Irish-American Celtic punk band Flogging Molly release their fifth full-length studio album, The Speed of Darkness, today. Like Flogging Molly's previous records, the new one's full of furious fiddles laid over backdrops of supercharged punk guitar riffs and fast-paced beats. Unlike the band's previous albums, all the songs on Speed of Darkness fit one underlying theme: the experiences of American workers laid off during the recession, particularly in Detroit, where the collapse of the motor industry devastated the middle class.
The album begins with 35 seconds of steady, buzzing feedback, then explodes into the title track. Against a soundscape of fast, finger-picked banjo and soaring fiddles, front man Dave King sings lyrics like "It only takes a second for a beat to kill a heart" and "Only time will tell/but it's a long way home when you're in hell." It's a poignant song rendered more intense by Flogging Molly's wall of Celt-punk strings.
"Speed of Darkness" is followed by one of the best tracks on the album, "Revolution." It's a fast pop-punk song with fat acoustic guitars strumming in the mix behind the electrics. When King sings "I'm a working man without any work" and "What was once a city, now an outstretched hand," they're rallying cries. Despite the song's acoustic elements (and even a uilliean pipes solo!), "Revolution" is as punk as Flogging Molly gets on this album.
Other standout tracks include: the dust kicker "Saints & Sinners" (which features a fat, fuzzy guitar bridge that leads into another acoustic, finger-picking breakdown and a catchy "la la la la la la la la" refrain); the Billy Joel-esque ballad "The Cradle of Humankind" (which starts with some somber piano and pained vocals and includes a beautiful fiddle solo and lines like "When a helping hand is needed, a slap in the face is what you get"); and "Rise Up," another call-to-arms song with a somber beginning (made more winsome by tin pipes) that segues into an arm-in-arm drinking song.
But for all Flogging Molly's punk tunes on Speed of Darkness, there are plenty of nods to traditional Irish folk music, as well. Cases in point: "The Heart of the Sea," a mostly acoustic song that sounds like an Irish rock-country hybrid; "So Sail On," a sparse ballad with just vocals, acoustic guitar, a strings solo, and light tambourine percussion; and "Oliver Boy (All of Our Boys)," a haunting song that's an acoustic folk ballad until the second verse, when the chugging rock guitars and charging drum beats come in.
Overall, The Speed of Darkness is probably Flogging Molly's best album since their breakthrough 2000 debut, Swagger. Musically, the songs embody the spirit and rhythms of punk, with all the heart and string instrumentation of Irish folk. Lyrically, every song on this album demands attention, as King rails against the corporate siege of the American dream and advocates hope for the "everyman" who lives paycheck to paycheck -- if he's lucky.