The sonic trajectory of Winnipeg punks Propagandhi has been firmly entrenched in the progressive thrash-metal world since they unleashed their game-changing 2005 LP Potemkin City Limits. At the time, the shift away from the brainy, yet less-brawny skate-punk of their mid-’90s run sounded like a band who was through fucking around, ready to fulfill the larger obligations of putting their sociopolitical stances through more stoic soundscapes. That marriage of the band’s staunchly anti-capitalist, antifa, pro-vegan, pro-equality foundations with an increasingly ferocious wall of riffage has been one of the brighter, and more unique spots in the punk world over the last 20 years.
On their seventh studio album, Victory Lap, Propagandhi stirs heady dustups of full-throttle metal better than most bands who’d call themselves metal, and do so with an ear toward flattening the pomposity inherent in oppressive politics in Canada, the U.S. and anyplace else where self-serving egomaniacal assholes are pervasive.
Now rounded out by new guitarist Sulynn Hago, Propagandhi get right to the point on the title-track opener, where a sinister riff whips and growls, invoking the licks their metal forefathers had intended to kickstart revolutions with. You need more than chops alone to worm your way into the thoughtful subconscious of any listener, though, and vocalist/guitarist Chris Hannah is a master of the subliminal sermon. Hannah yowls, “When the flames engulfed the home of the brave/the stampede towards the border was in vain/Faces palmed, faces paled/as the wall they said would make them great could not be scaled.” It’s a riotous indictment of American politics in the Trump era, and as such, its clever nod to the Twitterverse is represented by lyrics littered with hashtags, as Hannah continues, “You say #notallcops/You say #notallmen/Yes you insist #itsonly99%/There’s nothing new for you to learn/Ok, sit back, relax and watch it all burn.”
Victory Lap’s immediate consistency with its recorded predecessors lies at its unfiltered call-out to the drones of Western society, be that through critical dissertations of police violence, indigenous people’s rights, or the bloated meat industry.
The latter is addressed much more broadly than the band’s infamous call to arms “Consider someone else: Stop consuming animals” line at the end of their snarling punk opus “Apparently, I’m A ‘P.C. Fascist’ (Because I Care About Both Human And Non-Human Animals)” from Less Talk, More Rock. Hannah sings as if he’s reading straight from a journal, as he recounts a harrowing childhood hunting trip that helped form his devout veganism. The song’s lush musicality is delivered with thoughtful, melodic lines from Hannah and Hago, and a tender rhythmic base from the typically ruthless duo of bassist Todd Kowalski and drummer Jord Samolesky.
Propagandhi’s abilities as players, too, is of particular note throughout Victory Lap. It’s essentially an extension of the mind-bending prog-thrash that galloped all over the band’s last full-length, Failed States—just as nuanced, though in varying ways. Sharp-edged, propulsive moments on incendiary tunes like “Comply/Resist,” the Kowalski-penned tune “When All Your Fears Collide,” and the hardcore rager “Letters to a Young Anus” are great reminders that Propagandhi are as versatile and well-schooled as any rock band in the world.
Shades of their punkier past erupt on penultimate track “Tartuffle,” where Hannah embroils the band’s metamorphoses into his own act, as he satirically sings, “Oh you demand a more Vaudevillian homage to key feminist thought? Male privileges frantically checked? Ok, go sit through Less Talk.” It’s a bit of a yin-yang for Propagandhi here, as the seemingly tongue-in-cheek rallying cry of “we came here to rock!” might not be quite as funny as it’s supposed to sound.
Album finale “Adventures in Zoochosis” sounds absolutely nothing like Propagandhi has ever done. Its instrumental beginning puts a delayed guitar bedrock down as soundtrack for especially egregious audio clips from Trump’s campaign before it attempts to appeal to the larger elephant in the world: the will of the people. To them, Hannah sings, “We hold out for consensus. Give the masses the benefit of the doubt. Insist that some democratic process will bear this population out.” There’s not much hope, and the rub is that we’re all basically fucked. But the effort the band takes to get even to these discouraging conclusions has the unexpected virtue of galvanizing hope.
Propagandhi know they can’t save the world all by themselves. With Victory Lap, their collection of heady, pulverizing opuses hopes to inspire you to join in the battle. And sure, it’s OK if you take a couple breaks to slam dance.