes momentary Bolt Thrower and then jumps into an immediate thrasher, calling to mind the more curtly paced, less sing-songy tunes of the Propagandhi archive (“Fuck The Border”). The skate-or-die rush “Hadron Collision” inspires a “wall of death the systemmm!” growl a la Philly punk veterans Rambo; “Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)” experiments with spacey soundcapes; “Status Update” showcases praiseworthy licks in the shortest amount of time, as Hannah and the rest of the pack obey reality-defying speeds in flawless unison. But perhaps the most thoroughly composed effort on the album is the transphobia-wise “Cognitive Suicide”, which is a melodic dreamcast of solo layering that allows drummer Jord Samolesky to dramatize with splashes and bassist Todd Kowalski to therapeutically guide: “Live your life. Don’t apologize to the cowards of this world, they’re a waste of time” right before a progressive kick off to hammer ons and wayward dive-bombs.
At this point, it is more than accurate to assume that Propagandhi’s puny punk, insert-expletive-here turd joke days are over. Storyboarded with enough dramatic atmospherics, adventurous riffs, and old-age mysticism that could be patented for an epic fantasy play, Failed Statesconvinces you to become the wiser human being Propagandhi have been reprimanding five albums prior. Being that Failed States is the band’s best release to date, as far as they are concerned, this is only the beginning.