Hooray for being angry as fuck! Hooray for growling, depressive post punk! Hooray for creating a dystopian musical landscape that mirrors your hometown! “Scum, Rise!” doesn’t just get at a superbly timed sense of anxiety–with all that compulsively fast strumming and all those bleak lyrics–it also manages to be utterly, shimmeringly beautiful, even in the throes of its own desolation.
With their second studio album Under Color of Official Right, out this coming April, Protomartyr settle deeper into the near-nihilistic, aggressive approach that they established on their debut. This time around, they throw their full weight into an exploration of their hometown, Detroit. Under Color is not an album about Detroit, per se, so much as it creates the full panorama of an aesthetic landscape, complete with a swelling sense of inner turmoil balanced by external sensations: an acute sense of winter, discomfort, and urban decay. Protomartyr is practically bursting with disappointment and anger, along with a bristling intelligence that sets itself up for self-imposed isolation.
Even the group’s name screams portent: casting their lot in as original martyrs can’t be an entirely serious move on the band’s part, but does give them an austere, evocative ring even before you’ve heard the music. I’m reminded of Savages, who released their stellar debut Silence Yourself last year. But Savages’ anger–warped, noisy, and throttling–was nearly always alienating on Silence Yourself—not only was the music so atonal and distorted that it sometimes seemed deliberately repellant, but the lyrics assumed some sort of high priesthood clarity over everyone, especially other musicians, regarding life, or philosophy, or morality, or whatever. The fury and intellectual ostentatiousness is at least half tongue in cheek. I mean, calling your album—of music—Silence Yourself? Hilarious.
Protomartyr, too, spits in your face and tells you to fuck off. But there’s something less enclosed about the riffs, which, even at their darkest, have at least a trace of catchiness. Singer Joe Casey’s vocal lines aren’t distorted enough to seem far away, and remain endearing even at their most gravelly, when he’s flatly repeating the phrase “nothing you can do” towards the end of this track. Maybe it’s the reassurance of being able to hold the backdrop of Detroit in your head as you’re listening to the music: Protomartyr often gets bleak, but never becomes so interior that you get lost as you’re listening.
Listen to “Scum, Rise!” below: