Smoke Or Fire

The Speakeasy

Written by: PP on 09/12/2010 04:04:20

If there ever was convincing proof that piracy is hurting record labels, Fat Wreck Chords is the prime example. Once the premiere punk rock label of the US and beyond, they are rarely releasing anything but live albums and compilations these days, because there aren't enough people buying the records anymore to justify spending money in releasing studio albums without any hope of recouping even some of that money. It's a great shame, because whenever this label puts out a release, it tends to be of the highest quality, as exemplified by the new Smoke Or Fire album "The Speakeasy", which might just be the finest album of their career, if you are to believe what the critics are saying across the web, at least.

To me, they're a new discovery despite having apparently seen them live 6 years ago (no memory of that btw), so I wouldn't know a thing about the validity of that statement. What I do know, however, is that this is an album jam-packed with the same elements that made Rise Against and Anti-Flag so successful in their own punk rock fronts. In essence, Smoke Or Fire fit perfectly in between the two bands, using approaches from both to create a middle-of-the-road, uptempo punk rock record that relies on a hardcore base and sweeping guitar melodies to drive the point home. Ultra-catchy "Monsters Among Us", for instance, carries a guitar melody that's quintessential Rise Against from "The Sufferer & The Witness", complete with a rising vocal harmony that mounts itself on top of a superb riff. In other words, anthemic punk rock at its very best. Then you have a song like the up-beat, high-energy "1968", which sounds more or less just like Anti-Flag, thanks to the high-pitched, snotty vocals resembling Justin Sane from said band.

To complete the Rise Against parallel, this record even has a political ballad in the form of "Honey, I Was Right About The War". It's basically the "Roadside" or "Hero Of War" of this record - it's an intense retrospective political criticism of the Iraq War, with highlight lyrics like "3000 dead in NYC, and now 3000 across the sea, no one could tell me....what for?", sung deliberately with a questioning pause and hidden anger. Now that we're on the topic of lyrics, I should mention that this is an extremely strong area of the record. With the opening shout of "when did the news become entertainment?", its socio-political commentary at its highest level throughout the record.

So in a nutshell, "The Speakeasy" combines the politics of Anti-Flag with Rise Against's uncanny ability to turn punk rock into something epic with soaring vocal melodies leading the way. It's on par with either of the two band's later outputs, and even better in a couple of places. So if especially Rise Against speaks to your soul, Smoke Or Fire might be your new favorite band. Lets just say it this way, "The Speakeasy" should've probably been in my top20 releases of this year had I not discovered it too late.


Download: Monsters Among Us, The Speakeasy, Honey I Was Right About The War
For the fans of: Rise Against, Anti-Flag, Authority Zero
Listen: Myspace

Release date 09.11.2010
Fat Wreck Chords

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