For any long-standing punk band, consistency is key for the best overall results. For all the reverence and appreciation stacked upon the likes of NOFX and Bad Religion, there’s still plenty of weaker material in their extensive catalogues to colour how new releases are potentially viewed today. With Millencolin, however, they’ve never really had that problem, and while being a comparatively younger band might have something to do with that, forming in the early ‘90s and having their first real breakout with Pennybride Pioneers in 2000, they’ve managed to keep the quality high for album upon album. Even if their latest efforts haven’t necessarily been incredible, rock-solid punk has remained an unshakable constant right up to the modern day, and though the early singles have fallen into line in terms of expectations above anything else, SOS has already hinted at a level of reliability that’s always been Millencolin’s forte.
And while it could very well be seen as naive to expect even more quality from a band nine albums and twenty-seven years deep, SOS just keeps the ball rolling for yet another good album. Not once does this feel like a band resting on their laurels or being worn down by increasing age, as Millencolin keep up the pace and anthemic quality that’s frequently made their underrated status so baffling, but with the sense of bite that feels so necessary for any punk veteran that just ups the vitality by a crucial couple of notches. It’s probably most comparable to what they were doing on True Brew a few years ago, holding itself back from crossing the threshold into true greatness, but as far as modern punk goes, not really offering much to complain about either.
On that token, this does feel like the album that Millencolin had to make for 2019, mostly because they are a punk band and coming out with a wide-reaching, state-of-the-world address is less of a formality and more of a necessity. They do it rather well too, primarily by offering the exact criticisms and commentary you might expect, but executing them with an energy to make them click as much as possible, and even if that’s not always the case – there’s a distinct flavour of ‘old man yells at cloud’ on Do You Want War with an opening gambit like “When you wake up / Look at your iPhone / Instead of first saying ‘good morning’ to her”, and hinging Yanny & Laurel on the titular viral reference has already dated it – but there’s dexterity in Millencolin’s ideas that’s appreciated. Concepts of viewing humanity as a band reaching the best results when working in harmony on Trumpets & Poutine or the the criticism of territoriality and the hatred of immigrants on Caveman’s Land take some interesting turns with imagery and lyrical twists that actually feel novel, and on an album that could’ve easily sunk into the same rote platitudes as similar subject matter, it gives Millencolin the edge when it comes to more diverse songwriting capabilities. Of course, that doesn’t stop the more general criticisms from also surfacing with a fair bit less detail, like on the title track or Sour Days, but it’s still far from plain with the gruff power and projection in Nikola Šarčević‘s vocals.
That’s a power that’s pretty much reciprocated everywhere else as well, something that also gives SOS the edge against some of Millencolin’s peers opting for similar things. As much as it’s become the norm for older punk bands to either slow down or pivot towards thinly-veiled, ultimately cynical attempts at reproducing the sound of their heyday, Millencolin genuinely have that speed and grit without it sounding forced or shunted into place out of necessity. Theirs is a distinctly European-flavoured brand of punk, taking the speed and rambunctiousness of the US skate-punk counterparts, but with a darker production style that weaves its way into a crunchier, more formidable sound on tracks like Nothing. Again, it feels like the most natural continuation of Millencolin’s sound possible, and while a lot of it has a distinct familiarity that’s perhaps its most prominent shortcoming (if this was to be described as ‘just another Millencolin album’, it would be hard to argue), but the impact speaks for itself, and besides the awkward vocoder effects slapped onto Yanny & Laurel, everything here pretty much fits the bill. There’s plenty of melody on the chunkier pop-punk of Sour Days and Reach You that’s reminiscent of a band like Broadway Calls, while the likes of Do You Want War and Dramatic Planet bring a seething, darting punk energy to the fore that’s so easy to get swept up in.
It’s undoubtedly Millencolin playing to their strengths and putting their best foot forward constantly, and even if that’s not exactly pushing boundaries, you get your wins how you can, and SOS is most definitely another win. It’s pretty much as good of an example of consistency in punk gets; Millencolin are improving rather than innovating, and by honing what they know to a fine point, SOS really does shine because of it. That said, the air of ‘late-period punk album’ is hard to escape, but that’s more a feature than a flaw considering this band’s track record up to this point, and with SOS continuing that record unscathed, long may it continue.
For fans of: Bad Religion, Pennywise, Anti-Flag
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘SOS’ by Millencolin is released on 15th February on Epitaph Records.
Never knew ’92 was late ’90s. Consider me schooled.