Written by: The Administrator
The Red Beard Wall experience has been--and always will be, I suspect--a deliberately jarring one, even for those who know to expect the immeasurable enthusiasm and bombast on display. This project's modus operandi is one of gloriously violent dynamics: every track is a sonic gladiatorial extravaganza. Unhinged screams, post-hardcore cleans, bouncy percussion, 90's-style alternative aggression, and thicc-ass sludgy stoner riffs meet head-on in the arena. However, rather than unleashing their pugilistic wrath upon each other, they somehow harness their unharness-able collective power, subsequently raining blood and thunder on the audience. Frankly, it's quite the sight to behold.
On the appropriately entitled 3, I am happy to report that human wrecking ball (and nicest man alive) Aaron Wall delivers his best performance yet--which says something, if you happen to recall my praise of 2019's The Fight Needs Us All. Much like his prior work, this album succeeds because it capitalizes so well on Aaron's bright and earnest personality.
Indeed, this intrinsic earnestness allows Red Beard Wall to do things that most bands simply couldn't get away with. The general formula, which operates by benefit of the shocking dynamics between seemingly disparate sonic elements, might feel gimmicky in the hands of another artist, but Wall has some sort of magic touch. The lyrics similarly aren't subtle by design--a quality that would come off as over-the-top in another context, but here, they feel remarkably heartfelt. "My Brothers," as a prime example, makes its intentions very clear: "I don't know what's stronger/than my wife and my daughters/I promise you that I'll help make it better." Similarly, the first verse of "Keep Fighting" tells you exactly what the track is about and what Wall has to say on the matter, no bones about it. However, rather than feeling bludgeoned over the head with the point, I'm always left feeling like I've witnessed something deeply personal and, often, quite sweet. Aaron consistently manages to imbue his music with a sense of emotion that never comes off as overly sappy or angsty, and that's largely due to the sheer potency of his personality baked into the music. After listening to 3--or anything from Red Beard Wall, for that matter--I'm left feeling like I've witnessed and/or experienced a very tangible slice of Aaron's soul. Either the guy is a very good actor, or he naturally oozes charisma. Either way, it works like a fuckin' charm.
In terms of what the album sounds like--y'know, a substantial part of what I should be talking about in this review--I could quite honestly snag any section directly out of the review for The Fight Needs Us All. Take the unique vocal approach: the throat-wrenching screams and along-the-riff melodic cleans still represent "a real Jekyll/Hyde situation," a bombastic juxtaposition which Wall continually pulls off "with a delightfully bludgeoning grace." There are subtle differences in the approach, to be sure, but in broad strokes, the blend remains quite similar. Where the distinction lies is in refinement. Most tracks here feel a little less raw, a little more polished. Tracks such as the balls-to-the-wall "Move Forth" and the standout "Leave Me Be," which both stand comfortably in the Red Beard Wall fold, contain lots of little details that allow them to stand out from prior work--take the martial snare and one-man gang shouts of the former, and the infectious pre-chorus and chorus of the latter, which feels almost pop-punky in its proud angst. These tracks feel like they subtly develop of the formula without turning their back on it, and as someone who really enjoys the formula, I'm glad to see that 3 sticks to its damn guns.
That said, the track structure is pretty standard across the album, resulting in some tracks on the back half to feel less distinct. While undeniably enjoyable on their own terms, they pale in terms of interest in the fabric of an album as a whole. I am curious to see what a Red Beard Wall album with a few truly unexpected tracks or even interludes could do to shake things up. The doomier intro track, as an example, allows the listener to fall into the groove, which often isn't as possible once the vocals fire up. A few more moments like this across the breadth would only make the overall dynamics more vibrant. Not that they aren't already quite lush, but a boy can dream.
The album, notably, sounds really good. While earlier efforts were a little rough around the edges, lending the DIY aesthetic a little more weight, the production has been beefed up significantly. As a result, this thing sounds crisp across the board, with a meaty guitar tone that doesn't fall too far into the bituminous tarpit of overt sludge. The drums are nice and punchy, which allows them to lead the fray with a certain authority. I'm a particular fan of the snare, which, as aforementioned, carries itself with an almost martial air at times. The vocals are straight fire--clear and clean whether spat in hardcore fury, or sung in melodic earnest.
Look. I'm pretty predetermined to enjoy this album, and if you were locked in with me in this drafty writing room here at the Sleeping Village, that fact would be damn apparent. I'm literally wearing both a Red Beard Wall hoodie and snapback at this very moment--not due to some thematic coordination, but rather because I simply wear them all the time. As a fan of Wall, a fan of the general "tear it down, begin again" ethos, and as another man with a red beard, I am always reppin' the RBW. That disclaimer out of the way, I'm quite comfortable declaring that this is Red Beard Wall's strongest album to date. There will inevitably be those who don't care for the general "hardcore by way of 90's alternative by way of stoner sludge" gestalt, but that's just an implicit side effect of jarring genre contiguityso...so be it. If you are already a fan of Red Beard Wall, I'm fairly certain this album will hit the spot. If this is your first encounter, this is a great introduction and a prime place to start. 3, needless to say, comes recommended from this particular scribe. This beast drops in early July, but in the meantime, listen to those two singles and get on that preorder! Vinyl preorder coming soon.
Red Beard Wall - 3 will be released July 2nd from Desert Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!