“Let me start by peeling back my skin…”
With those lyrics from “Performative Hours,” the opening track and lead single from their 6th studio album, New Ruin, The Flatliners announced their triumphant and long-awaited return to the game. With vocals hollered in throat-shredding fashion about a sonic car-crash of guitar, bass and drums, the track serves as a perfect opening salvo for what you, the listener, are about to experience over the next thirty-eight minutes.
It’s been a while since we last heard from Toronto’s finest. Five years, in fact, since the band unleased Inviting Light on the masses. (Here’s our review from back then, although it’s formatted to the old site so it might be a little wonky, and in the migration to the new platform we lost record of who actually wrote it. Super fun feature.) That album was a bit of a departure in both the literal and figurative senses of the word; it was their first album on Rise Records after the triumvirate of Fat Wreck Chords releases that immediately preceded it, and it brought with it a sound that probably qualifies as more mature and well-crafted than some of the band more frenetic earlier work.
On New Ruin, the Flats find themselves back on Fat Wreck for the first time in close to a decade (I know, I didn’t believe it either, but Dead Language came out in September 2013). Rather than pick up where they left off, however, and fall back on an earlier sound and a shallower bag of tricks which would have, frankly, been a mistake, the band continue to move forward in a way that might just be their best effort yet.
What’s immediately noticeable on this album are the riffs. Oh are there riffs. Not to insert myself into this review, but I had a list of things I wanted to do on the evening that I first listened to this album, and decided to forgo all of them in favor of picking up my Les Paul and trying to decipher some of the rock-and-roll goodness contained herein. Frontman Chris Cresswell and lead guitarist Scott Brigham have always kept the created a variety of textures that range from blistering intensity to swirling cacophony, New Ruin finds the duo fine-tuning their craft into a series of one soaring riff after another. Paul Ramirez and Jon Darby continue to serve as the band’s rock-steady anchor on drums and bass respectively, allowing their six-stringed compatriots to sail in some pretty deep waters filled with big, anthemic, earworm-style riffs.
New Ruin does a wonderful job of weaving in a lot of the different things that the Flats have always done best, but does it better. There’s the caustic, piss-and-vinegar of songs like “Performative Hours” and “Oath,” the latter being lead by those aforementioned massive riffs over a punishing drum line. There’s the mid-tempo push-and-pull of chugging rhythm guitar underneath swirling, sometimes droning leads in tracks like “Top Left Door” and “Big Strum” and my personal favorite “It’ll Hurt.” At least I think that’s my personal favorite. That does seem to keep changing after approximately four dozen listens at this point, however. After another brief, swirling guitar intro, “Tunnel Vision” turns into one of the more straight-ahead, four-on-the-floor punk rock burners in the band’s arsenal. And if you’re really into the big, swirling riffs, album closer “Under A Dying Sun” sets the bar high, an epic six-and-a-half minute wave that gradually builds to a false crest at the midway point, only to regather its energy and continue crashing upon the sonic shores in bigger, bolder fashion.
Both musically and lyrically, New Ruin shines as a beacon signaling that yes, you can go home again, but you can do so with the added weight and wisdom that come with years of consciously examining and reexamining yourself and your place in…well, in all of this. “Performative Hours” laments the self-important, ego-stroking facades that we build up on all sorts of social media. Songs like “Rat King” and “Big Strum” follow the collapse of power-hungry talking heads and their minions who lose sight of the proverbial forest through the trees, eventually collapsing under the weight of their own misdeeds. “Oath” finds our narrator trying to overcome the poisonous waters of hate and instead moving toward love and freedom and acceptance. It’s all a reminder that you can keep your tongue or your pen or your axe all sharpened and ready for battle, primed to call society and our leaders and, sometimes, ourselves on an ever-increasing amount of bullshit in the hopes of a brighter, more hopeful future. We haven’t come up with an album review rating scale here at Dying Scene 2.0 yet, but pick whatever sign or symbol or totem you want, and New Ruin gets all of them.
“…to at least let a little bit of soft light in.”