Predominantly anchored by the inspiring theme that we can affect change in the world if we remain informed of the issues and work together, Thought Riot are one of the few politically-charged punk bands that doesn’t solely concentrate on the negative. Although they sing about troubling world issues, they seem to approach the topics with a positive angle, and in turn, a refreshing glimmer of hope is often evident in their work.
Upon hearing two of Thought Riot’s songs off the A-F Records sampler a while back I was sold, immediately picking up their debut last year – the excellent ‘Shattered Mirror Syndrome’. And on their latest release, the appropriately titled ‘Sketches Of Undying Will’, the progressive five-piece haven’t changed their basic formula all that much: once again the fast paced, hard-edged punk is highlighted by frontman Marc Riot’s crisp vocals, thought-provoking lyrics that this time around actually read quite poetically, and great gang vocal choruses that really reiterate the sense of unity and solidarity.
The record opens with a tremendously positive song, an ode to the great things accomplished by people within the scene through their music and/or actions. As Marc says about the impetus for writing “With Love, the Underground”, “I was noticing…[there were] no songs saying, ‘Here’s a pat on the back for being involved and being aware and talking to people’…Obviously [the scene] has its problems, but for the most part, we really help make our voices heard or at least the voices of dissent heard in the greater community.” Moreover, fast and aggressive, this song is the epitome of Thought Riot’s infectious sound.
Other topics touched upon are racism (“You’re Gonna Die”), tales of troubled youth (“Cycle of the Streets”), the fact that there are some people who are in the scene just for the fashion aspect and nothing more (“On New Tablets”, where Marc asks, “Are we striving towards a cause/Or rebelling just because?”), heightened security since 9/11 and the absurdity of the Patriot Act (the wonderful “Homeland Insecurities”), and of course since the record was written and recorded while the Iraq debacle was at its pinnacle – although it’s still far from over – one that blatantly deals with the war (“A Song in Response to…”).
The most outstanding song has to be the aforementioned “Homeland Insecurities”, which musically, is superb with its extreme innate sense of urgency – the pleas of “All in all, all is lost” – add to the immediacy, and the lyrics and just the overall idea behind the song is SO true. It’s a shame that so many people have accepted all this superfluous “security” believing that trading in our freedoms and rights in order to guarantee “safety” is ridiculous. It’s a travesty, what Marc refers to as “illusion”…but I digress… Other highlights are the following track, “The Hermit of Sils Maria”, which opens with a memorable guitar riff and has a somewhat troubled sound, exacerbated by the harsh screamed vocals (I believe are guitarist Kelley’s) that appear sporadically throughout the verses, as well as the finale “Walking Stick for the Weak”, an offering that starts out rather subdued with Marc’s vocals accompanied only by guitars. All the way through, the tempo is pretty slow, but it’s quite possibly the most affecting of the 12 tracks. We are left with mass chants of “In time though all things end/Our vivacity endures and will carry on the dreams,” thereby ending the record with hope, just as it began. This song is a more than fitting conclusion to a fine album that exceeds any expectations one could have had for their sophomore effort.