¡Forward, Russia!

Life Processes

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On Give Me a Wall, ¡Forward, Russia! sounded like a scrappier, even more earnest Bloc Party, setting their angst to sharp guitars and basslines that owed a heavy debt to post-punk. They wore their hearts on their collective sleeve, and on Life Processes, they do so even more literally and bombastically. Working with former Minus the Bear member and producer Matt Hughes (also responsible for twiddling knobs for Mastodon), the band sounds massive, and massively ambitious: "We Are Grey Matter"'s enormous buzzsaw riffs, vast keyboard expanses, and quicksilver rhythmic shifts make Give Me a Wall's prog and emo leanings explicit. ¡Forward, Russia! sound even more earnest and serious here than they did before, and singer Tom Woodhead's voice carries the brunt of that burden: he spends most of Life Processes singing with vocals scrunched up in a painful falsetto that may be an acquired taste, but leave no doubt that he really means what he is singing (whether or not listeners will glean much from lyrics like "April is dripping/A sponge soaked in mucus" is anyone's guess). There's also no doubt that the band's sound is surprisingly heavy on Life Processes, with the muscularity of "A Prospector Can Dream"'s metal-tinged guitars echoing the album's anatomical cover artwork. Songs like "Spring Is a Condition" -- on which Woodhead wails "This! Is the end! Of your life!" over a mathy guitar riff honed to a fine point -- show off their remarkable chops and often show more nuance than ¡Forward, Russia!'s singing and songwriting. "Don't Reinvent What You Don't Understand" crams more musical stunts and tempo shifts in its intro than many bands attempt in an album. Their emotional but very technical onslaught, which tends to feel like exquisitely crafted variations on one ranting theme, doesn't let up until three-quarters of the way through Life Processes. The luminous yet heavy ballad "Some Buildings" proves that ¡Forward, Russia! can slow down without losing any of their intensity. However, the band slows down too much with "Fosbury in Discontent," which mistakes a draggy piano melody for soul-bearing. When they find balance between their prowess and surging emotions, as on the propulsive but nimble single "Breaking Standing," ¡Forward, Russia! can be truly powerful. The utter zeal and conviction with which they play are often breathtaking, even if they don't leave room for much subtlety or humor, and can be more than a little exhausting for listeners who are not as impassioned as ¡Forward, Russia! so clearly are.

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