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Glassjaw - Material Control (Album Review)

Monday, 11 December 2017 Written by Jennifer Geddes

Glassjaw’s return after a 15 year absence pays tribute to the music that first inspired them, reminding Daryl Palumbo and Justin Beck just why they formed a band. On ‘Material Control’ they retain the passionate, fierce energy of their youth, which eludes many older bands, while showcasing the maturity that comes with age.

Their second LP, ‘Worship and Tribute’ gained the band a large following upon its release in 2002. They had signed to Warner Bros. Records, which gave them a bigger platform, but also left them in a legal black hole as they tried to leave their contract. Many years then passed with only the occasional EP release from the band as Palumbo forged ahead with various side projects, including Head Automatica.

Recently, though, a journalist posed a question to the band that changed everything. Asking them what they first wanted to achieve with the band reminded them of the New York underground scene they had dreamt of being a part of.

As such ‘Material Control’ brings to the foreground the heavy melodic bass that characterised the city's hardcore scene of the 1980s and 1990s, with bands such as Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags and later Quicksand. The drums, played by the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Billy Rymer, are bigger and heavier, and Beck’s guitar is more distorted and frantic than ever.

Opening track New White Extremity really is a statement of intent, showcasing all these elements, with Palumbo really pushing the aggression in his vocals. While many punk bands, as they get older, find themselves becoming softer and more melodic, Glassjaw have instead really dug into their heavier side. Lack of label interference this time around has allowed them to make an album that they feel really reflects how they have wanted to sound all along.

They cherry pick from their favourite bands. My Conscience Weighs A Ton steals its drum style from Into Another, Cut and Run’s guitar riffs are taken from Anthrax and Mind Over Matter’s George Reynolds, whom Palumbo references as an inspiration, features on Pompeii.  

The album isn’t an indulgence in nostalgia though, with nothing coming off as a straight-up tribute. Just like the jazz elements they brought on ‘Worship and Tribute’, the middle section of the album sees Glassjaw experiment with different sounds. Bastille Day is an instrumental composed alongside former bassist Ariel Telford, who “schooled” the band in Indian music, and Strange Hours sees them celebrate their love of dub, with a groovy bass line that adds an unrelenting anxiety to the track.

The band wanted the album to sound post-apocalyptic and urgent, which is heard not only in the music but also in Palumbo’s lyrics, with lines like “You scorch the earth before you /Roam the waste like ants under duress” on Pompeii. Topically, however, the record sees the band take on a wider variety of issues, another sign of their maturity.

On Bibleland 6, where they return to a more melodic sound similar to ‘Worship and Tribute’, Palumbo sings: “Kneels down / And when he comes to find you / The savior spares yours and takes mine.” This is the vocalist examining his Catholic upbringing in relation to his current politics on female reproductive rights. Golgatha, meanwhile, has him contemplating the American family man, utilising his father as a comparison to himself and Beck.

If this album had come off the back of the ‘Worship and Tribute’, it’s worth a guess that fans might have been surprised by the band’s hard swing over to the heavy side. But it’s debatable whether their circumstances or experience back then would have led to a record like ‘Material Control’. Despite everything about it that revels in the past, this is something that Glassjaw could only have made now.

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