Unbelievably, it has been a full four years since ‘prairie skids’ Propagandhi released their previous full-length, Potemkin City Limits. Since then the band has experienced some notable changes: recruiting David ‘Space Beaver’ Guillas (ex-Giant Sons) on second guitar in 2006; announcing the closure of their own G7 Welcoming Committee record label in early 2008; and more recently, parting ways with the label that brought them to the world, Fat Wreck Chords. Transitionary times, but not a transitionary album for Propagandhi, whose latest offering, Supporting Caste, is as focused, grounded and absolutely vital as the band has ever been.
Opener “Night Letters” arrives like an adrenaline-filled syringe into the heart of an overdosed junkie. Blasts of down-tuned thrash intersect a melodic lick and Kowalski screams stirring lyrics, with verses dispersed in between an insane riff that bursts from the speakers like a rabies-infected dog; meanwhile, somewhere in the world Kerry King closes his eyes in disbelief, for it was not him who wrote this riff.
Title track “Supporting Caste” finds Chris Hannah contemplating the insanity of recorded history (“Because history exalts / only the pornography of force / that of murderers and psychopaths”) whilst touching on issues of power and of feeling powerless, ultimately concluding with a relatively upbeat sentiment: “if you’re cast on thin ice, you may as well dance.” Hannah then shifts his target, expressing his disillusionment with religion and its rigid prescription to binary oppositions on “Terntium Non Datur” (Latin for, roughly, no third way) before the brilliant “Dear Coach’s Corner,” which explodes with a mind-bending, face-melting intro that eventually settles into an excursion towards more melodic territory, complemented by some nice picking by The Beave on second guitar, as Hannah documents his often underestimated vocal abilities whilst commenting on the idiocy of nationalism and militarism, juxtaposed with references to his beloved game, ice hockey.
Kowalski returns to lead vocal duties on “This Is Your Life,” his best contribution to the Propagandhi canon since “Fuck the Border,” before Hannah returns to the forefront with one of the album's many highlights, “Human(e) Meat,” which shoots down the paradoxical notion that it is possible to kill humanely, played out with a stunning, screaming solo. Lyrically, this theme continues on “Potemkin City Limits,” with Hannah presenting an extremely poignant and touching account of animal suffering -- proving here again, as he has done repeatedly over the years, that his lyrics can stand alone, and stand out, as prose on their own merit.
The technical musicianship on “The Funeral Procession” is astounding, beginning with an intro that for a few brief seconds feels like it is about to break into a rendition of some grinding hard rock, before quickly descending into a rapid guitar-driven frenzy of melody and pounding, racing drums accompanied by some vicious and driving bass work. Following this is “Without Love,” an emotive account of having to face one's own mortality while “Incalculable Effects” is a bleak, dark description of an ugly scene of urban brutality, dispatched via Kowalski’s preferred medium of pure thrash attack.
“The Bangers Embrace” is an insight into the kind of things Chris Hannah dreams about and “Last Will & Testament” best documents the influence The Beave has had in a creative sense upon the output of the band, his guitar work the central focus as the atmosphere builds with a purely instrumental progression that lasts just beyond three minutes, until the pace picks up and the vocals arrive to accompany us to a blazing exit. However, it's not before the secret track, a bizarre cover of Black Widow’s “Come to the Sabot,” bursts from the silence to close the album in hysterical fashion.
But hysterics aside, and in all seriousness, Supporting Caste is a hugely significant release from a band that have proven, yet again, that they are still the most important band in punk rock. Musically and lyrically uncompromising, pioneering whilst at the same time always didactic, the energy that floods from the music like lies from the mouth of a politician illustrates that this is a band at the top of their game. The added creative stimulus of The Beave, coupled with Hannah’s dedication to the band full-time since the closing of G7, represent what is a newly energized Propagandhi: So let us hope it stays this way -- for if it does, we can be sure to expect several more releases just as vital and as mind-blowing as this one.