THE REBEL SPELL / LAST RUN / 2014
From The Punk Site:
“I don’t know how the tropical climate of coastal BC creates so many angry punk bands (D.O.A., Real McKenzies, SNFU…), but The Rebel Spell are carrying the street punk torch for the next generation. They explore injustice in various forms through their music and are actual active activists who live what they preach. Anti Flag are their southern counterpart, but the Rebel Spell is doing it on their own merits, touring hard and getting their music out there without big label money. The Tsilhqot’in War starts off with a beautiful melody that introduces a true tale about the Canadian genocide of our Aboriginal peoples. They sing about the Tar Sands, the environment, racism and religion. We can argue all day about what “punk” truly means, but to me personally, it is built around intelligent people standing up for human rights and striving to make a difference against oppressive political powers. By this definition, The Rebel Spell (and Morning Glory) are one of the few true punk bands out there today.”(The Punk Site)
From Scene Point Blank:
“In many ways The Rebel Spell’s Last Run is a depressing album. The cover art depicts a feeble, aging anthropoid trying desperately to hold back an immense industrial wave. It’s clear that he won’t be able to stand his ground for long. The album title itself can be interpreted as an ominous prediction for the fate of our civilization. And vocalist Todd Serious’ opening lines set anything but an optimistic tone for the album:
There’s a deep deadly silence sadness growing inside of me, it hurts to be here but I can’t leave. It could be easy, for some listeners, to become overwhelmed or disheartened while listening to Last Run. But engaging tough realities is something The Rebel Spell have been doing for three full lengths previous to Last Run, and there is a reason the band is still at it.
Musically, Last Run is a melodic, cleanly produced street punk album. The album starts fast, and maintains the pace for most of its length. The rhythm section is relentless and tight from start to finish, drums and bass guitar coalescing in a way that makes it hard not to pump your fist, and nearly impossible not to bob your head. Rhythmically, there is no new ground being broken on the record. Listeners looking for something more progressive may be let down by the straight ahead punk beat which prevails on Last Run. The Rebel Spell are certainly not trying to be something they’re not. The territory is familiar, but it is executed flawlessly.
The biggest difference between Last Run and The Rebel Spell’s previous releases is probably producer Jesse Gardner’s handling of Erin’s guitar parts. This might be the fullest, most dynamic guitar sound that The Rebel Spell has achieved on a release to date. The balance between cleanliness and abrasiveness on any punk album is always a delicate thing to achieve, and it is struck with remarkable accuracy here. Erin’s crunchy hooks blend seamlessly into haunting, meandering melodies made even more impactful by bass player Elliot’s addition of organ and piano to a few of the songs. The multi-instrumental aspect is not overplayed, but it is one of the characteristics of the album which distinctly sets it apart from conventional street punk.
Vocalist Todd Serious’ delivery on Last Run is in many ways similar to Erin’s guitar work, and the dynamic between the two is one of the things that has defined The Rebel Spell as a unique and relevant band since their first release, 2003’s Expression in Layman’s Terms. Todd’s vocals are aggressive and clean, melodic and punchy, and just like Erin’s guitar, very haunting. It’s not easy to maintain an abrasive vocal sound in heavy music without venturing into screaming territory, nor is it simple to create a unique vocal sound without assuming an unnatural or contrived tone, but Todd’s direct approach is extremely effective at achieving this. The emotion in the vocals is palpable, without sounding sappy. The lyrics are easy to make out, and this is of outmost importance to a band with a message and an agenda like The Rebel Spell. You can tell Todd is angry from his first notes, and it is easy to accept this anger as genuine.
One of the standout tracks on the album is “The Tsilquot’in War,” which is the album’s longest, clocking in at over 5 minutes. The lyrics take the form of a linear narrative, telling the story of a violent uprising in northern British Columbia by a group of indigenous warriors in the 1860s. The warriors opposed the building of a road through their traditional territory and the implications of disease, abuse and violence which was carried with it. Unable to defeat the guerilla warriors, and suffering overwhelming casualties, the white settlers lured the Tsilquot’in into their camp with the promise of peace talks. When the warriors arrived, they were tried and convicted for murder and hanged. Todd’s repetition of “We meant war not murder” towards the end of this song is one of the most striking and powerful moments of the album. The song also features vocals and fiddle accompaniment by folk artist Jeff Andrew, another genre-defying moment on Last Run. “The Tsilquot’in War” is twelfth of thirteen total songs on the album. Personally, when a band can pull off putting a standout track at the end of the album, I feel this speaks volumes for the quality of the album as a whole.
