(Pirates Press Records)
After releasing a couple of singles to introduce themselves last year, Charger (Rancid bassist Matt Freeman’s side project) has finally elected to give listeners a full-course meal of exactly everything they’re all about with the Warhorse LP. How, let’s be honest here – some side projects have all the tags to be of great pedigree in plain view, but Charger isn’t one of those; on paper, Charger is just a bunch of side-players doing what they do. Even so, Warhorse shines as it plays against the odds.
As soon as stylus descends and “Devastator” opens the A-side of Warhorse, listeners will know they’re getting a better album than they expected. There, from note one, the band begins unloading its unrelenting salvo of punkish hard rock (or hard rock-ish punk – the lines and how they’re drawn here aren’t perfectly exact), and the spirit of “hold fast – there’s no turning back” which appears as a central tenet to the song is really easy to lose oneself in; Matt Freeman is singing a little leaner than he normally does with Rancid, his bass playing is a little tighter (no busy bass solos like the one which appeared on songs like “Maxwell Murders” here) and the guitar and bass parts laid down by Jason Willer (who also plays with UK Subs and Guantanamo School of Medicine) and Andrew McGee are tight and drive the song hard in a very “Motorhead” kind of way. That sort of noxious mixture could hook listeners pretty hard on its own, but the actual hearing of the results overshadows any possible comparison to any other band with whom these musicians are also associated, easily; within its first cut, Warhorse will have listeners on the edge of their seats, excited to discover what might be coming next.
…And after “Devastator” slams closed and sets its precedent, Warhorse doesn’t ease off the throttle at any point through the running of its A-side. “Black Motor” follows tightly at the close of “Devastator” and answers its predecessor with more Motorhead-esque, speedy and hygienically-questionable punk rock & roll before McGee takes a turn behind the wheel for “Running Through The Night” [which doesn’t really shift gears so much as just drop into overdrive –ed] and then Willer steals the spotlight for a constant, two-minute double-kick drum marathon called “Summon The Demon” and the whole show just stops for five minutes to let Charger write their own version of “I Want My MTV” – complete with a gigantic synth opening [called “Dig Your Own Grave,” ironically –ed]. Now, it is important to point out that Charger doesn’t just spontaneously forget who they are for five minutes to indulge some proggy nonsense (Freeman’s scruffy vocals still sit at stage center in the song, and there isn’t really a poppy “move some color TVs” break at the end of the chorus at the end of the chorus, but the comparison remains justified), but there’s no question that “Dig Your Own Grave” is the closest thing to an epic on the album; the five minutes that the song takes to play out are definitely indulgent in all the wrong ways and listeners may come close to checking their watches as the song begins to close – but it does make it there, the needle does lift and listeners will make haste to flip the record over, because they’re still thirsty for more.
On the B-side of the album, Warhorse makes no mistake about the fact that it has shifted gears as soon as “Will To Survive” starts. There, Freeman’s bass goes from “rotund” to “all-sinew” as a taught line speeds along, followed closely by the singer’s growl. Lines which detail a will to escape while gasping for air sort of inform the fury and terror of the cut, but absolutely take a back seat to the really shred-dy lead guitar and tightly contained but incendiary rhythm guitar part, and the combination of those elements wins listeners better and more completely than any of the cuts on the first side of the album. It’s an all-out assault and, when it ends (after two minutes), the pause barely registers before “Forsaken Soul” opens up with a very similar energy and is finally redeemed by “Luck of the Draw” – which is a great contender for the title of “The Best Motorhead Song That Motorhead Forgot To Write.”
While the form and style on the B-side of Warhorse doesn’t really change after “Luck Of The Draw,” it’s hard to feel like “Running Out Of Time” isn’t just a little phoned-in and forgettable as it just continues to mine the same ground that the other cuts on the side have already explored, and listeners will find themselves flocking to “Sword of DIO” as it closes the album out, just because it sounds “different,” and “different” comes off as “of interest,” by extension. There, Charger finds a mixture of hard rock power much like that of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and just inhabits it happily for two and a half minutes. Really, the play and performance on the song is “just okay” in stature, but those who have battered through the B-side of the album will flock to the final cut and marvel at it like starstruck fanboys; the contrast that the song sets between itself and the rest of the album is hypnotic and will leave listeners hopeful for more of the same on future albums – when Charger does release more albums.
Needless to say, Charger has done something pretty impressive with Warhorse and, while it might not function just exactly how anyone expected (yes, it plays to Matt Freeman’s established strengths), it is definitely very functional and is absolutely a good album. Those who run front-to-back with Warhorse will likely find themselves hoping for a follow-up from Charger, and soon – because it feels like the band might be on the cusp of something great; Warhorse has all the trappings of what fans expect from Matt Freeman, all there needs to be is one more little push to take the band over the top, on their next release. [Bill Adams]
Warhorse is out now. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records.