Every once in a while an album will come along that seems to completely take over your life. The anticipation builds and builds until the day you can finally sit down and give it a listen. After that, your car, home, and work stereo is dominated by the sound of this album for a week straight. All you can hope at this point is that the hype you have built around the album will actually be backed up by quality music. Luckily, with Destroying, Santa Cruz folk punk act Blackbird Raum’s fourth full length effort, this is most definitely the case.
Destroying takes listeners on a journey similar to the bands’ past albums. You will hear dark, fast, and heavy folk music before being treated to more danceable sections. The lyrics explore the same kind of anarcho-influenced politics the band is known for. While reading the lyrics, you’ll get angry at the world, only the have the band pull you back up and leave you with a sense of hope. Hope that while the world we live in may be a dystopian futuristic hell, we can still do something to change it.
Destroying feels bigger and more ambitious than anything the band has ever done before. This is partly because traditional Irish folk band Lynched plays and sings as guest musicians on just about every song. There’s also the fact that Blackbird Raum isn’t afraid to push the envelope on what folk music can be.
The album starts out with dissonant accordion as the rest of the instruments slowly join in for a buildup that eventually explodes into a maelstrom of high speed folk in “Whitebled.” They go on like this for a while until the end of the song when a harmonic chorus of a cappella “Ahs!” slows things down again. Tempo changes are the name of the game in the next two songs as well with “Last Legs” starting slow and speeding up and “Grist Mill” doing just the opposite.
Those first 3 songs, along with the sludgy, crust-influenced “Cadillac Dessert,” are prime examples of the folk punk style the band has perfected over the years, but it’s the songs where the influence of backing band Lynched can be heard that set this album apart. “Reveille,” “Hecatombe/Agustin’s,” and “The Man in the Bog” showcase just how well these two bands can work together. They seamlessly meld the punk style of Blackbird Raum with the traditional Irish influence of Lynched. One minute you’ll be moshing along to the ferocity and speed of ripping banjo and mandolin, and the next you’ll be dancing an Irish jig along with violin and tin whistle. You can tell everyone on this album has an appreciation for all types of folk music, and they know how to play it well.
The most surprising songs on the album are the ones where members of Lynched take lead vocal duties. “Adder” is basically a sung poem, while “The Man in the Bog” takes passages from the comic Swamp Thing and is done as spoken word. Each of these are set to music that evokes a feeling of being in nature as you listen to them.
The lyrical content of Destroying will not surprise long-time fans. Taking cues from crust and anarcho punk, the lyrics focus on issues like animal rights, environmentalism, free-thinking, and humankind’s tendency to give into the comforts of modern life without thinking about the long term consequences. The first single, “Last Legs,” perfectly exemplifies the despondent lyrical tendencies, while also demonstrating the bands uncanny ability to put together a catchy sing-along. Lines like “What’s this dark miasma? / What’s this foul pestilence?” and “Buried in the shore again / Buried in the couch forever” will leave you pessimistic about the state of the world at first, but once everything has time to sink in, you’ll want to get out and do something about it.
Blackbird Raum has always had this magical ability of making the listener see the best of what our planet has to offer, whether that be in nature, or the people and wildlife that inhabit it. But that’s only after you’ve processed all the filth that they’ve opened your eyes to first. Destroying is the latest in a line of folk punk albums that see the band continue to push themselves as musicians, while also challenging the system we all make up.
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