The eastern sector of Long Island hasn't exactly been a musical hotbed over the last few years. All the names one is likely to know have come out of Nassau County (usually Levittown, one of LI's few nationally recognized touchstones of American culture). The further east you travel, the less dense the population tends to be. One wouldn't necessarily call it the backwoods, but it's not exactly a fertile ground for musical accomplishments and discovery in the punk/hardcore/indie regard.
The eastern LI-based Republic of Wolves had zero connections to that western scene when an acquaintance of the band went rogue last summer and posted up their first recordings to YouTube disguised as Brand New demos. Even after the veil was lifted, reception was wildly positive (mostly on Absolutepunk). Nonetheless, the band quickly built up a loyal following, and suddenly, LI's freshest hype export for indie zines was a mere studio project from the comparative sticks burdened (or blessed) by monumental expectations.
Luckily for those fans, TROW is a prolific bunch: Since their early 2009 formation, they've already amassed a catalog of nearly 30 recorded songs--and they're meticulously polished tracks at that. Thirteen of their latest, however, will come to mean something especially significant, since they make up the band's newly arrived debut full-length, Varuna.
Varuna is at once dense and majestic, a sprawling album of dark and light takes on a style of emotional rock that teeters somewhere between alternative and indie. Strained melodies and incredible restraint are pushed through tracks and tracks of guitar, bass, drums and light keys, but it never overwhelms; it merely guides the album through a smooth flow interspersed with both brighter and intrinsically moodier moments.
Granted, Brand New remains a primary point of musical (and lyrical) reference, specifically the era beginning with the leaked Fight Off Your Demons demos and continuing through to Daisy. After all, these are mostly nebulous, complex tracks informed by a host of both present-day and decade(s)-old rock influences, with a near-constant assortment of vaguely Biblical and religious imagery that, while missing its mark once in a while, is by no means preachy or awkward. And the album's a solid hour long, mixing up offerings of smart major and minor-key epics.
Besides that, the band have ramped up the indie-folk tones a bit--specifically on lead single "Oarsman" and the inherently Good Old War-esque introduction to "Pitch and Resin"; it's likely thanks to vocalist/guitarist Mason Maggio and guitarist/vocalist Christian Van Deurs' backgrounds in stripped-down folk duo Tigers on Trains.
Still, the band finds just as much success in these songs and the few other marks of more graceful, college radio-friendly fare like "You Missed the Point" and "Grounded, I Am Traveling Light" as they do a rather unnerving, bustling brood that pervades disturbingly somber tracks like "Sea Smoke," the chain-gang stomp of "Tuez le Tous, Dieu Reconnaitra les Siens" (think Thrice's "The Earth Will Shake," though more infernal) and prime standout "Greek Fire," which boils and broils its way through a demonic and explosive six-minute build with wailing guitars providing a pitch-perfect and stressed-out, mid-record assault.
The band have also corrected the delicate issues that mildly damaged their prior EP, His Old Branches--namely the fussy, artificial production tone on the drums. Here, drummer Chris Wall's precise fills no longer sound phoned-in, instead jumping out impressively on a cut like "You Missed the Point." Overall, really, the recording is simultaneously sharp and lush. And the two particularly risky elements the band have been applying since His Old Branches--Billy Duprey's keys and razor-sharp, bloody-murder screams--are integrated cleaner, less contrasting and more a proper layer to the proceedings when causticity is called for.
To be sure, Varuna's got a familiarity about it, and the dynamics could be a little more exciting at times, but the thought and care put into every song is clear, and the craftsmanship is strong. It's hard to build a scene all on your own, especially when its cultural center has already been established 50 miles west, but the Republic of Wolves have already shown the chops to help establish it.
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