It’s been four long years since the last STNNNG album. In that time, though, the band hasn’t wavered from their dynamic and aggressive style of confrontational rock. While original drummer Jeremy Ward may no longer play with them, Twin Cities veteran Ben Ivascu jumped in and, once the band felt comfortable as a unit, they finished up their third full-length: The Smoke of My Will.
While their first two records are solid, they never captured the energy that defines the band’s live show. This time around, Dave Gardner and Neil Weir have mixed the guitars and vocals up front, capturing Chris Besinger’s distressed and angry shout-yelps that overlay the meandering, forceful rhythms and the loud-soft dynamics that makes STNNNG sound like the musical equivalent of a being assaulted with a blunt object. Listening to the record, the adjectives that come to mind are loud and blistering—somehow even during the quiet parts. While I hate to make comparisons to legends, the Jesus Lizard comes to mind, although STNNNG is more calculated in their intensity.
The band’s bread and butter comes from big, winding guitars with angry, forceful vocals. Additional complexity comes from a rhythm section that threads the different guitar parts into cohesive, yet meandering songs. The dynamic shifts seek to exploit that moment of turbulence just before an explosion. “The Ugly Show” and “Slow Water” are examples of the soft-loud shifts that give an extra punch to the aggression. In other songs, the band will slow things down, as in the plodding, rambling feel of “In the Hate Field” and the tempo-shifting “Ladies & Gentlemen…We’ve Been Infected,” which ambles for four minutes of echoey, barren noodling before Besinger calls to his guitarist, “Take it, Burt,” and the song transforms into a minefield.
As the songs waver on the brink of insanity, Besinger’s lyrics tell a story in which the chaos ebbs and flows, decorated with emphatic cadences and head bobs. One of the record’s best songs, “New Black Hole,” is about the end of the Mayan calendar: the “cleansing fire” and how “the future’s history is put to sleep.” When Besinger delivers these lines, they don’t sound like mere description: they feel like a threat directed at anyone who will listen.
released October 19, 2010
Chris Besinger: Vocal
Adam Burt: Guitar
Jesse Kwakenat: Bass
Nathan Nelson: Guitar
Ben Ivascu: Drums
Jeremy Ward: Drums on "Two Sick Friends" and "New Black Hole."
Recorded at Old Blackberry Way, Minneapolis, MN
Recorded by Neil Weir and STNNNG
Mastered at Magneto Mastering, Minneapolis, MN
Mastered by Dave Gardner