Red Dons - The Dead Hand of Tradition (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Red Dons

The Dead Hand of Tradition (2015)

Taken By Surprise/Deranged

Distance is something Red Dons know all about. With members spread across the globe, even simple things like getting together to record a few songs can become complicated exercises in coordination. That probably explains why we've waited more than five years for a new Red Dons full-length, though the band hasn't exactly stayed silent during the period between records. Last year saw Red Dons team up with TV Smith for the A Vote For the Unknown 7-inch, while the previous year saw the release of the excellent Notes on the Underground 7-inch.

The first thing that's clear on The Dead Hand of Tradition is that the band's formula hasn't changed. And frankly, there's no reason it should. Red Dons have perfected a recipe that combines post-punk gloom with the driving beat of classic punk rock and the melodic leanings of bands far poppier. While the model is the same, there's a key addition that amps things up, and that addition is guitarist Ruby Sparks. She brings a crunch that adds a new layer to the band's sound, and it's particularly noticeable on tracks like album opener "The Good Disciple," as well as the record's title track. Both songs are instantly recognizable as Red Dons tracks, but the added power of Sparks' guitar gives them even more of an edge than before.

Thematically speaking, the record treads similar territory to the band's previous output, but the subject matter never feels tired. While one could categorize the tone as melancholy, it's a different kind of melancholy than that which is often associated with modern punk. It's certainly not the emo-tinged gruff punk rock that's so popular today. It's much more a timeless melancholy, like a veil of darkness spurred by a feeling of disconnection from the people, places and things one cares about. Singer/guitarist Douglas Burns isn't just projecting his problems, he's singing about the thoughts and feelings we all have, and he's doing it with an urgency that we can all relate to.

When a band is more used to putting out 7-inches than albums, there's always a worry that the full-length can fail to capture the same energy of a shorter release. Thankfully the sequencing of the album prevents that from happening, as every time it seems like the energy level begins to dip, something exciting happens and raises it back up again. Red Dons prove on The Dead Hand of Tradition that they can keep pace over the long haul. Here's hoping we don't have to wait so long to hear them do it again.