Well, at first I thought Promises, Promises was some German band’s way of one-upping Matt Johnson’s The The by adding yet another repeated article, then masking it in German, but I couldn’t have been happier to be wrong. Instead, Die! Die! Die! (which now also makes me think of the recently deceased Gary Gygax, `roll to save, Gary!’) is a band that puts the zeal right back into New Zealand. In an island country most known for being the backdrop of Lord of the Rings, the subsequent resulting daily nerd-tours, and a folk duo making fun of such stuff and being confused for Australians, Die! Die! Die! arrives like an abrasive yet invigorating hike to Mount Doom.
It’s hard to determine what grabs you by the eardrums first, the magnetic and driving rhythm section of Lachlan Anderson and Michael Prain, or the strained yet enveloping words and voice of Andrew Wilson. It doesn’t hurt that the combination works even better than the separate parts. “Blinding” is the opening track that will have you hooked from drumbeat one. “I could never forget her if I tried,” sounds like it may be a Robert Smith inspired lyric, but Wilson turns it into more angry pain than weepy pain. Prain never lets up on the drums for a second (dude must get wicked tired), leaving you gasping for your own breath by the end, despite its running time of less than three minutes. “Britomart Sunset” then follows that up by faking you out in the middle with a faux early ending, only to bring it back for another hard-hitting round.
“Sideways Here We Come” is one of my new favorite tracks of the year, with Wilson’s talk / sing vocals pulling you in, and background vocals cooing in the background. The chorus is even more electric. Seriously, give this track a listen and you’ll be instantly won over. Drum fills and rapid fire guitar strums in “Death to the Last Romantic” are stunning, while the group channel the Cure or Bauhaus in the slow burner, “Whitehorses.” DDD and producer Shayne Carter (of the Straitjacket Fits) prove to also be masters of track order as “A.T.T.I.T.U.D.” is the perfect complementary buzzsaw fast track to the slower one preceding it. If you ever wanted to know what Dick Dale would sound like sitting in with Black Flag, this is it. “Maybe: Definitely” (not to be confused with “Definitely Maybe,” either the Oasis album or the horrible recent film, nor with “Possibly Maybe,” the Bjork song) is another track that veers more toward pop territory, though Pixies / Breeders territory that is far more inviting.
“People Talk” finds DDD treading the fertile ground planted by Gang of Four and their subsequent followers like Franz Ferdinand. By the time you get to the last few songs of the album, the songs begin to all sound somewhat similar, but that’s not a bad thing by any means. It just meant, to me, that this band was able to keep up the manic energy and solid songwriting for a near forty minutes. In fact, some of the better tracks end up in the last portion, such as the politically charged Gang of Four-like track, “Hold Me.” “Throw a Fit” is pure, undistilled punk as we haven’t heard in quite some time.
Die! Die! Die!, unless it really is the repeated German articles, is quite an in your face band name. The brilliant thing about this New Zealand trio is that their music more than backs it up. Promises, Promises is the type of album that comes along only once in a great while, being a balanced and harmonious mix of punk spirit, pop smarts, musical integrity and captivating vocals. It seemed as if we were never going to break out of the unfortunate string of bands imitating either the Jesus and Mary Chain or Smashing Pumpkins, and with Die! Die! Die! that string is thankfully severed. In the final song, “Blue Skies,” Andrew Wilson screams, “you gotta believe!” with his kiwi accent a-flying, and believe me, after hearing Promises, Promises, I do.