It’s no secret that Portland’s Abolitionist has decided to call it quits, bringing to an end a lifetime that’s spanned eight years and (if their bandcamp is to be believed) eight releases. This was a band, that for me, seemed omnipresent in Portland’s punk rock scene. A dark sounding amalgam of hardcore and everything else, directed more by its political vision than any concrete sonic leaning. Sometimes this worked for me, sometimes it didn’t—but Abolitionist were always a band that’d pique my interest. Where others were writing party songs to sing along drunk to, Abolitionist were always pushing their ambition. This is the band that seemed to be churning out concept albums at a point—always writing, always working, always with something to say. Ugly Feeling is their swan song and on it they take their sound further than they ever have before, combining a love for Fugazi with their political perspective, going out with a bang.
Ugly Feeling is like and unlike previous releases in equal measures. It features the same declarative vocal delivery, the same focus on heavy riffs, but they’ve corrected some of my biggest problems with their last release (A New Militance) by taking their new influences a step further. Here, the riffs and leads are given more time to breathe, which in turn emphasizes them more. Songs like “Crossroads” sound that much more sonically precise, the intensity feeling like a product of design rather than suffocation.
There’s still a range of sounds on the album though. Title track “Ugly Feeling” is a hardcore banger whose titular refrain could surely raise fists in a tightly-packed room. Whereas “The Selfish Gene” indulges in a dark and heavy riff, complimenting the album’s bitter commentary. And make no mistake, this is a dark album, and as it moves forward, it only gets darker—and the music reflects this as much as the lyrics.
Much of the album, at least to my understanding, seems to take aim at our culture and the privilege it awards to straight white males. This is an angry album. It’s disgusted with our worship of money, our own self-satisfied nature. There’s a grotesque scene in mid-album banger “Willie B. Bacon” that resonated even with a carnist like myself:
“When he was a boy, there was a pig his parents raised… but not as a pet. He used to go to the pen to visit his doomed friend. He remembers the pungent smell. He remembers the friendly noise. He remembers the coarse, fibrous hair. He remembers a feeling of loss.”
Ugly Feeling, like much of Abolitionists’ work is a concept album and as such follows a single character. Perhaps it’s fitting in “Walls,” the band’s final song (at least for awhile) that the protagonist accepts his own ignorance, admitting “he did not have a clue,” and finally, making the call to “change his ways.” It may be a little clunky, and it may be on the nose, but Abolitionist has always been about the message. Here it is, distilled down to its most basic form, a message of hope that doesn’t skimp on responsibility, an end to an ugly feeling.
This is undoubtedly Abolitionists’ best work to date, and while it’s always sad to see such stalwarts fall by the wayside, it’s nice to see them going out at their peak. Ugly Feeling is punk rock through and through, thick with commentary and heavy with riffs. Fans of the band will be pleased to see Abolitionist didn’t waste their goodbye.