REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha
Ferocious beast Wolverines makes it third time very lucky for I Am the Avalanche
Ex-Movielife man Vinnie Caruana and co. stand firmly on their own feet with this cracking record chock-a-block with choruses, riffs and heart-felt passion
I Am the Avalanche released their first record in 2005, shortly after frontman Vinnie Caruana's former band
The Movielife parted ways, the assumption was perhaps that the group was an afterthought that would forever be in the shadow of the Long Island pop punk group's relative success. Now, almost ten years on, and two albums later, Caruana and co are proving that couldn't have been further from the truth. It's been three years since IATA's huge sophomore effort
Avalanche United (itself six years in the waiting), leaving fans and critics alike waiting with baited breath for its follow-up. And bluntly,
Wolverines has been worth the wait. While The Movielife sat neatly alongside their Drive-Thru Records buddies in the early Nineties as melodic pop punks with a slightly serrated edge, IATA have veered determinedly towards the sharper, angrier and altogether more powerful side of things, and
Wolverines continues this ride, driving their trajectory into their heaviest zone yet. The opening bar of first track 'Two Runaways' – three chords of twangy, overdriven guitar – could come from anywhere along the great rock 'n' roll cannon of the past 40 years, from the Stones to The Clash, Kiss to Green Day, Rancid to Springsteen. And that's no dig at its lack of originality, but a testament to how the record sets itself up as one of a solid American rock band. Caruana has said he wrote the song "
thinking about what if Tom Petty listened to more punk," and he's basically nailed it. It's a huge, storytelling, track with a large dollop of Americana on top – finished with a big punk rock smack to the chops. You'll struggle to find a stronger album opener this year.
Caruana's signature yelled vocals are obviously omnipresent, as are the infectious choruses the band have come to define themselves with. '177', 'Anna Lee' and lead single 'The Shape I'm In' are all fists-in-the-air anthems that are sure to have front-row finger-pointers spitting and screaming along at live shows. Driving Caruana's big melodies are stomping guitar riffs and punchy, punky basslines, finished off with Brett 'The Ratt' Romnes powerful drums and immaculate production (he has produced all three of IATA's albums). The band's distinctive sound is encapsulated in 'The Shape I'm In,' where hints of The Movielife's 'Face or Kneecaps' resonate, both in its pounding intro and its heart-filled lyrics about overcoming personal struggle. 'Struggle' is one word that that screams unspoken throughout the album, articulated both through Caruana's raw, scratched vocal cords, and literally in his deeply personal, painfully honest lyrics. It's a wholly darker, more trouble-frought record than both
I Am the Avalanche and
Avalanche United – there is no 'Holy Fuck' or 'Amsterdam' – but there are still moments of triumph. Tracks such as 'Where Were You?' and 'Save Your Name' are anthems about beating adversity and coming out the other side. There's a vein of IATA's east coast compatriots
The Gaslight Anthem and even
The Boss himself weaving its way through the album, perhaps not sonically, but in its hard-working, brow-beaten soul that carries the storytelling within the songs. What I Am the Avalanche have done with
Wolverines is a perfect lesson in growing older gracefully. Pop punk has long been a style that speaks to the youth – angsty heartbroken teens struggling with identity and relationships – but loses its grip (and often credibility) when both fans and artists hit the wrong side of 20.
Wolverines, however, is a pop punk record made by grown ups for grown ups. They've done that dastardly 'maturing' thing, but done it properly – it's not forced and it pays just enough homage to where they've come from. Taken on its own though, this isn't a pop punk record at all – it's just a killer rock record that may already be lining itself up as one of the best of 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uDWbne_b4Q
Big thanks to Em at Public City