White Lung – Paradise
I was really looking forward to this album, and I was also expecting it to be a big step forward from the already-great Deep Fantasy, which is pretty much the perfect setup for disappointment. Guess what though. What’s really amazing about this is, well, I mean, what was already amazing is just that this is a hardcore band that sounds modern and relevant in the year two thousand and whatever it is, and what was also already amazing is that they’ve continued to do better than that on every successive album, but what’s amazing about this album specifically is that it advances and expands the band’s sound and songwriting – smoother on “Hungry,” metaler on “Vegas,” mellower but still piercing on “Below,” and with a full-throated sing-along chorus on “Kiss Me When I Bleed” (which happens to be about bringing a child into a world of filth and despair) – while also not only maintaining but enhancing their basic force and intensity. It hits you everywhere at once, and it’s able to do this without being “experimental” or branching out into every available affect. It’s both propulsive and towering, both ethereal and bloody, both aspirational and wrathful, both artful and raw. The guitar parts take everything great that guitars are capable of doing and shift, sift, and swirl it all together into a single unrestrained style that speaks in its own new language. And the lyrics similarly confuse their emotional angles to alchemize strange substances and birth untaxonomized monsters. “Demented” insists that “you were born to ruin your life,” “I Beg You” “fights back like a full-blown rotten cancer,” “Dead Weight” is both hopelessly resigned and defiantly committed, “Sister” cobbles together a bizarre narrative out of degeneration and murder, the ironic skyward thrust of “Narcoleptic” comes across as borderline angelic, and “Paradise” is almost chill until it lashes back at itself and dies hard. So context aside, even, this is the kind of work that makes expectations irrelevant. Regardless of what you were expecting before, what you’re expecting now is for anything to even try to be this good.
And none of this “softens” anything; the music still radiates at maximum heat and the tone is still downright murderous. It tears through and apart its ideas in under half an hour while still feeling substantial and not rushed. But it doesn’t let you get all the way to feeling satisfied, because if you’re ever satisfied with anything, you’re doing it wrong. “You are never safe from yourself.” Which is to say not only that this album is deeply impressive but that the explanation of the source of that impressiveness itself is instantiated within the music, itself. This band has developed by taking what they were already great at and doing it harder, and better, and they’ve become something different by doing that. “I’ll give my heart out, I’ll bleed until I’m cold.” This is sort of like the mirror image of reinterpretation. Any one thing has its limits, but one way to overcome those limits is to take what you’re doing all the way through, such that you come out on the other side making the same connection in a different place. The result is that this is more than a cool punk album, more than an exiting new sound, and more than great music. It’s revelatory. (More later.)