Propagandhi has been spitting out incensed and incisive punk rock since the band’s inception in Manitoba, Canada, in 1986. Dedicated to radical left-wing politics and activism, the band has become increasingly fierce over the years. Propagandhi’s skate-punk-indebted debut, 1993’s How to Clean Everything, and ensuing releases Less Talk, More Rock, Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, Potemkin City Limits and Supporting Caste were all heavily politicized affairs. But as time has gone on, and the band has expanded into a four-piece, Propagandhi’s sound has evolved, becoming more belligerent and complex as it’s incorporated off-kilter metal, hardcore’s savagery, and ‘80s thrash riffing.
Failed States, the band’s sixth full-length and debut for new label Epitaph, continues that same musical trajectory, and Propagandhi’s commitment to elucidating and educating on political ills and social injustices has not been diluted in the slightest. Metal and punk collide throughout Failed States, and the resulting ire-filled tussle is harder, faster and more sonically nuanced than its predecessor – boiling over with the band’s fiery and impassioned spirit.
Opener, “Note to Self”, flawlessly encapsulates Propagandhi’s fusion of thrash, and melodic and hard-edged punk with cutting social/personal commentary. With a slow-build intro and manic, rhythmic variations, it’s a perfect representation of where the band sits sonically in 2012: progressive, propulsive and unafraid to drop in plenty of peculiarities. From there on in, things only get more aggressive and pointed, as vocalist/guitarist Chris Hannah, guitarist/vocalist David Guillas, bassist/vocalist Todd Kowalski and drummer/vocalist Jord Samolesky produce the band’s most unforgiving and unflinching album.
The bass-heavy wallop of “Failed States”, the sludgy dirge of “Ratten Cane”, and the blazing “Hadron Collison” and “Status Update” see Propagandhi matching its philosophies with blistering, technical riffing. Not a second is wasted on filler. The melodic sections of “Cognitive Suicide”, “Dark Matter” and “Lotus Gait” are counterpointed by short stabs of volatile knotty thrash, switching the tone from punk rock fury to metal meltdown without reducing the lyrical impact. Clean lines flick to dirty throughout, and Failed States is packed with urgency and fervency right on through to its stunning closer, “Duplicate Keys Icaro (An Interim Report)”. (The lyric, “There is no me, there is no you, there is all,” sums up Propagandhi’s vision that collective power is at hand to solve the world’s problems, if only governments would listen.)
The attraction of Propagandhi has always been that amongst all the indignation is a perceptive message; the band has never been one to merely vociferate anti-authority polemics and then collect the check. Whether you agree with the band’s philosophies or not, you can’t fault its commitment to illuminating troublesome issues, and – unlike many punk bands filled with hollow rage – Propagandhi offers tangible solutions. All the band’s releases have contained resonant, astute material, but as financial turmoil and societal divisions hit hard, Failed States feels deeply relevant. The album’s biting, thrashing impetus, matched with its petitions, evokes the unsteadiness of 2012 exceptionally well, and Propagandhi’s decision to maximize the shred-fests hasn’t obscured the importance of its message – if anything, that chaos feels wholly fitting.
Like past efforts, Failed States is an album you can enjoy for its sheer momentum, but its entangled riffs and jolting pivots make it Propagandhi’s least immediate album (although that’s not an issue as such; all of its albums require active engagement for the most efficacious effect). It is abrasive and eccentric, and although its multi-part layering and hard-hitting nature require a few careful listens to fully appreciate, once its depths are unpacked, it is apparent that Failed States is the strongest, and most compositionally adventurous, release from Propagandhi yet.
Propagandhi has undoubtedly matured, but the band’s outrage at corporate and governmental greed, society’s failings, and the dismissal of those left suffering on the fringes is still as heartfelt and articulate as it ever was. It says much about the band’s integrity and resilience that close to 30 years in it shows no sign of stagnating musically or reducing its message into more palatable fare. Propagandhi has never been a simple sideline commentator, nor has it ever underestimated its audience’s intelligence; Failed States provides industrial-strength proof of both.