The Deadly Snakes & Constantines

The Deadly Snakes & Constantines

What is it with Canadians and the end of the world? Throughout this recent run of stellar Canadian alt-rock, the one recurring theme—in sound and content—has been a bent toward the apocalyptic. From The Arcade Fire to Broken Social Scene, the new Canadian bands seem to love singing about chaos, destruction, and whatever hope survives them. Toronto's The Deadly Snakes kick off their fourth album, Porcella, with one of the creepiest character sketches since Nick Cave moaned about the carny leaving town. "Debt Collection" features Andre Ethier's guttural, Cave-like vocal over pounding piano and snaky organ, all of which work to tell a story about an angry man coming to get his due. The feeling of imminent catastrophe is deliciously palpable.

Porcella is a dark record, but—like a lot of other new Canadian indie music—the gloom gets shattered by penetrating hooks and the band's impressive command of multiple rock idioms. Ostensibly a garage band, The Deadly Snakes work in elements of gothic chamber music and shock-punk through songs like "High Prices Going Down," which delivers nerve-jangling existential blues. The martial beat and peppy faux-flute of "Gore Veil" gives mortal terror a pop makeover, while scorching basement stompers like "Sissy Blues" and "The Banquet" polish up Nuggets and make them look freshly dug. Porcella's tour through the stinging, thumping, somewhat slimy side of the rock is unified by images of shadowy men and blood-spattered walls. It's Grand Guignol theater, and though Ethier shares lead vocal duties with the evocatively named Age Of Danger, he's the star, strutting in front of the clamor and giving it a wailing human shape.

The Deadly Snakes' Ontario neighbors Constantines made arguably the best contemporary Canadian wrecking-ball record with 2003's Shine A Light, but the band's new album, Tournament of Hearts, takes a calmer approach to setting hairs on edge. In 10 tracks and just over 30 minutes, Constantines layer tribal drums, swirling guitars, and Bryan Webb's choked vocals, building a sleek rock machine. The band comes out hardest on the album-opening "Draw Us Lines," which grows in intensity until it resembles Peter Gabriel fronting Hüsker Dü, but the rest of Tournament Of Hearts is more subtly insinuating, saving its bursts of fury for the right moment, like the live-wire coda of "Hotline Operator" or the pulsing heat of "Working Full-Time."

Lyrically, Webb is still raging against the dying of the light, gasping about how we should "love to spite the strange winds blowing," and letting us know that "we're all born our own destroyer." But the hero of the new Constantines record is the band, which channels Shine A Light's sonic maelstrom into a refined tactical assault. Constantines nod to the angular post-punk revival while blasting past it to an uncertain future. Like the work of Spoon and some of the Constantines' Canada brethren, the music on Tournament Of Hearts reassembles familiar shards of indie-rock, classic rock, and new wave into original soundscapes that are both dangerous and alluring. Constantines dwell in the more muscular corner of the death disco, but even when they're striding confidently on the driving, danceable track "Good Nurse," Webb pauses to remind everyone that "no one ever lived in a healthy time," proving once again that doom is perennial.

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