Editor’s note: Guitarist, activist and constitutional law scholar Philip Drucker, a.k.a. Jackson Del Rey, died this past July 16 at 63. A founding member of iconic 80s bands Savage Republic and 17 Pygmies, he was an early supporter of and friend to this blog. Deepest condolences to his wife and bandmate Meg Maryatt.
On one hand, it’s amazing that Savage Republic would still be putting out music as relentlessly intense as they were when they released their feral, rumbling 1982 debut album, Tragic Figures. Admittedly, the group on their new vinyl record Meteora – streaming at Bandcamp – were not among the crew on that album, but both guitarists Thom Fuhrmann and Ethan Port date from the band’s mid-80s peak. Multi-instrumentalist Kerry Dowling and drummer Alan Waddington are more recent additions, continuing a four-decade tradition of pummeling, frequently menacing instrumentals that veer defiantly between postrock, gothic rock and dystopic soundscapes.
They open the album with Nothing at All, an icy stomp that sounds like a track from PiL’s Metal Box album, but with typical leadpipe Savage Republic percussion. This time out, the guitars maintain the chilly, digital reverb sheen, in contrast with the gritty bassline of the second track, Stingray, a catchy dreampop-tinged instrumental.
God and Guns is a slowly swirling, grimly cynical broadside directed at self-righteous hypocrites: “You worship a massive cock, you just follow the fascist plot.” Fragments of Link Wray, Dick Dale and maybe Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth blend together in Bizerte Rolls, a menacingly chugging surf-rock anthem.
The album’s title track is a more disquieting, messier take on what the Cure was doing circa Seventeen Seconds, while Unprecedented is a mashup of My Bloody Valentine cyclotron swirl and Crass abrasiveness.
The album’s best song, Boca del Vaca is an evilly glimmering throwback to the hypnotically pulsing, overtone-laced, Middle Eastern sound the band worked so memorably in the 80s. Then they go back to Siouxsie/Cure chorus-box territory in Newport ’86. They wind up the album with Ghost Light, shifting in and out of focus with the haphazardly percussive energy of the group’s early days. Who knew that Savage Republic would be around forty years after they started, making the kind of records that show up on best-albums lists at the end of the year!