In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our songs that highlight some of our favorite guitar riffs.
Not all riffs are created equal. It’s something that should go without saying, but there are subtle differences between a band that commits to a riff and sees each member give themselves to it and those happy to let the guitarist take the spotlight while the rest lay back in the groove. This is not to say that there’s a right or wrong way for a band to go about serving a song, but, for my money, there’s nothing better than a band going for broke and making each member’s movements serve the guitar line. And, if there’s one band that gleefully gives itself to these type of moments, it’s Canada’s Propagandhi.
If Black Flag’s Greg Ginn is often credited as the punk guitarist to bring metal-styled riffing into the genre, Propagandhi’s Chris Hannah should receive credit for perfecting it. Propagandhi’s link to metal was always there–after all, it started as a progressive thrash unit in the mid-‘80s, but the ’90s saw the band function as a rifftastic skate-punk trio before transforming into a headbang-friendly four-piece in the mid-2000s. If 2001’s Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes laid the groundwork for the band’s transition from punk to metal, 2009’s Supporting Caste saw it abandon its punk proclivities in search of thrash’s riff-a-minute tendencies.
Supporting Caste’s album opener “Night Letters” sees Hannah and fellow guitarist David Guillas mirroring one another with crushing downstrokes at the song’s onset before giving way to molasses thick palm-muted gallops. The song traps listeners in this thick sludge for nearly a minute, as Hannah and Guillas add small harmonic dashes before the song stops on a dime. When it kicks back in, Propagandhi takes those small harmonic leads and blows them up into full-on, acrobatic movements. Hannah and Guillas leap back and forth, wrapping their dexterous riffs around one another while drummer Jord Samolesky uses manic fills and cymbal cracks to accent each note of the guitarists’ noodling. It’s this kind of riffing that requires the band members to lock in, offering a full-body riff that’s not as recognizable as “Paranoid” or “Rise Above,” but is infinitely more consuming.