This album came out two decades ago. Here’s what I had to say about it back then (with some minor editing):
If there’s one band I never expected to hear channeling Rob Halford and Judas Priest, it’s Propagandhi.
Not to worry, punk purists. Winnipeg’s political-punk firebrands haven’t gone over to the dark side and traded in their skateboards for Harleys, or swapped their T-shirts for studded leather gear. After nearly a decade of spreading the word, touring the world and fighting the man in his many insidious forms, Propagandhi are still dedicated punk-rock skids, not wannabe Metal Gods.
But like the old saying goes: You can take the punks out of the Prairies, but you can’t take the Prairies out of the punks. Deep down inside, it seems, guitarist Chris Hannah, drummer Jordan Samoleski and bassist Todd Kowalski remain teenage metalheads at heart. Presumably, that’s why they included a cover of Venom’s Stand up (and be Counted) on their 1998 collection Where Quantity is Job #1. And it must be why With Friends Like These, Who The F— Needs Cointelpro?, one of 14 fire-breathing tracks on their relentlessly aggressive third studio album Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, borrows the threatening chorus line from the Priest classic You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.
Then again, for all I know, kicking it on the JP tip could be some kind of a political statement. After all, in typical Propagandhi fashion, pretty much every line of lyrics on this 33-minute musical manifesto is dedicated to smashing the state, challenging authority and standing up for those who can’t do it for themselves. The list of topics and talking points on Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes includes East Timor refugees (Mate Ka Moris Ukun Rasik An), corporate globalization (F— the Border), the American militia movement (Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes), the FBI (the aforementioned Cointelpro), the Gulf War (Albright Monument, Baghdad), sexism and gender politics (Ladies’ Nite in Loserville), individuality vs. organized religion (Ego Fum Papa: I Am the Pope), the justice system (New Homes for Idle Hands, Bulls— Politicians), animal rights (Purina Hall of Fame) and, of course, the music biz (Back to the Motor League). Compared to the vapid navel-gazings of typical pop acts, this disc is like a grad thesis. You half-expect it to come with footnotes. (Whoops, turns out it does. Not for the songs, mind you, but for the lengthy, painstakingly documented essays on U.S. foreign policy and domestic anti-terror tactics included in the extensive multi-media portion of the disc.)
Thankfully, though, Propagandhi still haven’t let the message overshadow the music. Matching the urgency and intensity of their performance to that of their lyrics, Hannah and co. hit the ground running and never let up, burning through these tracks with unstoppable momentum. Every chord rung, every line sung, and every drum struck on this disc is played as if someone’s life depended on it. Not to mention played damn proficiently — all the years of touring have honed these guys into an ensemble as tight and terrifying as a riot cop’s chokehold.
If you think you’ve already heard everything Propagandhi have to say, you’ve got another thing coming.