CD Review: "Exit Anthem"

CD: Exit Anthem
ARTIST: Attack Flamingo

Let’s be honest; a large portion of what are known as mainstream Christian rock bands do not in fact actually rock. The phrase “Christian rock” has seemed like an oxymoron for a long time. And while, yeah we don’t want to generalize an entire genre from what we’ve heard on 93 K-Love, the bands? God awful.

And while their Christian faith is the driving force behind the music, Attack Flamingo really does rock.

On their self-produced sophomore CD Exit Anthem, the Huntington-based electro-rockers, after the epic intergalactic search for God on their debut No Star Could Be As Large, return to earth and is lied to, religiously (and politically?) persecuted by some sort of total tyranny, and prepares to leave all over again.

But not before they make their own anti-authoritarian manifesto.

You can judge this CD by its killer Stalinesque cover art; there are five jets for five dudes and apparently they’re escaping some sort of Orwellian prison state, with dreams of infinite skies. Maybe that’s what it means.

While their Christian faith inspires them to make music, the lyrics don’t at all come across as proselytizing or preachy; listening to the debut, you didn’t even really pull together the overarching religious theme until the end. While the lyrics on Exit Anthem have more up front religious undertones, it’s nothing that turns you off about the band, and maybe we notice it more because we know it’s there this time.

We should preface this review by saying No Star was probably the surprise hit of 2008 for us. Not really having heard too much about the band, synth guy Joseph Spurgeon hooked us up with the CD through the mail, and we got on that elevator to space. The CD is still in the regular rotation in the WVRockscene home stereo -- the computer.

After the space rock and interstellar theme of No Star, musically, Exit Anthem keeps Attack Flamingo’s searing version of electronica, simultaneously incorporating more earthy tones -- more acoustic guitar, and mandolins, violins, and even a banjo. Nice touch.

On the whole the band (Sean Knisely: guitar/vocals; Marty Brown: guitar; Spurgeon: synth; Patrick Stanley: bass; Sam Hodge: drums/electronics) sounds like Muse, with Billy Corgan singing.

“As The Dog Returns To Its Vomit,” “Counterfeit” and “Nothing” highlight the band’s acoustic-driven yet still synth-soaked sound, “A Mask For Make Believe” sounds entirely electronic, and the rest is hard rockin’ electronica with lush, spacy atmospherics and awesome solos.

“Thomas,” appropriately enough fits into the latter category, kicks off the CD, wasting no time jumping right into the same kind of space rock that No Star left off with, tying the two releases together in sound.

A nice kind of Dark Side of the Moon sounding slow jam breaks the song in half, and abruptly jumps back into fat-synth, high-energy rock.

Like on No Star, one thing that jumps out at you listening to the songs; while AF is a band with heavy synth flavor, the catchy, guitar-driven songs are arranged so soundly that they would rock without the synth.

“Y/our Kingdom/Cosmos,” if we had to pick a few, is one of the standout rock songs on Exit Anthem. Knisely opens with a cool lo-fi effect on the vocals: “We hold the hope of the future/while we burn it down/we’re all temporary now…Down with our pride and our lies, now bring our empire down.”

He sings on the chorus:
“Now it resounds/and to save our life we’ve got to lay it down/‘cause there is no other way to save it now/‘cause the ground and the kingdoms and the cosmos pass away/but you will stay the same”
And shouts “down with our pride and down with our empire,” over and over, with nice, panned, schizophrenic backing vocals. The schizo backing vocals seemingly tying in with the mind-body, spiritual duality conflict thing Knisely finds himself in.

Nice, spacy moog sounding synth and blips permeate, and a nice, fat, bouncy bassline help drive the song, more killer solos. The band nails the loud-quiet-loud dynamic, as the song builds and descends throughout. They’ve got the rock thing down.

The acoustic opening, with sample drums panned side to side on the comparatively mellow yet still catchy “As The Dog Returns To Its Vomit” evokes Radiohead, with Knisely singing in softer, stripped down fashion. With the mandolin, this song helps show the band’s developing range, or at least promising directions they’ll take.

