Fifteen years have passed since Glassjaw released the monolithic post-hardcore bible Worship and Tribute, and since then Daryl Palumbo and company have dramatically expanded their personal horizons whilst keeping the legacy of Glassjaw alive. For this long-anticipated outing, vocalist Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck remain the only returning original members, whose tenure as Glassjaw’s core provide a bridge back to their earlier releases. Fittingly, by downplaying the release of the album, they’ve furthered near-mystical reverence from fans and fascination with their whisper-quiet presence over the past decade.
Without any sense of buildup or pretentiousness, the album begins with the bombastic “New White Extremity,” which remains the tonal template for nearly the entirety of the album. Its guitar passages are dominated by frequent bouts of disruptive dissonance, a heraldry of Glassjaw’s former sonic style, turned into a stoic and resolute vengeful procession of dense, layered and brutal post-hardcore greatness.
The previous funk- and jazz-inspired compositions remain a derelict of Glassjaw’s past, and in this instance it’s for the better. The gravity of the passage of time is felt in abundant growth here, which is heard near instantaneously in the vocal patterns of Palumbo. His once elastic and hyper flexible vocalizations remain more grounded and direct, embedded with a power that feels more encompassing and less hollow. In keeping with tradition, most of the album’s lyrics are just as cryptic as ever. Flirting with cosmic musings such as “nothing’s bigger than nothing” on “New White Extremity” to the darkly poetic last line of “Shira” (“I’ll be gone long before the devil can say ‘mine'”), to the occasional analysis of American family life read as sacrificial existence with “Golgotha,” there’s a certain obscurity to the lyrics of the album that inspires a relentless analysis as fruitful or bereft of intent as one is willing to make it.
There’s not a complete disregard for the past ideas of Glassjaw however. “Citizen” seems to wholeheartedly embrace much more dynamic vocal patterns and rhythms. The focus of the album, the concept of growth and immediacy, is never really lost at all, even with slower tracks such as “Strange Hours” which favor a post-punk styled serenity and dreamy soundscape that is fraught with a perilous anxiety. That anxiety becomes fuel for the entire album, tempering Glassjaw’s sound into something even more visceral than Worship and Tribute’s gymnastic epics. There’s an undeniable weight to every track here like a gravity well, in which every chord sounds as if it’s about to snap.
There’s an elegance even in the brutality of this album, exemplified best by “My Consciousness Weighs a Ton,” where Glassjaw has managed to craft one of their strongest songs of their entire career. It’s bold, muscular in sound and scope, adorned with minimalist lyrics that remain evocative. Under sundering waves of sound, Palumbo croons, “faithless lover/ it’s wiser to crawl than run/all at once over/brighter than gold” backed by spirited and fiery percussion composition from Billy Rymer and a stymied ending that emphasizes its immediacy. “Cut and Run,” meanwhile, is a stellar ending. Robust and ferocious, composed with a clarity that feels experimental at points, as if two separate songs were layered over one another and fused together with a spellbinding harmony.
Material Control is an album that exists without a hint of prior pop accessibility, but within it is an uncompromising spirit that embodies growth. Vicious, and at times insightful, it is more than just a simple return to form, but rather an entire philosophical shift for the band. In short, it was worth the damn wait.