I once thought to myself one day, Russian Federation, now that would be a fine name for a band, wouldn’t it? Of course someone such as myself never worked up the enthusiasm to actually go out and meet other like-minded good band name-dreaming people to make this a reality, let alone learn an actual sound device. That turned out to be an okay thing, since there has been a swell of bands that have tagged the word Russia into their names. I don’t really know what the attraction is about that huge, mysterious country. Perhaps referencing a once ultra-totalitarian nation that gets let off the hook more so than Germany because they were solid with us when it mattered, even after they broke Hitler’s civilian body count record, is a way of conveying heavy seriousness as well as playful linguistic irony. But such are my theories not based in any gross sense of academia. Nevertheless, ¡Forward, Russia! is yet another one of those bands, if it isn’t obvious. One that seems to be poking fun at the Soviet propaganda aesthetics as referenced in the lettering of the band name itself. However, the fun-poking — if that is in fact what it is — does not extend beyond that.
From the very first utterance of anything there is a deathly fog of seriousness that refuses to lift throughout the entirety of this album. It bursts into action with Tom Woodhead’s operatic falsetto vocals, declaring that something, labeled as the ever narrowing moniker “this,” is a problem. I don’t know what he’s talking about to be honest. Not only am I distracted by his annoying voice, but I’m left bewildered in his cloudy, opaque poetry. Nonsense ensues from here on in, but it’s made up for in sheer volume. Brashness is perhaps this band’s prime mode of weaponry, that and no shame. These Russians feel great ease when it comes to assaulting a listener with their Insisting that something or someone is “turned to 11” is a cliche no doubt, but also an appropriate non-homage for a band that does, indeed, turn everything up to 11, this being one of those cases. It’s amazing how a band that tries so hard to sound expansive can also limit themselves gravely. It’s all well and good to muscle songs with powerful, layered riffs that represent both the bombast of arena rock and the faux progressive sound of mass emo, they were almost made for each other, but where does a band go from here? Surely ¡Forward, Russia! won’t be playing epic venues on every tour (pending their return from a recently announced hiatus), will they? Will their sound work in a small club? Or even Irving Plaza and still manage to possess some authenticity?
There is one thing I’ll give them credit for, they have a fine choice in producer. ¡Forward, Russia! is a band that has a lot of needless tricks in their art, but Matt Bayles knows how to handle bands with tricks as his roster shows. Bayles’ clean and detailed sound sculpting can give an air of listenability to bands of varying levels of greatness as well as shitiness. While it will take a miracle — i.e. the reforming of Botch — to make Minus the Bear in any way interesting or moving, Bayles adds much confidence and clarity to their peculiar aesthetic, the same goes for the Russians who at least sound professional. In the hands of a less seasoned producer, Woodhead’s vocals would have crowded the record to the point that having instruments other than his voice would be pointless, but Bayles gives the band equal measure. Grandiose volume is met with grandiose volume and a unity achieved to show that not one but all are showboating. Does this completely prevent Woodhead’s vocals from ascending to the top to brim outward only to fizzle out in flat pointlessness? Not really, but it’s good to know that the band know the heights for which Woodhead, rightly or wrongly, is trying to reach and can keep things consistent, which is the least that could be asked of such an outfit.
There is a saying about intercontinental rock n’ roll that while America defines, Britain refines, and in many instances I’m more than inclined to agree. But can it be that America’s particularly melodramatic strain of emo[tional] rock, one so deeply rooted in the Kingdom’s own goth rock heritage (which many fans of the former genre might not be aware), cannot be approved across the pond? It seems unlikely. I’m not one to lay down harsh judgment upon cultures with adversarial aspects against mine that are, at best, slight, but I feel inclined in this case. To the Brits: your pretensions have seen better days, feel free to at least tread back to your post-punk iciness and see where it takes you this time, it can’t hurt, look at Editors, they’re doing just fine. In addition to that, you’re returning to former greatness package also includes a free return to vulgarly stereotype, hype, canonize and/or malign any of America’s more hollow rock acts. After all this time it seems we finally deserve it.
Young Knives – The Voices of Animals and Men
Test Icicles – For Screening Purposes Only
Cribs – Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever