Have you ever had a friend who went through a break up? Like, a really bad break up? One so bad, that it was literally all they talked about for the next month? At first you probably felt bad for them, and lent a helpful ear to hear all about the loneliness and the heartbreak; but, after the seventh night in a row of watching them cry over their beer, you probably just wanted to roll your eyes and say “Jesus Christ, get over her (or him)!” Well, in their self-titled, debut LP; Make War has dedicated nine songs to being the punk-rock equivalent of that kind of guy.
The album actually starts pretty strong, with the opening track, “Bloody Faces” delivering a short burst of folky guitar riffs, while the vocals move at a slightly faster pace than the melody, delivering this sense of angry desperation. The song also works particularly well because it has some nice contemplative lyrics, with clever lines like “forget about tomorrow, the car will turn into a pumpkin, and I’ll turn into a frog”. That said, because it’s so short, it almost feels like the band is trying to get it out of the way, so that they can focus entirely on the real meat of the album.
After the opening, every song that follows is a breakup song. Now, it’s not inherently wrong for an album to stick to a single theme, but in this case most of the songs end up blending together. “Just Listen To The Songs” definitely sounds nice, but there’s a weird over-saturation effect; the guitar’s rhythm is so frantic, and the drums beats are so continuous, that they start to drown each other out. The same thing happens in the fourth track, “Shorter Days and Longer Nights”, where the melody is bland to the point of barely being noticeable.
Fortunately, as the album proceeds, the instruments are given a little more room to breathe. “When The Poison Flows” has a nice rhythm, with an electric guitar working in tandem with an acoustic one, starting with a slow and contemplative pace before steadily building to something fast and triumphant. “Another Way To Let You Go” is another stand out track, with its guitar solos sounding like riffs from some angry, amped-up country blues.
However, even when the instruments do keep things a little varied, there’s still the remaining problem of Jose Prieto’s croaking vocals. Now, most punk bands aren’t exactly renowned for their front-men’s gifted pipes, but there’s just something particularly grating about the singing throughout Make War. The problem is that Prieto just takes himself so damn seriously, whispering half the verses like they’re some kind of terrible secret, then screaming the other half like he’s just been tasered in the crotch. This is made more irritating when the lyrics just don’t have the same gravity their performance seems to be giving them. The worst offender is probably “Sweet Little Nightmares”, which roars the phrase “and I hope that you fucking get what you deserve” like it’s some deep revelation, when really it’s just kind of mean and nasty. Once again, it’s not necessarily wrong when an album wallows in bleak sadness; but, a skilled songwriter, like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s Sean Bonnette, knows how to lighten the load with a healthy dose of self-awareness. With Make War, there’s just a complete inability for the lead singer to see himself as anything other than the victim.
My biggest hope with Make War is that maybe its Prieto actually did just go through a breakup, and really needed to get all this stuff out of his system. There’s some talented musicianship at play, and even the lyrics do shine at points, like in “Cheers To Your”, where love is beautifully portrayed as some kind of cosmic force. But it ultimately feels like maybe the band’s members just didn’t have enough self-confidence to extend their reach, spending nine tracks accomplishing what could have been done with one.
2.5 / 5 Stars
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