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Glassjaw - 'Material Control'

Music Review: Glassjaw – ‘Material Control’

Glassjaw has always been a bit of an outlier.

In the early 2000s, the Long Island punk scene was split into two halves: witty, weepy emo pop-punkers and muscle-bound hardcore tuff-guys slamming What Protein between songs.

Glassjaw, on the other hand, was a different beast. Their ferocity and pop sensibility were never at odds with one another. They were not the only group to blend hardcore with softer, more melodic elements—the entire screamo scene was doing that. But Glassjaw managed to do that without falling into the same eyelinered, skinny-jeaned scenester pigeonhole.

Lead singer Daryl Palumbo would shift effortlessly from howling hardcore screams to smooth croons that emulated Frank Sinatra on mescaline. The band followed suit, playing palm-muted, double pedal hardcore one second and dub-influenced atmospheres the next. Some of their ballads even became staples on the heaviest hardcore fan’s iPod.

Their truly unique sound earned them a diverse audience. They were favorites at the Warped Tour and went on tour with bands like Deftones. In three years, they released two albums. But it was their 2002 release, Worship and Tribute, that made them cult heroes.

It was also their last album. Throughout the years, rumors bubbled of a follow-up. The band even promised a new album in 2008. A few new tracks were posted onto the internet, but then years passed without any news.

Then yesterday (December 1), without warning, Glassjaw released their third album, Material Control. The 15-year drought is over, but can it live up to the impossibly high hype?

Short answer: Yes.

The album tears out of the gate with a thirst for blood. “New White Extremity” opens with pummeling drums and heavy, dissonant, metalcore guitar riffs. Palumbo howls into the whirlwind, his voice as mercurial as ever. “I’m searching for a familiar face,” he sings in the chorus. But this sounds familiar without retreading old ground.

The band continues its relentless assault through the next three tracks. “Shira” keeps the pedal to the floor, even as its chorus introduces some of the most beautiful vocal lines the group has ever made (complete with background oohs!). “Golgotha” stands toe-to-toe with the heaviest tracks in their catalog.

On track five, “Strange Hours,” Glassjaw brings it down a notch. It’s a creeping, atmospheric ballad-driven one similar to the Worship and Tribute classics “Ape Dos Mil” and “Must’ve Run All Day.” Unlike those tracks, however, “Strange Hours” never explodes. It is a patient, restrained tune. But the angular guitar lines, single-note bass pulse, and irregular drum beat give it an uneasy feeling.

Material Control doesn’t stay in this quietness very long. “Bastille Day,” a raga-influenced instrumental, drones through hand claps and Indian percussion for a couple of minutes before crashing into “Pompei.” Palumbo chants menacingly through the verses, accompanied only by a pounding drum and guitar feedback. The chorus explodes like … well … a volcano, challenging “Golgotha” for the title of heaviest track on the album.

“Bibleland 6” maintains this energy, despite an unnerving melody from Palumbo. “Closer” picks things up with a fast punk drum beat and viper-like guitar line. “My Conscience Weighs a Ton” is carried by a fuzzy bass riff and subdued vocals. “Material Control” is another instrumental. It’s carried by a simple echoed drum beat, with the occasional frenetic burst of mathy guitar reminiscent of Battles. The closer, “Cut and Run,” closes the album with the same fury it opened with.

The record is only 36 minutes long, but the intensity of its musical hurricane makes it feel much longer. It’s a dense album that unfolds with each subsequent listen.

Material Control had the deck stand against it. Glassjaw’s legacy casts a long shadow on every track here, but the record still shines brightly. It combines the best of the group’s heaviness and melodicism without compromising either. At the same time, this isn’t a mere retread of old territory. This is Glassjaw at their absolute freshest and a worthy entry into their canon.

About Nathaniel FitzGerald

Nat FitzGerald is a lifetime music enthusiast, both as a listener and a performer. He lives in South Bend, IN where he plays in the post-gaze outfit SPACESHIPS and runs the blog A Year Of Vinyl, wherein he reviews every record in his (sizeable) collection.

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