Be honest – was there any way that Propagandhi weren’t going to release an album in 2017? For a band who’ve opposed racism, sexism, homophobia and all manner of other backwards ideologies that a certain president seems to be unfortunately spurring on the return of, both in the music and through their own activism, that certainly wasn’t likely. And considering how well 2012’s Failed States did for them, a repeat was only going to get their staunch message across and hopefully rake in the support such a cause deserves. The thing is, for a band over three decades and seven albums into their career, that second point doesn’t tend to happen a lot; just look at so many of Propagandhi’s former Fat Wreck peers who’ve fallen down the hole of old punks becoming complacent. But with how technical Propagandhi are in comparison, bringing elements of metal and more overt hardcore into their punk, that was never seen as a worry.
And while Victory Lap isn’t necessarily a slump – Propagandhi still have the speed and incisive commentary to avoid that – it definitely falls short of greatness, finding the band effectively tripping over themselves to maintain that particular impetus, and coming out with an album that’s only decent at best. The main culprit of this is the wild shifts in tone and pace within single tracks that throw any sort of balance completely off piste. This isn’t anything new, but Victory Lap goes way beyond what it really needs to, accentuating these hairpin shifts and making them a lot more jarring than they need to be, like on Comply / Resist‘s explosion into a hundred-mile-an-hour hardcore flurry from its pensive alt-rock start, or how the rumbling metallic opening of Lower Order (A Good Laugh) dissipates into jaunty, intricate pop-rock. Granted, this could potentially tie into the band’s focus of the turbulent 21st Century society, but that’s clutching at straws at best and doesn’t detract from the fact that Victory Lap can feel frustratingly bitty as a result. These tracks are definitely made more memorable as a result (more than can be said for a handful of fairly standard punk and hardcore cuts like Letters To A Young Anus and Failed Imagineer), but not for the better, often weighing the album down more than it rightly should be.
It’s a shame that’s the case, because Propagandhi do show on a number of occasions that they can still come out with impressively detailed, concise material even this late into the game. Primarily, a lot of praise needs to go to Chris Hannah, who proves himself to be among the slight crop of punk singers rather than frontmen, lending some smoother, deeper pipes that really do benefit on less raucous tracks like Cop Just Out Of Frame and Adventures In Zoochosis. They lend a lot of emphasis to the content as well, which offers a more visceral, intelligently snarky take on the typical political material. There’s more of a subversive plot that runs through Comply / Resist and Lower Order (A Good Laugh) that’s a lot more tactile in approach than any regular ideological hammering, and when integrated with some heavier personal themes, Victory Lap hits its most impressive stride. There’s a darkness imbued in Nigredo that reflects upon not only the state of the world but also the losses of the fathers of bassist Todd Kowalski and drummer Jord Samolesky, and Adventures In Zoochosis reflects Hannah’s mindset after the birth of his second child, set to big, sweeping guitar lines but underscored by uncertainty about whether society will have improved by the time his children have to live with its consequences.
There are definitely good ideas here, but only sporadically do they come to fruition with a presentation that actually does them justice. Victory Lap is definitely a messy album with that in mind, but even then, the fact that Propagandhi have too many ideas is preferable to running out completely like so many of their peers are on the verge of, or have already done. Even though it doesn’t click as well as it could, an album like Victory Lap is one to be accepted with immense gratitude; they could realise and manage themselves better, but a band as inventive as Propagandhi in punk is always a good thing to have around.
For fans of: A Wilhelm Scream, Strike Anywhere, Strung Out
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Victory Lap’ by Propagandhi is released on 29th September on Epitaph Records.