United Sons of Toil – When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful

United Sons of Toil - When the Revolution... coverMadison’s The United Sons of Toil contacted me with news of their latest record at what felt like a pivotal time in left politics in the US: the widespread strikes in the band’s home state of Wisconsin by public sector workers seeking to fight a bill that shamelessly stripped them of their livelihoods. To my shame I’ve followed the spotlight as it has moved on to other targets, and I’m no longer aware of the results of what was one of the most memorable working class movements in recent US history.

Which serves, by way of roundabout introduction, as a suitable starting point for any discussion of The United Sons of Toil. Billing themselves as a precision noise-rock band “delivered by populist theoreticians”. It’s a smart record with a broad vocabulary, and the band are apparently motivated as much by the fiery passion of radical politics as they the 90s noise and math bands that inspire their sound. When the Revolution Comes, Everything Will be Beautiful is accompanied by a manifesto which opens “We violently reject the complacency and evil of the American status quo and seek through music to re-educate the populace and assist with establishing a new and equitable radical democracy.” A laudable sentiment and one I can get behind. Having said that, I’m here to review the music so, having set the context, let’s move on.

The incendiary ‘Alcoholism in the Former Soviet Republics’ starts proceedings, a characteristically mid-pace tune full of chuggy mid-pace rhythms and an impressively punchy opening that highlights the distinct vocal styles of the band’s two throat-abusers: one low and throaty, another full of strained screams. There’s a fine line between precision and passion, with the latter lending itself to a frenetic and loose approach rather than the sort of technical restraint that mathy rhythms demand, and here’s walked. Let me emphasise, though, that this isn’t noise-rock in the sense that a lot of Brits might recognise it: think Jawbox and Fugazi and other Dischord outfits rather than the current crop of high-speed ultra-technical fretwalking UK bands. I’d describe it as off-kilter hardcore punk, in fact, with a real edge of epic crust, but delivered at a more sedate pace to allow the band’s more progressive songwriting to burn through. If you’re familiar with Mike Kirsch’s 90s DIY hardcore punk outfits, or that characteristic ebullition records sound and temperament, you’ll be on the right track.

Other particularly memorable contributions are the lengthy ‘Overturning the Rumford Fair Housing Act’, which shifts between thick chugging guitar and a lighter but uneasy riff; the song isn’t meant to feel comfortable, the music isn’t supposed to cosset you. “Sometimes fear is the appropriate response”, as the opening sample (cribbed from the feature film 9) acknowledges.  Then there’s ‘ILO Convention 169’, with another unpleasant, itchy opening, but one which this time settles into a bassline and lead lick straight out of post-punk. The band push this into more epic territory with shimmering sustained chords and more aggressive dual vocals, rather than settling into anything so simple and easy as a groove. The almost-instrumental ‘Operation Cast Lead’ also leaps out, occupying morose, threatening territory for much of its length, before shifting into more rocking territory.

When I first began listening to When the Revolution Comes, I was inclined to take or leave the band’s vocals, but they’ve subsequently grown on me: they’re ferocious and imperfect, well-suiting the music and subject matter. Others may find that their mileage varies; I like a lot of singers that others don’t, and recognise that I’m more tolerant in this regard. Similarly, some may find that the record’s pace and sludgy, discomforting affectations are off-putting. These people are wrong, of course, but that can’t be helped. If on the other hand you’re partial to something a bit challenging, something that can seem a little unpleasant, that throws classic-metal-esque riffs in alongside bleak hardcore punk, that deliberately generates a sense of unease and tension, you really should try this baby out. Perhaps it’s too esoteric to soundtrack a general strike, but it’ll get a basement full of anarcho-punks pumping their fists.

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  1. […] contrast to that, the two noise-rock bands who’ve sent me material to review – United Sons of Toil and now Cincinnati’s Mala In Se – have both been lyrically concerned with the world […]