When a band that hasn’t released a full length record in 15 years, yet one that’s remained in the heavy music consciousness due to the outsized influence of their diminutive output, finally drops their inevitable “comeback” record, it’s a big deal, and in the midst of the blogosphere’s usual December year end list wankery, Glassjaw’s surprise return with “Material Control” was definitely given all the concern it deserved, and then some. But if you were truly paying attention, Glassjaw didn’t really go anywhere, releasing fantastic EPs in both 2005 and 2011. I always felt that “Our Color Green” and “Coloring Book” in particular, if combined, would make for one hell of an EP, and that split difference of the band’s more scathing and serene material informs the bulk of “Material Control”, bringing the innovative Long Islanders’ post-metal/proto-screamo roaring back to highly refined life.
Opener “New White Extremity” barrels down with that runaway train quality that powered GJ classics like “Hurting and Shoving”, propelled by the supremely heavy hands of former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer, the esoteric dissonance of Justin Beck’s guitar work pushed to the fore. Much has been made of figurehead Daryl Palumbo’s self-imposition to rein in his more abrasive and schizophrenic tendencies both vocally and lyrically on this record, and while his words are definitely on the more abstract side (devoid of any of the direct misogynistic threats that the band’s golden age material was often derided for), his performance demonstrates a professional maturity that doesn’t want for verisimilitude so much as unpredictability, harsh and unstable when necessary, as on sludge inflected dirges “Golgotha” And “Pompeii”, but mostly settling on a soaring, well-honed clean vocal, even on quicker, punkier bangers like “Closer”.
While “Material Control” is a substantial collection of individual tracks, there’s a sort-of lack of narrative through line here, creating a listening experience that feels more like a rarities or b-sides collection, or an EP compilation, than the band’s actual stopgap EP releases did themselves. Percussion driven interludes “Bastille Day” and the title track butt heads against the record’s lion’s share of heavier and more pointed material and feel like, daresay, filler. While full on ballad “Strange Hours” comes off like a weak outtake from the “Coloring Book” EP compared to that release’s similarly introspective and downbeat yet stronger material like “Daytona White” and “Gold”. Still, when these guys are on, they’re on, as with far too brief final track “Cut and Run”, an epic proclamation that almost coaxes the listener to stick with this band as much as they are daring themselves to continue.
For fans weaned on this type of post-hardcore, the return of Daryl Palumbo and Glassjaw to a regular schedule of high profile touring and recording is more of a comforting, satisfying notion than Material Control, taken at face value, is any sort of sonic revelation. If you were never able to get “Star Above My Bed” or “Siberian Kiss” out of your head after all these years (raises hand) you’ll be happy to have some solid new jams to add to the Glassjaw canon, but neophytes may be left wondering what all the fuss is (was?) about.