Some people might listen to the lyrics in Last Run and dismiss them as contrarian or idealistic. Likewise, some people might listen to the record and write it off as a generic punk album with nothing new to offer. But if you listen a little harder, you can find the hope, compassion, and realism in the lyrics. It’s right there for those who are receptive to it. Likewise, if you listen for the musical nuances, you might be able to tap into the poetry of The Rebel Spell and understand what sets the band apart. You might even come to understand The Rebel Spell as a sonic representation of the immutable rage of the human spirit. The Rebel Spell might be one of those bands that either touches you profoundly, or doesn’t do much for you at all. Regardless, Last Run is as good an offering from the band as could be hoped for, and possibly their best to date.” 8.9 / 10 Stepan (ScenePointBlank)
From Punk News:
“Perhaps the quality I value most in traditional punk rock, at least in terms of its limited sonic spectrum, is when I can hear a true sense of urgency in a song. Bands that are able to make me feel like a freight train is about to fly off the rails and crash through my stereo speakers are often among my favorites. The Rebel Spell are one of these bands who deliver that sense of urgency with their frantic, hard-nosed, no-bullshit punk rock. Hailing from Vancouver, they embrace the DIY ethic and are one of the rare bands left in today’s landscape of old-timer reunion shows and colossal destination festivals who you might find playing at your town’s local dive bar for five dollars. After being won over immediately by a live performance in one of these said dive bars, I picked up their 2011 effort It’s a Beautiful Future and having been waiting for the new album to drop ever since.
Hoping The Rebel Spell would continue to use much of the same sound heard on their last record, I was more than pleased as soon as I hit play on Last Run. Crunchy riffs, fast beats and booming vocals take charge of the listener’s ears on a ride through 12 modern, punk n’ hardcore rippers that send messages along the likes of social change, routing for the underdog and not backing down. The title track begins with a piano intro and then transforms into one of the hardest hitting songs I’ve heard in a while with its chorus of “Don’t blame the wolf, don’t blame the seal, if it will help you can blame me!” The bangers keep coming with “Pride and Prejudice”, “Ten Thousand Years” and “All This Costs”, showing a good level of technical prowess that would likely get the nod from fans of Strike Anywhere or A Wilhelm Scream. The band also shows a bit of range in the later portion of the record. The mid-tempo track “I Heard You Singing” presents some uplifting vocal harmonies that I wasn’t expecting at first, but continue to dig more each listen. Deciding to push the five-minute mark with a punk song can often be a mistake, but the group tackles “The Tsilhqot’in War” quite well; lyrics describing events from the 1860’s battleground hold my attention to the point where I forget the song’s run time. The album closes with one more ripper called “Fight For The Sun” that ferociously brings the rumble to the very last note.
In an era where the DIY ethos of punk rock as been a bit diluted with legendary bands from the 1990’s heyday of Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords deciding to come back (or in some cases deciding to never leave), it can be tough for some of us to find new bands who really bring it. I don’t like lo-fi garage rock. I’m not into acoustic solo projects. For me, when I discover a band like The Rebel Spell it is something special. Efforts from bands this true to what punk rock is about deserve a higher than average score, even if they never get featured on the latest Warped Tour compilation. Last Run delivers everything I want a punk rock album to be in 2014 and is without a doubt contending for top spot on my year end list.” (Punk News)
From Dying Scene
I’m not sure if I like the Rebel Spell’s Last Run. It hits me in a place that is so rare and specific that it only highlights how rarely I get hit. I’ll dispense with the fuckery as soon as possible, because the questions that the Last Run brought up deserve an examination. It’s a Beautiful Future was something of a sleeper hit with many, and those who loved the first album will be surely excited for the latest. But for me, it brings me to a place I love and loathe in equal measures.
Last Run is perfectly executed. I’ll get that out of the way immediately. Musically, it’s a loud and brash behemoth that reminds me a little bit of Morning Glory’s bombast in Poets Were My Heroes. But the anchor is dropped in the tight ferocity of skate punk. The first track, “Hopeless,” wears its influences on its sleeve with chugged power chords and a big chorus. “Breathe” introduces a more metallic side to the band, featuring an extended guitar solo that perhaps hints at their greatest influence, fellow Canadians Propagandhi. The title track is the first hint of their grander musical tendencies, and when the rock instruments fade out halfway through and all that’s left is melancholy piano notes and the howls of “Blame me! Blame me! Blame Me!,” it becomes quickly apparent that this is a band equipped to transcend.
