Plague Vendor are back, and their new release, the aptly titled By Night, is an uncompromising, restless ride that manages to feel raw and scathing in spite of being, at a closer look, clearly very finely tuned. The ten tracks of the album are, for the most part, uniform in length, most of them ranging around the three minute mark, a series of short and powerful punches in the best hardcore punk tradition, but the sound has taken on a variety of suggestions from a number of different directions – some expected, others less so.
If a first listen comes across as an almost overwhelming adrenaline rush, going headfirst towards the end too quickly and too intense to stop and take the individual components of the sound apart, on the second listen elements surface that would not be out of place in heavy metal, grunge, and even electronic music and the classic rock of the later ’70s. The album gains in power from its visceral feel – there is something deeply heartfelt running through the tracks that gives it a welcome sense of urgency. There’s a clear sense of no boundaries running through this record, a feeling that all is game and we are now in a space where rules have momentarily all been abolished, the result being both threatening and thrilling.
By Night is a perfect title for this record, because that is exactly what the album feels like: one of those seemingly endless nights out, seen through the filter of altered perception, fatigue, neon lights, and loud music. Many of the tracks go deep into this state of mind, evoking a mood that feels like a bad dream, or a bad trip. This is aided a great deal by Michael Perez’s bass lines, throbbing and low, and by Brandon Blaine’s vocals, ranging from scratchy and cutting to almost spoken, from a slight, disquieting distortion to an airy tension that is vaguely reminiscent of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (especially on opener and first single New Comedown, and again on closing track In My Pocket, bringing the album, in a sense, full circle). Night Sweats, a personal favourite, is the track that delves the deepest into this night-time hallucination, and sets a challenge for the listener and the band alike: “We’ve got a night to get through.” Alienating, disquieting vocals also grant Let Me Get High\Low a particularly ominous feeling, which lingers especially through the second half of the album. Snakeskin Boots starts with the challenge of almost-spoken vocals on no music, and sets another piece of the mood through arresting images in the lyrics: “I’m howling at the moon like a rabid dog in the night.”
Luke Perine’s drums are also a connecting thread, perhaps the strongest, running through the album and holding it together. In ‘New Comedown’ they come in strong immediately, followed by a guitar hook that makes the song immediately memorable. Throughout the rest of the record they’re pulsating and heartbeat-like, setting a syncopated rhythm that resurfaces almost in all songs. Drums are again hammering in All Of The Above, also one of the most memorable tracks in this album, which has the obsessive, catchy sound needed to become a punk classic. “Am I just losing my mind? Am I just passing the time? Am I just falling in love? Or am I all of the above?” the song asks, and provides the listener with a beautifully open-ended reading key for the rest of the record, too.
Other tracks have a more classic, aggressive punk bite that feels like they were always meant to be performed live. Listen to Prism, the shortest song in the album and one that doesn’t stop for a second, and try not to immediately visualise a mosh pit, if you can. White Wall calls back to the glories of hardcore punk in themes as well as sound, and Nothing’s Wrong sets its defiant lyrics to a dirty guitar riff and a drum clap that is almost classic rock in places. Pain in My Heart, with its screamed delivery, has the most urgent guitar riff in the whole record. Jay Rogers’ guitars are extremely versatile, yet maintain a clearly defined personality.
This is definitely a more mature record, with a clear identity and project behind it, and an immediately recognisable voice that I am sure will be heard loudly on the American and international alternative scene. It also sets the scene for lives that have the potential to be truly something, and there is the impression that these are songs written for performance, whose real life begins outside of the studio. It’s an album that poses haunting questions, then boldly answers none – the fact that the last track ends abruptly, on shrieking feedback, can hardly be by chance. Then again, perhaps the answers are irrelevant: what truly counts is the feeling, and the one this record evokes is visceral and urgent, and bound to leave a lasting impression.
Plague Vendor’s By Night is out June 7th on Epitaph Records. Pre-Order the album and various bundles, here.