Smashing their way through ten tracks on their debut album, Raise the Red Lantern defy any standard notions of genre that could be slapped on them as a label. Breathe Fire is a satisfying and propulsive experience. The band is great at crafting a single, unified narrative out of the songs and riffs on the record, and it's a narrative that consistently entertains. Think Harkonen playing out of High on Fire's equipment after listening to No Idea's catalog.
This Raise the Red Lantern record has made me realize that I see a lot more stoner bands nowadays than ever before - maybe it's because I'm getting older, or maybe there's been some other catalyst for the development. It's not like you can find Eyehategod or old Neurosis records at Hot Topic. Clearly it's not mall metal neophytes jumping on a band wagon. Maybe the genre has just been getting more exposure? Maybe Relapse is responsible? I have no idea. But, really, I don't mind the phenomenon. A lot of these bands, Raise the Red Lantern included, show immense potential and a ton of creativity.
The Chicago four-piece comes out with dirty, gritty, sweaty punk rock that's everything you'd expect from the windy city. There aren't cookie cutter formulas, but there are loud guitars and as much hair as a Slayer show. There's just nothing timid about it. And I think that's what it boils down to - intensity. A lot of bands throw around their influences pretentiously, either ripping them off in homage or are nothing but an amalgamation of different bands within the same genre. It's like if you write a riff, it has to end up on the album because their musically palette is finite (and pretty weak). Unfortunately for these bands it sucks and feels devoid of that crucial sort of inspiration and momentum really great albums capture. And I'm going to argue this is a damn fine album.
The title track sets up with some pretty straight forward stoner rock - albeit with a catchy melodic guitar lead interlaced throughout the background. At this point I was pretty sure to know what to expect from the rest of the record; but I was mistaken. While there is an abundance of sludgy, down-trodden riffs there is also a lot of guitar work reminiscent of something like "Fuck With Fire"-era Planes Mistaken for Stars. It's surprising that these guys actually use a second guitar player for something besides another amp. Like on "Swallow this Swell," while the rest of the band lumbers in on a war-drum charge, one of the guitars is actually playing some leads. While it's unimpressive to describe, it's definitely something that grabs a lot of attention, and something most bands don't even bother to consider.
Then there's the depressive "Descent from Babylon" with some intense staccato chugging that fleshes out the heavily crust-influenced oppression of the rest of the song. And despite the standard stoner drumming being restrained, if not sparse, these guys go full blast ninety-percent of the time. It amazed me how much more engaging this made the whole album. I never once lose attention in its forty-plus minutes. And, deviating once more from expectations, Raise the Red Lantern uses a vocalist that's as far from a growl as John Fogerty is from Ozzy Osbourne. It's a sort of hoarse yell that's almost entirely enunciated - how's that for weird?
On the production side, the record is dense as hell. The bass on the album, despite the fact that it's mostly fuzzed out, carries the album in some of the "softer" spots, so it never loses any momentum. So, kudos to Stan Wood.
Bottom Line: If you like dive bars with unattractive men in their later twenties playing the shit out of a Sunn head, this could be your ticket. These guys have the sort of no-bullshit ethic that punk and metal were built on, and I'm going to have to say it doesn't get much better than this. Think Harkonen playing out of High on Fire's equipment after listening to No Idea's catalog. Ugly, drunk, staggering, and pissed.
Those of you familiar with the standard blend of metal and hardcore that Seventh Rule has been putting out for a few years now will not be disappointed by their latest release by Raise the Red Lantern. This shit's hotter than the stream of piss running down my pants leg right now because I cinched the piss cannon too early in the bathroom. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Smashing their way through ten tracks on their debut album, Raise the Red Lantern defy any standard notions of genre that could be slapped on them as a label. "Breathe Fire" and "Ol Ironside" open the album with mid-tempo riffs and tinges of melodic guitar work, layered on top of smashing drums and sick bass riffs and gritty as hell shouting/screaming/yelling vocals. "Daggers and Men's Smiles" opens with up-tempo drums pounding out a fast double-time with ripping melodic guitar lines behind it.
As the album progresses, their D-beat influence comes out stronger, especially in "Brethren We Built This." The first chorus of the song rings more like Coliseum than anything before it drops into an arpeggioed 3/4 with all three stringed instruments moving in perfect harmony.
Let's take a breather here to talk about how fucking awesome the cover art is.
What strikes me most about this album is how complex the melodies are, even though they take a backburner to the metal and hardcore. This band isn't really a group of musicians so much as four guys who took over an abandoned junkie house on the south side of Chicago and turned it into sort of a skater commune with indoor makeshift ramps. Then they started a band. And that band rips. There is also a shitton of maturity to this recording that seems to be hugely apparent given the fact that this is the band's debut full-length.
As the album progresses, the melodic aspect disperses. Each song seems to be more structured around basic mid-tempo, four-chord hardcore. "Swallow This Swell" is a good example of this as the song keeps up its D-beat tempo for the full three-and-a-half minutes without any half-time melodic breakdown for the first time on the album.
Ultimately, the songs build with "Snake Charmer" and "Shark Attack" to cap it all off with "We Put the Fuck Back in Memphis," which opens with a half-time melodic breakdown and transfers between the double-time and half-time as a representation of everything this band is capable of. If there is one song that sums up the album as a whole, I would say it was this one.
While at times snippets of songs garner comparisons to Coliseum and Converge, the end product to me seems to be what Planes Mistaken for Stars would sound like if they were actually good. For all you Planes Mistaken for Stars fans out there, Raise the Red Lantern is what you should be listening to. For all those who hate Planes Mistaken for Stars, don't worry, you'll probably like this album just as much.
In fact, anyone who likes metal, hardcore, or post-hardcore will probably love this release.