This review was originally hosted on and written for Manchester Rocks, and is reprinted here with permission.
Over the years, Canada has produced some absolutely brilliant punk. Propagandhi, Comeback Kid and Fucked Up have all taken the world by storm and remain some of the best-selling acts out there. There is, however, a small sub-section of the genre that, unfairly, contains bands which are not as well-known (or perhaps that should read well-received) as they ought to be. One particular example of this is Ontario noisemakers Single Mothers, who, having been refused entry to the US earlier this year and consequently having had to cancel an entire US tour just days before it started, seem set now to only ever play in Canada. Another such relatively unknown band is The Great Sabatini, a quartet of brothers from Montreal who write loud, sludgy and occasionally quite morbid punk songs.
And so, to business. Dog Years is actually the band’s seventh release (that’s basically one per year since their formation in 2007 - never accuse a punk band of being lazy), their second full-length after 2009’s Sad Parade of Yesterdays, and is easily the most unusual album I’ve heard all year. Beginning with the rip-roaring The Royal We, which cracks out of the speakers like a blister oozing metal pus, there’s a sense here that influences are so wide and varied, you could be fooled into thinking these guys are trying too hard to cram everything into one song. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. What starts like your standard Metallica-style riff quickly dissolves into all-out punk war, drumming going from standard beat-keeping to technical, complex, cymbal-bashing noise which complements the frantic screaming of the vocals perfectly, before reaching the sludgy, doom-esque, slowed-down climax of the song which sounds like it could have been written by Code Orange at their most volatile. And the brothers pull it off without a hitch.
Things carry on in much the same vein for Guest of Honour, a minute-long rumination on the social classlessness of death (‘It’s a long way down from ivory towers / You’ll be in the ground pushing up flowers’) and continue on for the next couple of tracks, so it’s only by the fifth song, Reach, that the listener realises The Great Sabatini is actually doing something very, very clever with this record. Yes, it’s punk, yes, it sounds like punk, but it’s a record that plays with people’s perceptions of what punk is. Reach is slow-burning, angry but very much different from what’s happened so far on Dog Years. It contains actual singing, and guitar solos that emanate a certain beauty. This beauty reaches further, into the song Aleka, which is a very calm, acoustic track, again containing only singing.
Of course, this still calmness lulls the listener into a false sense of security, because the next track, Munera, while adopting the sludge and slow-burning style we’ve encountered before, does so with a vicious, slowly building ferocity which remains throughout the rest of the album. The standout track, for me, is Pitchfork Pete, a song containing quite possibly some of the darkest lyrics and most bone-chilling sounds to be encountered in a piece of music, the lyrics all delivered in a drowsy, chanted monotone accompanied by chilling background screams that wouldn’t be out of place in an asylum. Brilliant.
Like every album, it has it’s flaws - there may be a touch too much reliance on the slow, doom-y breakdowns and long instrumental outros for some tracks, but overall this is a solid punk record that will grip the listener and dazzle them with a special brand of dark, unsettling music. This is intensely original and will stay with you long after the final note.