With blistering tunefulness that bridges back to the zenith hardcore days of Black Flag, Baltimore-based War on Women produces a confessional, contoured, and convulsive six-song EP. Although knee-deep in feminist creeds, don’t expect mere socio-politico placards back-dropped by assaulting, dark, and compressed musical templates. In contrast, the band buries any sense of preachiness inside quickstep tunes that can be heavy enough to feel like an injection of lead into the backbone and nimble and acrobatic enough to satisfy any prog-punk fans, all within each tune.
Breathtaking opener “Confess” gallops out of the gate by combining the steel-toed directness of British street punks Deadline with a chorus that feels as mysterious, lilting, and venomous as a brief foray into Tool territory. That balance between raw-boned rancor and effortless ambience happens in a scant two minutes.
“Effemimania” (the title references male-envisioned expressions of femininity, like male-to-female transsexuals) aims to collapse binary gender norms. In scissory lyrics like “We all have a penis . . . We all have a clit”, singer Shawna Potter offers up a “public cervix announcement” while shredding the notions that relationships should be defined by female “recipro-cunt” passivity and male-female antipodes. Sure, taken apart and deconstructed, the lines seem like heavy-duty philosophy for a song doused in riffage torn from Tragedy and From Ashes Rise, but the musical blitzkrieg and skill meld with theory-driven intelligence in tight-wound effectiveness.
“Broken Record” adds even darker shades of hypnotic guitar parts and spoken-word dialogues. The lyrics seem to echo song sentiments expressed in tunes like “Suggestion” from early era Fugazi too. Both songs attempt to subvert the male gaze, which objectives women as they walk down streets. “What I’m wearing has only to do with the weather . . . I’m not your baby”, snarls Potter when she is not re-enacting a pick-up scene on the corner, mimicking ignorant male pleas for phone numbers and attention. Impassioned and steadfast, the lyrics castigate male banter as “a broken record” as the song pushes back and forth with pummeling drums and fluctuating, powerhouse guitars.
Meanwhile, “How’s Tricks” boils down tumultuous relationships into a cross-section of sexual desires and self-imposed drama. As the song suggests, women forgive men for yelling, slutting, and trickery in order to receive a modicum of their attention and sexual prowess. Not hamstrung by such weak convictions, the narrator lashes out, shredding “the last cells of a girl who didn’t mind not being treated well”. The song re-enacts the birthright of freedom as the narrator tosses out the last vestiges of male-power games that riddle common, everyday circumstances.
With a dizzying catalog of sardonic wit, “High School Reunion” puts the whole graduation class under vengeful scrutiny, from the “dumb footballers” and “first breeders” bearing “baby weight”, to boys sent away to a war that’s made the country bleed for years. It’s a prognosis of ennui, a slugfest, and a lash against “normals” that made up a fractured teenage cosmos. Lastly, “I Like Science”—equally pungent and wailing—has little to do with bunsen burners: imagine a boy-girl standoff between a “pussycat with claws” and a guy with a prick that takes a “microscope” to find. It’s harshly human.
To some degree, War on Women updates the riot grrrl intensity of Bikini Girl, but with Net-generation lacerating pithiness. Musically, the band sustains a cascading metallic dirge the whole time, mixed forcefully with abrupt, adept, and alluring tempo changes. Meanwhile, the songs’ razor-slinging poetry avoids relying on tattooed punk clichés as well. To be sure, War on Women weaves its vendetta-rock with tenacious talent and empowerment. Luckily, the music offers no one-dimensional growl: it’s a dark dance on the grave of misogynists and their enablers.