Chicago punk-rockers turn down the volume on excellent acoustic LP.
Ian Winwood 2011
In his sparse and suitably shocking novel Closer, author Dennis Cooper has two of his characters partake in violent sex while listening to Slayer’s South of Heaven album. Much is made of the rather kooky artwork of the front sleeve – a skull laying dormant in what one presumes are the fiery furnaces of Hell – and lyrics such as "strangulation, suffocation, death is f***ing you insane," with the implication being that while cruel carnal relations can be truly shocking, this kind of gory excess is frankly a little laughable.
This is not a criticism that could be levelled at Alkaline Trio, a group whose own take on life’s darker colours contains many a subtle nuance. Evidence of this comes in the shape of Damnesia, an album that features acoustic and even ambient re-workings of many of their most popular songs. For while it’s impossible to imagine Slayer’s direct-thrust lyrical approach being accompanied by anything other than the exhilarating noise of violent thrash, similar topics at the mouths of Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano – A3’s principal lyricists – are flexible enough to withstand a more reflective musical treatment.
More than flexible enough, actually. Originally released on the group’s 2003 masterful Good Mourning album, the song This Could Be Love was until now a thickly and expertly layered punk-rock composition featuring a lyric about murder. Stripped of its excess volume, though, the image of a homicidal lover laughing in glee as she washes her lover’s blood from her hands in the icy waters of Lake Michigan stands naked in its unsettling originality. Alkaline Trio have within their music an element of disquiet – where characters are too cold, too lonely, or simply too dead to function as well-rounded people should – that can sometimes be overwhelmed by the exuberance of the popular punk form.
Of course, those wishing to seek out the darker strains of this band’s character can do so simply by reading the lyric sheet – but it could be that some do not. On Damnesia, though, the bare bones and glistening edges are on such clear display that even the most cheerful listener’s day will be darkened by Alkaline Trio's gathering storm clouds.