Glassjaw’s Triumphant Return and the Redemption of Ross Robinson

[4 December 2008]

By Mehan Jayasuriya

In the annals of rock and roll history, producer Ross Robinson will most likely be remembered as a scoundrel. After all, Robinson is largely responsible for the “Nu-Metal” scourge of the late ‘90s, having produced and championed acts like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Soulfly. Future historians, however, would do well to also note Robinson’s second act, wherein he realized the err of his ways and attempted to slay the beast that he had created. Starting at the turn of the millennium, Robinson scoured the globe for progressive hardcore and metal bands, in a valiant attempt to break through the haze of cookie-cutter Nu-Metal being peddled by MTV and corporate radio. To his credit, Robinson managed to round up some of the most inventive heavy bands active at the time—At the Drive-In, the Blood Brothers, Glassjaw—and in the albums that he produced for them, he pushed these bands to produce recordings that accurately captured their energy as live bands. The resulting records, At The Drive-In’s Relationship of Command, the Blood Brothers’ Burn Piano Island, Burn and Glassjaw’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence and Worship and Tribute, still stand as some of the best post-hardcore records produced during the last decade.

Nearly ten years on, it’s hard to calculate the impact of Robinson’s pet project. While all three of the aforementioned bands were extremely influential during their time, all three acts also disbanded or went on hiatus after brief flirtations with the mainstream. It’s fairly safe to say that Robinson’s presumed saviors never quite succeeded in their mission to destroy Nu-Metal, though it’s not clear how any of these bands could have found lasting mainstream success with such heavy, challenging music.

Out of the three bands discussed, Glassjaw always seemed the greenest. While Relationship of Command and Burn Piano Island, Burn are both near masterpieces, both of Glassjaw’s albums are plagued by significant shortcomings. While their debut LP, 2000’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence offers an intense, impassioned vision of what a hardcore record can be, its lyrics often feel immature, underdeveloped and at times, borderline misogynistic. Worship and Tribute, released two years later, addressed many of these lyrical flaws and introduced a wider palette of sounds to the band’s arsenal; in so doing, however, it lost sight of much of the momentum and focus that made the band notable in the first place.

Glassjaw has been presumed inactive since about 2004, when the band succumbed to pressure from lineup changes, various side-projects and vocalist Daryl Palumbo’s ongoing struggle with Crohn’s Disease. Quietly, however, the band reemerged during the last few years, playing a handful of shows since 2005. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, while the rest of the country was sleeping off its yearly bout of tryptophan-induced drowsiness, the band surprised fans by updating their website with a new song—the first new release from Glassjaw in some six years. This new track, the delightfully-named “You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon”, is proof-positive that the band hasn’t lost the plot during their years in the wilderness—if anything, their sound has become even more potent. 

Visit Glassjaw’s website and you’re greeted by little more than an image of a Puerto Rican flag rendered in shades of green, soundtracked by a distant, looped drum track. Sit through the repeating drum line for roughly one and a half minutes, however and you’re guaranteed a rude awakening. When you least expect it, the song comes roaring to life: drums crashing, guitar riffs landing like a ton of bricks, Palumbo shrieking like a wounded animal. A few seconds in, the band ups the ante, increasing the song’s tempo to robotic levels. All but the most ardent spaz-core fans will probably squirm in their seats a bit at this point.

From there, it’s into a tastefully brief melodic chorus (Glassjaw was never quite a screamo band, so a bit of melody is to be expected) and then it’s right back to the show. The whole song progresses like this, providing melodic respites for only a few seconds at the time before dishing out more blisteringly heavy verses.

“You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon” is Glassjaw’s best song yet, mostly because it finds the band playing to their strengths. Structurally, the song trims much of the fat found on previous tunes, focusing mostly on pummeling the listener with the sort of relentless aural assault the band’s live shows are known for. As many will note, Palumbo has a fantastically malleable, Mike Patton-esque singing voice, though it’s best used as a counterpoint to his scream, a technique that highlights his voice’s textural qualities. Despite his ongoing struggle with Crohn’s, Palumbo’s screaming has also vastly improved during the intervening years. While he’s always been a master of the high-pitched shriek, “You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon” finds Palumbo expanding his range to include low, throaty growls and guttural howls as well. 

It’s hard not to dwell on Palumbo’s vocals on the track but it should be said that the band deserves plenty of credit here as well. Justin Beck’s guitar alternately roars and squeals, Durijah Lang’s propulsive drums drive the song’s momentum and Manuel Carrero’s serpentine bass line keeps the choruses anchored.

No one seems to know when Glassjaw’s third studio album, which “You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon” is presumably taken from, will finally see release. According to comments made to the press by members of the band, Glassjaw has been working on the LP for nearly three years now. Though no official announcement has yet been made, we can only hope that the record will be completed in short order and that the rest of the songs on the album live up to the lofty expectations set by this first leak.

Regardless of what Glassjaw’s third album brings (if it even ever sees release), “You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon” is a triumph for both Glassjaw and Ross Robinson. Sure, Robinson might not have anything to do with this recording but that, quite frankly, is beside the point. While Nu-Metal has all but vanished from the face of the earth, one of the bands that Robinson fostered nearly ten years ago has managed to defy the odds, continuing to survive, evolve and even thrive. If that fact isn’t worthy of note in the annals of hardcore/metal history, then I don’t know what is.

Stream “You Think You’re John (Fucking) Lennon” at Glassjaw’s website

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