“Counterfeit” opens with delicate, dreamy acoustic and soft singing from Knisely about lies of a kind of spiritual substitute, as the song picks up the driving synth sound and distorted electronic drum hits.

The song cuts into space hum underneath a George H.W. Bush sample, of him famously name-dropping the New World Order in speeches, and promptly builds into a cacophony of LFO-like noise and other inaudible samples (something about a “Federal Bank”) overtop the horns, marching drums and crashing cymbals of a now ominous sounding “Star-Spangled Banner,” this is what AF needs to develop; a wild, sample-based side, and now we see where they’re going with the whole persecution thing, not just spiritual, but maybe political. There’s definitely a vision here.

A marching, machine-gun snare opens “The Militaristic Materialist” before giving way to a swinging, trippy, almost reggae-sounding slow jam, building into hard rocking chorus.
“Everyone sold out to build up a name/Tryin’ to be so great/You wanna be so great…All materials fall apart just the same/No they cannot stay/All the people, they break your heart, it’s a game/Is there a better way?”
“Superego” is straight ahead, catchy guitar rock, and at 2:30 min is probably the shortest song on the CD, yet probably most rockin’.

The band picks up its electronica feel on the break-out chorus, with Knisely singing “I can’t climb, I can’t fly to you/But I can bow and be found by you” as he fights his super-sized pride.

The band shows its entirely electronic feel on “A Mask For Make Believe,” with its dance/house-type sound. With Hodge (aka DJ Sir-Boy) Attack Flamingo can remix its own songs, or tweak certain parts of its sound. Together for the first time with the band as they recorded this time, Hodge shows his input and value to the band on this seven-minute long track, as Knisely sings of hiding hearts, love, and escape.
“I see you falling down…You’re running away but you still feel the same/Open your eyes to the infinite skies”
“Nothing” is a song that we’d heard a rough mix for back in August; acoustic guitar-driven with washy keys, and dreamy NIN-sounding synth it picks up about half way through, then strips everything back into the acoustic outro. A great song, with more visions of infinite skies.

“Remind These Wings of Infinite Skies” is a great song; reminds you of the end of No Star; awesome solos, soaring to shredding, seemingly the crescendo of the entire CD, sonically and lyrically.

Knisely sings on the chorus:
“I can feel it from miles away/Coming over the face of yesterday
My savior can fly me away/Redeeming me the dream you placed in me”
The title track closes the CD in outer space rock opera fashion, AF’s members shouting “Goodbye” over top whispers of “Climb.”

Exit Anthem is an obvious step up for these guys in all aspects. With the awesome cover art and interweaving message of strength through faith, the CD isn’t just a great record, it’s one of those rare instances where a band’s message actually ties in with and reinforces the lofty or ambitious imagery and/or art.

When we first heard about the propaganda theme we were aroused, but skeptical they could back this up with what was in their music; they did big time on a whole new concept CD.

Kudos to Knisely for recording the whole thing in-house quite literally, in his bedroom. The production befits the band’s huge sound and layered atmospherics. Some bands just can’t pull off an electronic rock hybrid sound, these guys do seamlessly. Listen to their music with headphones to get the full effect of their sound.

If we know anything, Attack Flamingo is a great example of a “Christian band” that could be a crossover hit; gain mainstream appeal, maybe -- they’ve gained a lot of local fans who wouldn’t necessarily be called hardcore fans of Christian rock. Like us here.

Attack Flamingo, with Exit Anthem and No Star, really make the jerks who run this site question themselves for judging an entire genre on one radio station. We didn’t hate those Christian bands because we’re intolerant bigots; we hated them because they sucked!

Attack Flamingo rocks so hard, it doesn’t matter what they believe, by the time you find yourself asking ‘This is a Christian band?’ you’re a fan. Now, wave goodbye to them.

--- Attack Flamingo releases Exit Anthem Friday 4.30 at Shamrock's Irish Pub in Huntington with opening act Universes.

Related: H-D article on Attack Flamingo

mp3: “Y/our Kingdom/Cosmos” by Attack Flamingo

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