Punk is no stranger to long songs. Subhumans’ nearly seventeen minute “From the Cradle to the Grave” is likely the trend’s progenitor; and since then a gratuitously long track is nearly expected in the worlds of crust and anarcho. Despite punk rock’s traditionally short and fast aesthetic, its antithesis has indeed crept into its musical language, depicting a subversion of punk’s holy tenets. In a modern context, NOFX have experimented with the idea on “The Decline” and Fucked Up regularly release music that surpasses the fifteen minute mark.
Only Fumes & Corpses are the latest to enter this realm with their seventeen minute, single song EP, Selfish Act II. And as prophecized, I have to ask: is it necessary? Selfish Act I was released last year, and I doubt they couldn’t have explored their concept thoroughly enough with one album. So why the sequel? Is it self-indulgence? Or can “Selfish Act II” truly claim to be necessary? By releasing a composition with such an inaccessible duration you are essentially setting yourself up to be criticized. It places the music on a pedestal and because of its grand and unusual nature, it forces listeners to take notice. So, it stands to say, if you indulge in a long song, you better have something damn important to say.
Thankfully, “Selfish Act II” isn’t a bad song by any means. Beyond its duration, it does have a lot to offer musically, although less patient listeners may scoff at its runtime, and never give it a chance. Only Fumes & Corpses play a progressive style of hardcore with melodic aspirations that takes inspiration from heavy metal. I like their style quite a bit actually, for the hardcore they bring to the table is far from the modern flat-brim-bro variety. One could easily draw comparisons to UK crust punk and early American hardcore. “Selfish Act II” keeps itself interesting with melodic interjections and while the music does move sectionally, it avoids feeling like a collection of suites. It progresses forward naturally, using its rhythmic hardcore vocal hooks as an anchor towards familiarity. Gang vocals, metallic guitar riffs, and even the occasional tempo change feature throughout the song, but it all propels the listener forward.
Vocalist Momme is excellent at roaring, and sometimes gruffly singing, abstractly confrontational lyrics (“Wash them down, please let me drown. It burns, please let me burn”) that may or may not actually mean anything. Many of the lyrics are repeated throughout the song, making its content somewhat less exciting than its music. I suspect though, that if the song does have meaning, its poignancy is tied up in this line, the song’s sole mention of its title: “We cannot see this disease. A selfish act is all they see. He suffers with his nerves, is this what we deserve?” It’s possible the song could be lamenting how caring for oneself and pursuing independence has been demonized with the word ‘selfish,’ a way to use guilt as a weapon to encourage conformity. If this is true, “Selfish Act II” is deceptive in its simplicity and is actually a fairly penetrative piece of songwriting.
I can’t totally say for sure whether I’m correct in its meaning, but I wonder, if just maybe, its vagueness is its strength. I’ve listened to many albums, but few songs make me work for their meaning, to challenge myself to make the abstract concrete and see through another’s artistic vision. Punk’s can whine and moan all day about the “why?” behind it all. Why write such a long song? Why obfuscate the meaning? What’s the point? But the moment it makes you think those questions are erased. Is it necessary?
Of course it is. It’s art, dummy.
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