I discovered This Is My Fist at the tail end of the band’s run, which was unfortunate in that I didn’t get to experience new material or live shows. Throughout that band’s material, vocalist Annie Saunders was the clear standout in the group, her ability to make a message connect atop of furious music. Well, it’s been a few years and there have probably been some bands I missed in between, but she’s back with Bullnettle. It’s a new band so I’ll try to do the honor of not making frequent comparisons to past work.
On debut album Bullnettle (Dirt Cult Records) the sound is more varied. There is a lot of punk-forward This Is My Fist similarity but there’s a grittier garage element and even the grungy “Trend Lightly Friend.” It mixes it up well over 10 songs and 30 minutes, always upbeat, rock, and progressive with Saunders’ distinct vocals that don’t so much “rise and fall” to carry the melody but instead flow between sing and shout. She’s got a unique ability to emphasize key phrases and turn the direction of the melody.
Her ability to carry a song shows in “The Ditch” which has that emotive touch. It’s a build-up song that starts out relying on its riffs and picks up at the chorus where the music repeats but she inflects nuance in each repetition, canceling out what could be a negative “sameness” element, especially around the 2-minute mark of the song. Saunders isn’t always carrying the load though. “Burn” has a great chugging riff to dominate the song and later, “Inside Fight” is driven by a nice guitar lead while Saunders delivers vocals that are equal parts singing, hoarse shouting.
“Wolves” starts with a mid-tempo feel that’s steady and looking forward, before it builds into the emphatic refrain where the song really takes off. Saunders’ delivery pushes it from the “circling” start and a big guitar lead takes that torch and runs with it from refrain back into chorus. Repeating the pattern but with subtle variation throughout, the song has a clear beginning, middle, and end with rising emotion and a little bit of drama within. The music is reflective of life: sometimes rhythmically predictable but with moments that deviate into a new and exciting terrain.
As for the subject matter, let’s just say the first song is called “Animal Farm” and it blends a powerful use of imagery alongside an observant, somewhat inward pointed cynicism. It’s not as politically focused as This Is My Fist but that tone remains embedded in the songwriting.
At the end of the day, the self-titled Bullnettle record is solid and angry music, full of vitriol and a few grooves to counter the tension. When it leans angrier it tends to run together more, while the slow and mid-tempo moments that explore more emotion and depth are more memorable.
Editor’s note: You can hear the record streaming here.