The first full length album from The Republic of Wolves has peaks and valleys, but it mostly lays flat. Varuna inhabits familiar post-hardcore territory, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, it traverses the beaten paths and back alleys of the genre well enough that it is still worth a listen.
The album’s second track, ‘Woolen Blankets,’ sets the pace for the whole record (for better or worse). The majority of the song is slow and sullen with Mason Maggio’s vocals creating tension as their dragging and deliberate plodding rubs up against instrumentals that are craving more energy from the vocals. Luckily for this song, everything comes together at the end to produce a powerful conclusion. As the guitars march forward in determined quarter notes, the vocals fall in line, giving an extra layer of depth to the line “pick up your feet and just start moving forward.”
This song’s battle between slow, drawn out vocals and music that hints at the desire to crash the gates continues throughout all of Varuna, and it can become very frustrating. This is most evident on ‘Pitch and Resin,’ which just wanders towards nowhere at the pace of an arthritic mall-walker. This song is about three minutes too long.
And just in case you haven’t fallen asleep by the end of this track, ‘Monologues’ comes in to tuck in your sheets. The first five minutes and fifteen seconds of this song act as a perfect lullabye and the song is only barely saved by the strong ending that follows. The resolution from 5/4 time to 3/4, along with the distorted guitars and strong vocals, is interesting but it comes far too late in the song to be truly effective. What annoys me the most about this album is that a song like ‘Monologues,’ even with its flaws, could survive as a memorable track if it wasn’t placed immediately after ‘Pitch and Resin.’ The two combined form such a powerful sedative that the album should require a prescription with its purchase.
Things only really pick up again on ‘Greek Fire,’ which accurately captures the turmoil and smoldering destruction of the lyrics with gritty guitar work and the heaviest melodies featured on the album.
The highest point of the record is clearly the third track, ‘Sea Smoke,’ which displays how deeply the band has been influenced by fellow Long Islanders, Brand New. The song has a pervasive eerie tone that is amplified by the strong use of screamed vocals in the back of the mix and a surprising explosion of sound at the tail end of the track.
What separates ‘Sea Smoke’ from the majority of the album is its energy. This is one of the very few songs that is not held back by Maggio’s vocals. Don’t get me wrong, he is a good singer, and the slow motion style works for some tracks, it just doesn’t work on all of them. Listen to the opener as an example. ‘Varuna’ has the feel of a dark waltz, and the vocals match this feeling beautifully. Then listen to ‘Tanzih.’ How bored are you? (The answer is “very”) It isn’t a bad song, but it is painfully uninteresting. If it had been the only song seemingly written in bullet-time, it would be fine, in fact, it may have even stood out as emotionally powerful if it was a slow song amidst faster ones – the eye of a storm. Instead, it seems that the Republic was trying to be emotionally powerful on every second track on the album, and it just sounds like a mild bout of rain. Somtimes there is lightning, but it is brief and leaves you looking at the sky with hopes that it will return.
Varuna may not be a great choice if you are looking for something energetic to wake you up on your morning commute, but it certainly has enough light shining through its cracks to warrant a listen or two.
Grade: The Republic needs an adrenaline revolution.