Alright, so maybe it was a little unrealistic to hope that Blood On James River would be a happier record than Holstein‘s previous work, The Big Black Clouds EP. Blood is really an expansion on the established vibe, literally and figuratively. Two of the previous album’s songs–“Big Black Clouds” and “Complications”–return for use here, and they’re surrounded by 11 more snippets of angst and woe. Two albums in, we can honestly say angry and indignant appears to be Holstein’s thing, and the band is pretty good at it.
Whereas the band raged at God and circumstance on The Big Black Clouds EP, this time the band’s focus is a little more political but it isn’t afraid to avert its gaze from Washington long enough to deal with matters close to home. “Social Butterfly” is a bitter discussion with a soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, and “Wallstreet” is, of course, lamenting the present economy. Though the subject matter doesn’t lighten up much throughout, the music becomes almost perky during Blood On James River’s last four songs. They also rank among the album’s most tuneful and catchy; the chorus of “Poison Me” could certainly get stuck in people’s heads.
If a band is going to be this pissed off about, well, everything, it had damn well better use that anger to rock, and Holstein has done well in this regard. The first two songs combine to form a biting, sinister intro to the album, and it doesn’t let up much from there. The three-pronged guitar attack of Jared Baehr, Nate Million and Chance Melton drives home every lyrical point with pounding-fist emphasis, and Chris Bivens‘s drumming carries an appropriately militaristic snappiness at times. Individually, the 13 album tracks are rock songs of pointed ferocity, ranging from above average to downright enthralling. Combined, the songs form Holstein’s take on how the world is heading down the shitter, and yet the song “End of the World” begins with a sort of tongue-in-cheek accordion intro. Who says you can’t crack a smile as the sky falls?