posted on 11/2010 By:
Arson Anthem was born of a shared love of vintage punk between Nola icons Mike Williams (Eyehategod) and Phil Anselmo (Pantera / Down). Homeless post-Katrina, Williams crashed in Anselmo’s guest quarters, and the pair would spin the likes of Discharge or Negative Approach and reminisce about the good ol’ days of hardcore. (I’m relying upon the band’s press info for this semi-biographical moment. I, of course, was not there. I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.) Rounded out by country-punk-metal hell-raiser Hank Williams III on drums and Colin Yeo on bass, Arson Anthem dropped a violent little EP in 2006’s self-titled effort, an eight-song effort of old-school ‘core with touches of crust and tinges of Nola sludge.
Like its predecessor, Insecurity Notoriety is fast and furious, raw and roughshod, with dashes of jazzed-out guitar leads, grime-caked gnarliness, and III’s generous smatterings of near-grind blasting. Similar but better, it improves upon the established formula, the band sounding more and more like a band and not strictly just a side project. Insecurity is clearly indebted to Siege, Cryptic Slaughter, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Infest and countless others, but it benefits from its creators’ professionalism, personalities, previous experience and passion, and as such, it’s a nod to the old school with a few touches of the new and the now.
Williams’ vocals are mostly shouted barks, as aggressive as you’d imagine, not far removed from his Eyehategod work. Anselmo’s guitar tone is metallic and gritty, and his riffs alternate between the standard hardcore chorded riffs, moments of crusty dissonance and some slowed-down sludgy parts more in line with what one would initially expect from a combination of Nola all-stars. Colin Yeo’s bass tone is beautifully dirty, his lines prominent and nicely supportive of Anselmo’s ragged riffage, winding snakelike beneath slashed or broken chords. The biggest surprise of Arson Anthem’s line-up remains III’s skill behind the kit—he was a drummer in punk bands before Curb Records dredged him up and into the Nashville machine for the Three Hanks record, and his hardcore experience shows. The drumming is perfectly chaotic, bashing and crashing along at blasting speed and dropping into lurching mid-tempos with ease, always sounding on the verge of collapse and never quite reaching the point of self-destruction.
Where Insecurity Notoriety falls a bit short is in its over-reliance upon its own formula, killer old-school ‘core interspersed with cacophonous crawling filth—in its best moments, the formula is first-rate: the title track with its shout-along chorus and trudging midsection; the opening chaos of “Naught”; the smashing “Crippled Life” and “Death Of An Idiot.” But the band’s propensity for injecting twists and constant left turns at nearly every opportunity wears thin when over-used. Applied more sparingly, or taken as one or two tracks at a time, those shifts work brilliantly, and some of Insecurity’s most memorable moments are found in its squalling, slipping slides—the brief drop in the middle of “Polite Society Blacklist” nicely offsets that track’s breakneck pace, likewise with the bent lurch of “Has Been/Has Been” or the twisting noise of “If You Heard This You Would Hit Me.” But there’s one in almost every song, so after the eleventh or twelfth time, the perpetual change becomes more overwhelming than invigorating, and the constant attempts make all but the best of Arson Anthem’s tunes increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another.
In the long run, criticism be damned: I doubt there’s anyone who has super high expectations for an Arson Anthem record—coalescing or not, the band remains a fun aside, a group of merry goons playing punk with a good EP and now a better record to show for it, and hell, that’s good enough for me. I will say that Insecurity Notoriety has sparked a resurgence in my hardcore listening habits of late—it’s seen spins alongside many of the bands mentioned above, and while it doesn’t reach the loftiest heights of those that spawned it, it holds its own as a mostly fiery, fun and filthy take on a classic sound.
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