Say what you will about the sheer long-windedness of the band’s name and album title; The Short Histories of Powerful Nations have a lot on their minds and, frankly, aren’t interested in pleasing the masses. A Brief Treatise On Land Ownership Vol. 1 is hard rock as high art, a three-song revisionist history lesson not afraid to point fingers or blow speakers. Doc Brown is taking you on a metaphorical DeLorean ride through the muck of greed and failure, and you had better have your five-point harness strapped tightly.
Conceptually, the album seems at first to adhere more closely to the band’s name than its own title, but, as with everything else on the CD, it requires further thought. Powerful nations use their power to acquire more land (think invasions and wars), and, in turn, become more powerful in the process. The three songs on A Brief Treatise On Land Ownership Vol.1 are vignettes examining the failings of some of history’s great empires–including, it seems, America. “A House Divided Is a Duplex” refers to secession and the perceived inadequacy of voting, both of which are familiar subjects in the ol’ U.S. of A. “You choose how I live so to hell with my vote,” singer Chris Righter repeats, first in guttural whisper and progressing to shouting with megaphone-worthy seriousness.
They went easy on America compared to the other two song subjects. “Sunspot Letters” ratchets up the vitriol while seemingly aiming it at organized religion before transitioning into a wash of manic guitar, bass and drums (with stately trumpet accompaniment, courtesy of Bootheel singer Todd Balisle) gradually devolving into feedback. Finally, “Fascin” is an unflinching look at Nazi Germany with two distinct movements: a quiet, ominous opener ending with Righter screaming “Is it better?!” as the band picks up behind him, followed by a focused, aggressive second half with the meanest no-one-gets-out-alive chords guitarists Shawn Maher and Logan Williams lay down on the whole record. Righter’s crackpot laughter at the end just underscores the lunacy of the music, which already accentuates how crazy the subjects are/were. What the hell was the world thinking, anyway?
This isn’t music for the casual listener–your next summer road trip jam does not await–nor is it for the casual player. The five members of The Short Histories of Powerful Nations aren’t out to pummel with sound; loud for loud’s sake is too mainstream for this quintet. Instead the idea is to play with purpose as well as prowess and challenge the listener with music and message. It’s often said that history is told by the winners; A Brief Treatise In Land Ownership Vol. 1 shows the winners as eventual losers, power gluttons that collapse under the weight of their own tragic flaws and leaving a wake of conquered nations and anguish behind when they do. Land ownership is a bitch… but it sure is riveting music.