[Click play above to stream Scissorfight’s Chaos County EP in full. Out Oct. 28 on Salt of the Earth Records.]
Takes Scissorfight about 17 minutes to reclaim their position as the Granite State Destroyers with their new EP, Chaos County. Actually, it’s much less than that. By the time guitarist James Jay Fortin has made his way through the first riff cycle of opener “We Ain’t Leavin'” — a declamatory statement in itself — with his unmistakable low tone that should be marketed as a nutritional supplement to foster beard growth, Scissorfight make it clear that they’re back and, as new frontman Doug Aubin assures in a guttural delivery, they’re not going anywhere, “until there’s more fuckin’ rock than you ever have seen.”
It’s been a decade since the New Hampshire outfit’s last album, the Jaggernaut — which was, indeed, thought to be their swansong until their reunion was announced at the start of this year — and as Chaos County brings them out of this extended absence, it comes as a particularly bold re-entry as founders Fortin and bassist Paul Jarvis bring aboard Aubin and drummer Rick Orcutt.
The two newer members replace vocalist Christopher “Ironlung” Shurtleff and his brother, drummer Kevin Shurtleff, and particularly for Aubin, those are considerable shoes to fill as a frontman. Those who saw Ironlung on stage or heard his burly, always-clever lyrics could tell you he was a significant presence in Scissorfight even as he moved toward cleaner singing on the later offerings of their original run.
How does Scissorfight handle this monumental change? In typical Scissorfight fashion, of course. They don’t give a shit.
Really, that’s all they can do. Fortin and Jarvis, after years together in acts like Mess with the Bull and Supermachine, who each had something to offer but never quite took hold in the same way as their prior outfit, wanted to reignite Scissorfight, and presumably there will be plenty who decry the lineup changes, but after listening to the five tracks on Chaos County (out on Salt of the Earth Records), hearing the energy and the force behind all five — “We Ain’t Leavin’,” “Seventies,” “Giardia on My Mind,” “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” and “Tits Up” — as captured by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studio (more on the recording here), as a fan of the band I can only think it’s their loss.
Those approaching Chaos County already familiar with Scissorfight‘s work — and after the changes the heavy rock underground has gone through in the last decade, I expect there will be many who aren’t — might find it helpful to think of it along the lines of 2000’s New Hampshire full-length. Shorter, obviously, but that was arguably the point at which the band began to turn from their even-more-aggressive earlier work toward the burl-groove style of 2001’s landmark Mantrapping for Sport and Profit (discussed here), and Chaos County, aside from sharing some artwork similarity in the landscape (plus skull), the new EP moves Scissorfight to a rawer, meaner place, especially in what Aubin brings on vocals.
Yeah, they’re still having fun in “Seventies” — about the ’70s; its gas, rock, boobs, etc. — and the centerpiece highlight “Giardia on My Mind,” on which Jarvis adds banjo flourish while Aubin digs into lyrics about the actual “beaver fever” one gets from drinking contaminated river water. Winks, of course, abound. Scissorfight never had much use for political correctness, and one doubts that will change, but frankly with “Giardia” in the title and lines like, “A cool mountain stream is full of beaver piss,” their public service announcement comes through loud and clear.
The subsequent “Nature’s Cruelest Mistake” nestles into a right-on roll, led by Fortin‘s riff — a more forward drive and tight interplay between verses and choruses that seems less insistent than the jerky starts and stops that rush through “Seventies” earlier on, and the band as a whole comes across as their most comfortable there. It’s a little slower, but in a way that “Seventies” kind of feels like it wants to be, and if nothing else, it shows that Scissorfight are getting back to a position of making their songs work in different ways.
Shaking off the rust? Maybe. A decade is a long time, and it feels even longer for rock and roll, but from the raucous gurgles of “We Ain’t Leavin'” to the got-drunk ode “Tits Up” that caps in high-octane, encouraging mega-chorus form — Fortin backing Aubin on vocals as he also does on “Giardia on My Mind” — Chaos County stands in the tradition of Scissorfight EPs like 2000’s Piscataqua, 2002’s Potential New Agent for Unconventional Warfare, 2003’s Deathchants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes Vol. 2, and 2005’s Victory over Horseshit, in finding their band feeling their way through a stage in their progression hopefully en route to a next full-length (their seventh, if one counts the 2001 limited-release, American Cloven Hoof Blues).
Ultimately, how a given listener feels about the prospect of new Scissorfight as they move forward I think will depend a lot on the individual — some won’t be able to get past the changes, but there’s an entire generation to take their place at shows — and on how much road-work the band are able to do, if they can get to Europe, and what they do in the studio to follow-up Chaos County, be it another EP or, hopefully, an album that can stand up to the crucial statement that not only are Scissorfight back as a reunited act looking to push ahead of where they were 10 years ago, but are ready to declare their victory once more on an ongoing basis.
A working band, in other words. The next year or two will be telling, but the fact that Chaos County ignites such looking to the future instead of longing for the past should be taken as proof of the EP’s success. It demonstrates that there is life for Scissorfight in this incarnation, and more, it fucking rocks in a way that no one else has quite been able to match since the band went away all those years ago. Welcome back, Scissorfight. You have been missed.