The Lillingtons - Stella Sapiente (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Lillingtons

Stella Sapiente (2017)

fat wreck chords

The Lillingtons have never been very forthcoming as a band, so there was really no way we could have anticipated the kind of year they were going to have in 2017. First came the excellent new EP Project 313. Then came the announcement of a new LP, a short, mostly midwestern tour and a headlining appearance at The Fest. At least for the time being, I guess they’re an active band again. (I’ve seen them live three times this year.) Well, that long hoped for but never really expected new album is finally here. Stella Sapiente (roughly translated as wisdom of the stars) comes 11 years after their presumed swan song.

What was even more unexpected was the change in The Lillingtons’ sound. The EP earlier this year gave us no indication. Even the preview track “Insect Nightmares” gave us little warning. The Lillingtons’ subject matter had been getting consistently darker for years, but this really takes it to the next level. Stella Sapiente is as different from The Too Late Show as Death By Television was from Shit Out of Luck. Before we go any further, let me put you out of your misery. This is a really good record. Great even. The catchy, quality songs are still there, even if they’re a slightly different and more complex flavor.

You can tell from the beginning of opening track “Golden Dawn/Knights Templar” that things are going to be different this time around. That one song probably has more different guitar tones than The Lillingtons’ entire back catalogue. It starts with a really wet, surf guitar sounding intro before kicking into proper punk mode. If they ever remake The Da Vinci Code with a pop-punk soundtrack, this song should be its centerpiece. “Insect Nightmares” sort of rights the ship for fans of the classic Lillingtons sound, but “Night Visions” confirms that this is in fact something completely different. It starts out with some brittle, upstroked, almost ska or steel drum sounding guitar. Then there’s the heavily washed out by wah effect guitar. What you won’t hear is any of the chugging power chords that have always defined the band’s sound. It reminds me of a creepy TSOL type song. It’s also one of the best on the record.

“K6” is more typical Lillingtons fare. The intro for “Zodiac” might have been borrowed from The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese”, but the song ends up being fairly straightforward pop-punk. Not only does “Pursuit of Pleasure” start with a moody guitar intro, but it also ends with a short bit of dramatic orchestration. It’s another highlight. This brings us to the halfway point, where it’s safe to make some generalizations. The mood of Stella Sapiente is grim, though not oppressively so. (It’s not Darkthrone.) If there’s any of their trademark humor, it’s buried very deep. The subject matter varies, but the mood is so consistent that it makes me wonder if this is supposed to be some kind of concept album. The Lillingtons have always given subtle clues to the fact that they’re headbangers, but here they really seem to embrace it. I hear a lot of New Wave of British Heavy Metal Influence in the intros. There’s also the lyrical fascination with the occult and the macabre. This record might answer the age old question of what it would sound like if Iron Maiden made a pop-punk album.

There are a bunch of post-punk influences too. After the spooky but relatively standard punk of “London Fog” comes the ambitious “Cult of Dagon”. I swear it could have been done by Joy Division, or maybe even The Police. It’s certainly got a bass line that would make Peter Hook proud. It is yet another highlight. The intro to “Villagers” might owe a debt to Billy Idol (or maybe Steve Stevens) for “White Wedding”. “The Walker” has a bass, drum and melancholy guitar intro unlike anything The Lillingtons have done before. (Melancholy is probably a good way to describe the whole record.) “They Live” is mostly punk, but also features dueling lead guitar ala Judas Priest. On four and a half minute closer “Drawing Down the Stars”, the band finally allows themselves to go full thrash metal. The 12 tracks on Stella Sapiente add up to almost 36 minutes of music. The songs average a full minute longer than their previous LP’s.

The vast majority of Lillingtons fans are going to love this album. Only the few who were hoping for a return to the Shit Out of Luck days are going to be disappointed. This record would seem to drive a stake into the heart of that era. I applaud the band for taking a creative chance. Most people would have been thrilled with Death By Television 2.0, but this actually shows some artistic growth. I know that can be un unforgivable sin in the pop-punk world, but in this case it should be celebrated. Stella Sapiente should go on to be a cherished piece of The Lillingtons’ already beloved discography.