[8 December 2011]
Reno, Nevada’s Cobra Skulls are undeniably a punk band — they play hard, fast, guitar-driven outbursts of fury masquerading as songs, few of which last longer than three minutes. But the band knows too that to make any kind of memorable mark on the music scene, something more is necessary: tunes.
As in, melodies, and maybe a few hollered harmony lines if you’re feeling adventurous. Cobra Skulls incorporate both, along with radical innovations such as tempo shifts and lyrics that amount to more than free-floating adolescent aggro. Album opener “Six Degrees” is a catchy, fast number that might be targeting global warming — “Six degrees will bring us to our knees” — but then again, it might be about something else altogether.
“Iron Lung” follows, with a few memorable lines of its own: “So many ways to break a man, and make woman forget / Life we know is but a dream — but they don’t have my dream yet”. Okay, so it’s not Tolstoy, or even Neil Young, but it’s clever and pithy. Singer Devin Peralta specializes in such lines, delivered with a raspy eartnestness reminiscent of Joe Strummer, and yes, I know exactly what a compliment that is.
“The Mess” begins to show the band’s range, utilizing a slow opening and a stuttering rhythm in the chorus. Sad to say, few punk bands bother to try different sections in their songs, but this album is filled with multi-part tunes, even though most, like this one, barely top two minutes. That said, if you’re a six-string freak looking for guitar solos, you’d best look elsewhere. “All Drive” comes midway through the record and is probably the best song here, which is to say it’s pretty damn good. Peralta’s spitfire vocal delivery layers over an urgent bed of guitars and percussion and, again, a melody line and chord progression that worms its way into the listener’s ear and snuggles up a while. This is followed by “Drones”, which is nearly as good, though it throws a curveball with its lounge-act intro and break halfway through. Don’t like it? Hey, it’s only 82 seconds.
As if making the point that their bag of tricks is still burgeoning, “The Mockery” utilizes acoustic guitar and twee singing to lull the listener — although at this point, it’s doubtful that too many listeners will be lulled. “The Minimum” is a straightforward rock tune that takes aim at an economy that treats workers as disposable units: “We’re all too big to fail, so can we bail out everyone? / Not afraid to labor but I need so much more than the minimum”. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to hear a punk band taking swipes at real-world issues, notwithstanding the limitations imposed by a two-minute song or four-line verse.
Album closer “Believe” opens with acoustic guitar but forgoes the expected jump into high-octane thrash. Instead, a surprisingly melodic song unfolds, a statement of purpose and conviction that as touching in its way as The Clash’s “Garageland”, which closed out that band’s first album. “Believe” is a worthy successor in that tradition. And yes — I know just how big a compliment that is, too.