Between The Arcade Fire’s Boss leanings on Neon Bible and The Hold Steady’s bar-rocking cast of miscreants, Bruce Springsteen’s rock `n’ roll spirit has been permeating indie rock heavily over the past couple of years. Anyone paying attention, however, would have known that earnest, ragged, lager-drenched rock `n’ roll with a wink and a nod to Jersey’s favorite son has been Marah’s specialty ever since the ’90s. Though they began their journey with alt-country on Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight, and even dabbled in Britpop sounds on Float Away With the Friday Night Gods, power chords, fanfare and a rowdy American fist to the sky is what Marah has always done best, and have elaborated greatly upon with sixth full-length Angels of Destruction!
In essence, Marah’s sound on Angels of Destruction! is largely similar to that of their prior records, centered largely around meaty guitar riffs, the occasional burst of horns and David Bielanko’s husky, scratchy vocals, the kind that seem perfectly weathered for just this sort of dusty, blue collar songwriting. And yet it’s a bit crisper, polished and given just the right amount of sheen to let the grit and grease come through in high definition. Marah’s cleaned up just enough to make those imperfections seem gloriously near-perfect. Sonically, they sound as good as they ever have, and with songs as righteously rocking as “Old Time Tickin’ Away,” that’s a difficult thing to dispute.
While the sound remains old school, even with a glossy coat, the lyrical content dips into Old Testament, as Bielanko sings of redemption and retribution. Leadoff track “Coughing Up Blood” paints a hellish portrait in particular: “And up will come the cancer/ Up will come volcanic ash/ up come sheets of red hot hail/ the streets and the blood of my past.” In “Angels on a Passing Train,” the religious imagery takes on a different form, as Bielanko sings over an E Street tango, “your laughter is my Jesus, cut down from the cross/ shaken but alive.” “Wild West Love Song” may be just what its title says, but damn if there isn’t a touch of gospel in its honky tonk boogie. It’s a simpler track, but one of the best on the album, rocking in all the right places and a bit more carefree than some of the album’s more heavy handed moments. Bielanko asks “where does the time go? / when you’re talking to a savior that’s a cross around your neck” on the title track, and brother Serge claims to have been “zapped by some sort of Moses shooting lightning” on “Wilderness,” but no stone tablet is as heavy as the raucous three-chord stomps they crank out on these tracks.
With Angels of Destruction!, Marah merely reinforces something that should have been obvious all along: this Philadelphia outfit is one of the greatest rock `n’ roll bands in America, and be they driven by booze or fear of God, they shall retain that honor, with a fist to the sky and a Les Paul ringing triumphantly.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.