“The Tsilhqot’in War” is the masterpiece on the album, a sprawling, epic song that opens with Jo Yeong-wook-esque strings. Its difficult to sustain a five minute punk song, but here the Rebel Spell do it with ease– transforming their passion into an audience’s rapt attention. Throughout Last Run, they have a firm hand on both music and lyrics, executing each one impressively.
I won’t bury the lead: I hate political punk. It reeks of attentive masturbation and holier-than-thou posturing that preaches directly to the choir and little else. I think back to the earliest punk rockers, these willfully nihilistic dinosaurs of another time and place; they were certainly political, but it was mostly discourse grounded in the real world. They were tearing down the barriers between musician and audience, and one of the ways they were doing it was through the issues of the time. They sang about the downtrodden, for the downtrodden– it was all blue collar anthems for the freaks on the outskirts by the freaks on the outskirts, and everyone bought in because the gap was closing. With the Rebel Spell, I only feel like they’re widening the gap.
Bare with me, this may be a little out-of-bounds for a review, but I’m going to bring in a quote from the Rebel Spell’s Facebook in the interest of painting a fuller picture of this band and their stances:
“We don’t like things all that much and we tend to think for ourselves. Food, shelter, warm clothes, community, friendship, travel, love, hate, you know life.”
That’s right. They don’t like ‘things.’ The road to punk rock nirvana is a road paved with much treachery and deceit, but the Rebel Spell have risen above it all. They’re levitating somewhere by a bird’s nest, viceless wonders wondering how all these mere mortals can live with themselves, living their lives of consumption and little less. The gap widens.
I’m not a paragon of punk virtue. I have a cell phone. I pay Comcast for my internet. I bought Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” single. But nonetheless I believe in DIY art and the complete unfettered pursuit thereof. Punk rock is a place for the bellows of the downtrodden to be heard and felt, but for me, Last Run just sounds like a checklist of punk rock talking points being checked by a band so far removed from modern human experience it feels like the far left version of telling a homeless guy to “just get a job.”
It’s all here. Racism is bad. Religion is bad. The environment needs protecting. Sexism is bad. White people mistreated Native Americans. Cops are criminals, man! But the one that irks me the most is the Luddite streak that runs through “Breathe.” It comes off as a thoughtless target when so many of us use technology as a means to communicate and learn. We all get annoyed when we’re talking to someone and their nose is in their phone, or when the kid with headphones jumps into the middle of the street like Dr. Dre personally told him to, but I guess it all comes off as too black and white. I always go back to Videodrome on this, David Cronenberg’s 1983 film that handles the growing prevalence of technology in our lives with surprising prescience. The film depicts the merging of man and machine and reality with television, and the general takeaway is that technology is just another step in our evolution. It’s scary because it’s new, but who’s to say which of the before or after is better? The easy thing to say is “let’s regress back to what we know.” But the challenging thing is to admit that the things you loathe are just things (as the Rebel Spell are happy to not be into), and there is no perfect or natural state. Humanity is fluid. Long live the new flesh, baby.
I’d like to think that we’ve moved beyond the usual punk topics. Why not write a song about the dissonance some of us feel between enjoying our consumerist culture while we vehemently trash it in our art? Why not write a song about balancing your belief in feminism with your everyday objectification? Are the Rebel Spell so far across the gap they’ve never found joy in modern vices or the perfect shape of a twenty-something’s ass? They might be, but I’m not. I partake in grey areas of morality all day and all night, because I’m not perfect and it’s not something I want to strive for. The disconnect here might not be from artist to audience, but from person to person.
But, the other take on it is this: Last Run is exactly what we need in punk rock. Maybe the Rebel Spell is right, and I’m sucking on the teats of the corporations and I need to protest a pipeline and live amongst bears right-fucking-now. Maybe the basics are being pounded out again and again because they happen to be important, and they happen to be outsider issues worth discussion. Maybe the rest of us, living in the system don’t get it and this is the benevolent aural hand to slap us in the face and yell: “wake the fuck up!” And it very well could be just another political punk jerk-off session. If it is, I hope they came. But, I’m left with the very real sense that Last Run is a work of art. It’s certainly confrontational, but it interacted with me in a way that a lot of music just doesn’t. There’s give and take here. It made me think– reconsider what is important to me and inspires me to discuss and write a review that is too long for anyone’s good. And all of that is worth a lot more than just finding something to agree with.
5/5 Stars – Give the album a listen below. (Dying Scene)