Boy do The Raging Nathans know how to start a record on a down note. The band plays melodic DIY pop-punk that’s of the verse-chorus-verse variety with driving rhythm to give it that extra oomph. While I tend to think of this kind of music as a little more light-hearted, the band cuts through that veneer instantly with “Tragedy Ghouls: An Introduction,” an instrumental track that collects news stories from the mass shooting in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio last year. It’s grim, graphic, and…really sets a tone.
It makes you think. Because you should.
“I go to sleep angry/ and I wake up mad.”
Those are the first lyrics on Oppositional Defiance and, following the intro, it gives a new perspective everything that follows. Later in that same song, “One Day Closer,” comes the refrain of “Every day I’m alive/ is one day closer to death.” It’s potent and powerful-- and as a person living a city with its own recent tragedy, it strikes in unexpectedly emotional ways.
On Cheap Fame, my review summed up The Raging Nathans as having something of a modern day Lookout Records sound. It’s peppy and pogo-friendly, but with more personal lyrics and more prominent, punchy bass that gives a heavier feel. Think live Ramones energy with personal emotion and, especially this time around, a fierce-but-inspirational anger. These elements have always been at play, but after the intro here, it’s under the spotlight.
While I talk up the anger, there’s also an underlying sadness. Vocalist/guitarist Josh Goldman often elongates words, fitting the lyrics into the rhythm with a drawn-out delivery that gives just a little more weight. It’s on display throughout, but “Outside” showcases it well, timing his delivery over the pummeling chords, then keeping that synchronization through the whole song as the tempo shifts up and down, culminating with well-placed harmonies. “Stargazing” is another example that blends a personal point-of-view with a vocal sadness. The bass/drum breakdown really pushes the emotional appeal in a refreshing contrast to the genre’s typical reliance on catharsis. In many ways, that sums up Oppositional Defiance well: it’s angry pop-punk, but it often turns convention on its side. It fits the template, so to speak, but when you actually listen it has a lot more going on.
Oppositional Defiance is far from a departure in sound for The Raging Nathans but it really shows a growth in their range and touch. It’s tighter, the songwriting is more nuanced, and the melodies are more meticulous. This is melodic pop-punk in a predictable structure, but the songs themselves aren’t formulaic. It’s personal, it’s powerful, and relatable. It’s not perfect – there are some samey moments and tracks that fail to jump out among the pack and it seems to fall off a bit in the latter half, but the best songs on here are next level for the group and overall it’s a step above Cheap Fame (which was pretty good too).
8.0 / 10
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