Reviews STNNNG Empire Inward

STNNNG

Empire Inward

When frontman Chris Besinger laments, “I’m howling/ Can you hear me?” at the start of “Ballad of the Drunken Word,” it all comes home. Empire Inward is STNNNG’s fourth full-length and comes as the band celebrates their tenth anniversary. Since 2003 STNNNG has been spitting rage, frustration, and some downright mean-sounding rock’n’roll. At times vocalist Besinger sounds like a lunatic on the verge of snapping, at other times he sounds like the wise poet explaining the ways of the world. For that moment as he yowls the start of “Ballad,” though, it all comes to fruition. It’s a snapshot of the afflicted as he’s lost in the woods and the clouds are to break, revealing a full moon.

The band has long drawn Touch & Go comparisons in the form of the Jesus Lizard, but Empire Inward also heavily recalls the shifting dynamics of Shellac, perhaps not coincidentally—the LP was recorded by Shellac’s own Steve Albini. While the band’s ferocity and just-about-to-boil anger has defined their work since their debut, this album sees more soft-spoken lyrics and quiet moments seeping into the product and giving an eerie and maniacal tone. 

The record opens with the line “We are men of logic/ Come calling to kill/ Everyone who looks ready to die.” The lyric snippets alternate with bass drums and guitar licks, dishing aural vitriol that trades off for about 90 seconds before kicking into full instrumentation and serving up the violence at a higher notch. First song, “Ring and Roar” is just one of eight, but it serves as a perfect sample from the record, trading Besinger’s quips with angular and heavy guitars and building a chaotic stream of punchy aggression. But you can’t be dialed up to ten all the time. Song two, “Texas Disco,” is a slow one, with the vocals maintaining a similar speak-sing, but minus some of the volume. Besinger uses a variety of inflections and barbs in his delivery to match the tempo, pulling it in various directions as the band follows his lead. As a frontman, he paces the stage and accosts the crowd and the music matches this intensity and unpredictability. As he reflects “Let ‘em worship me,” in “Brain-Dumb,” it’s easy to picture him walking back and forth, swinging the microphone cord during musical interludes and then bent over screaming, “Get ‘em off me!” as the song hits its frenzy.

Some of the less aggressive songs here lack the power of the louder moments, and the title track is something of a drag in the middle of the record, but the album conveys the power and instability of the band well while introducing more dynamics play than on previous releases. The band’s willingness to play on atmosphere and tone without relying on blunt force is impressive, even if it doesn’t always succeed. Compared with 2010’s The Smoke of My Will the guitars are more focused and less wandering; the songs feel more concise and directly powerful without overplaying the tonal shifts and wearing out their welcome. At eight songs, it’s also rather short and feels like it could have kept going for another ten-fifteen minutes when all is said and done.

It’s another solid release, interesting characters and song developments, and enough variety to sustain repeat plays, Empire Inward may not be a huge advancement from the excellent The Smoke of My Will, but it’s a worthy follow-up.

7.8 / 10Loren
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7.8 / 10

7.8 / 10

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