For the uninitiated, Propagandhi is one of the most outspoken political bands in North America. Beginning with 1993’s “How to Clean Everything”, Propagandhi was loud, fast and vocal. While there were many changes in members, tone and style since then, these three things have remained a constant. The Winnipeg, Manitoba ensemble has reinvented itself with every album; from the poppier “Less Talk, More Rock;” the more hardcore “Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes;” all the way to the prog-punk “Potemkin City Limits.”
The band has not deviated from this reinvention with their latest effort, “Supporting Caste” (Smallman Records), which manages to seamlessly blend together musical genres such as punk, metal, thrash and prog, and transform it into a style belonging only to them. The addition of a second guitarist has been a long time coming and is a welcome change. The second guitar adds a layer of complexity and depth to their music not yet realized by the band, and the interplay between the two guitarists is truly a work of art, immersing the listener with every note played.
As usual, almost every track is loaded with social commentary. The title track “Supporting Caste” may very well be the most socially conscious song the band has ever written, and a quick scan through their previous works will show this is no easy feat. The track deals with how the working class is often ignored in the annals of history, and how children are taught of kings and men of fame in history class while “the rest of us…[are] stricken from the narrative wholesale.” As Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “The young Alexander conquered India. Was he alone?”
Another standout, politically speaking, is “This is Your Life,” a track dealing with the frustrations in the life of the working class and trying to pinpoint the reason for the outrage one feels, and how the subject isn’t “…really mad at Iran or Afghanistan,” but instead is discontented with working hard every day and still not being able to get ahead in the capitalist system. The album’s opening track “Night Letters” tells the tale of an immigrant worker forced to cross borders to find work, in order to send his or her family remittances in an effort to (hopefully) raise the quality of their lives. The song expresses the feelings of the worker: the fear, loneliness and sorrow that weighs on immigrant workers due to the disruption of families.
The album’s climax is the instant classic “Dear Coaches’ Corner,” a denunciation of the conservative stranglehold on professional sports, a subject not touched upon by most on the left. The song opens with an audio clip of a rant by one of the commentators for “Hockey Night in Canada,” Don Cherry, about supporting the troops. “Dear Coaches’ Corner” is written as a letter from lead singer Chris Hannah to Don Cherry’s broadcast partner, Ron MacLean (often seen as the “voice of reason” on the program, as Cherry himself almost always reacts to criticism with childish insults), asking for an explanation to his niece as to why it was necessary for soldiers to rappel down from arena rafters at the conclusion of a hockey game that he and his niece had attended. He confesses that he feels a connection with the broadcaster and is an avid lover of the sport, but can’t help but feel frustration with the “mandatory pre-game group rites of submission,” and how the xenophobic and racist Cherry is viewed as an icon within the hockey culture of Canada.
The only weakness with “Supporting Caste” is that in the past the messages in the lyrics were far more clear, whereas in this effort, the meanings behind the songs can, at times, be far more subtle than Propagandhi is known for. This time around, a little more deciphering and research is required. However, anyone giving the lyrics a thorough listen will be quite able to construe the messages, so this point is only a minor complaint.
Propagandhi continues to carve out their niche as one of the most musically complex and politically motivated punk bands in North America. Within the music community they have remained at the forefront of championing the fights against capitalism, fascism, sexism, homophobia, racism and human rights violations. Once again, they have put forth a strong record; fans have come to expect nothing less. This release is an absolute pleasure to listen to from beginning to end, both as a fan of music and as a revolutionary. “Supporting Caste” is one of the best albums the band has ever released, and definitely one that fans of punk, metal, hardcore, and thrash are sure to be inspired by.
Overall score: 8/10