, November 2nd, 2012 06:25
There's a certain air of masculinity to New War's propulsive energy, and by that I don't mean 'manly'. Saying that would imply that the Melbourne-based band, consisting one US transplant and the rest Australian natives, is driven by some sort of gender distinction but it's Melissa Lock's controlled though forceful bass lines that are as virile as they come. In fact, hers is the only guitar in the otherwise all-male four-piece, bred on punk and carried along a rhythm section that oscillates somewhere between the lowlife contortions of the Birthday Party and the jackhammer force of Erase Errata.
Considering drummer Steve Masterson's days with smacky Melbourne post-punks Bird Blobs and Lock's formative years with Seattle-based Riot Grrrl-influenced Shoplifting it's an easy comparison to make. But it's the exceptional sense of controlled chaos, a sound besieged by its precarious grip on its own brutality that makes New War's self-titled album debut so distinct.
As a band concerned with the weighty politics of tyranny and oppression, it would be easy to allow their aggressive, violent dissent to collapse into total chaos but it's in the systematic, almost clinical approach to song composition and self-control where New War identifies the sinister core of social absolutism. A pulsating display of might in the fluctuating build-up and zombie chants of 'Wishlist' marches in devastating synchronicity among each band member and their predetermined role.
Carrying along a vaguely socialist ethos, no instrument is given preference in the recording, to the extent where the demented rhythm of Masterson's drumming rises out of its disembodied haze only to meet and interweave with the gasping vocals of Chris Pugmire on 'Slim Dandy'. The electricity of album standout, 'Revealer', sends all four sonic elements – across drums, bass, keys and vocals – vacillating through the focussed channel of its own urgent, agitated hustle.
In fact, it's an interesting parallel to draw between the wavering spectre of capitalist mind-control track 'Ghostwalking' with the band's own form of militant Egalitarianism. To carry any ideal into reality requires a degree of discipline and manipulation and in every case you run the risk of becoming the very evil you despise. Which is probably – in their perverse attempt at condensing their powerful live performances into recorded format – how New War confront their own demons, both metaphorically and lyrically.
It's a struggle for tangibility in a perpetual state of political, social and emotional entropy that drives Pugmire, as he mourns a vanished paradise in 'Calling From The Inside', a storm of noise and crackling speakers echoing the poignant beauty of loss and nostalgia. Eight-minute album closer, 'Josef's Hands' – with its clear reference to the vicious Stalinist regime – swaggers through a combative storm, dissolving into the spiralling hum of aimless reverb.
It's only in the demented saxophone and contorted shrieks of 'Black Site Cantos' that their calculated dissent threatens to spill over; hysteria reaching its climax before being smothered by the distant echoes of 'Wishlist' and returning New War the entity to the equilibrium of ideologically sound and sonically potent rebellion.