Throughout the entirety of this week, we will be reviewing the discography of punk rock group River City Rebels. The band blends their brand of street punk with ska elements through their horn section, featuring lyrics charged with socio-political ideas. They formed out of Burlington, Vermont in 1997 and were eventually signed by Victory Records to release their debut full-length Racism, Religion and War in 2000.
Racism, Religion and War is straight to the point, consisting of quick-fire punk songs that bluntly tackles the issues in its title. Although simplistic in its song structures and ideas, each of these tracks are unbelievably catchy, carrying with them great hooks and leaving before you even get an inkling idea of being bored. The band has the raunchiness of The Clash, the melodic prowess of The Ramones and a ska-like groovy feel ala Rancid. It’s a combination so potent that every single track in this album can leave you humming with every repeat, while musing on how incredible this might sound in a sweaty live setting.
First track “Hate” is the epitome of this idea and best represents the entirety of this album. It’s propulsive, wild and easily lends itself to a chanting crowd. The line “we’re all the same / there’s nothing but shame” still rings true for our society twenty years later. The follow up “Religion” is a criticism of religious dogma and its conformist nature. Whatever position you may stand in this topic – you’d be hard pressed to not move your feet to this tune.
The “War” part of the album is scattered in multiple songs. “Army Boy” talks about the sacrifice involved in getting drafted and questions if it’s really worth it: “It’s your ass on the front line / Now it’s just a matter of time.” In “Military Attitude”, the horns conduct a mock marching melody while the song tackles authoritative figures who suppress the freedom of the masses.
On the early tracks, the ska elements in their songs are a bit muted, merely serving as embellishments or melodic flourishes. But by the tail end in “Fuck You” they shine, making for a standout tune as the bright brass sounds cut through the metallic fervor of the guitars and drums. The final cut “Stars N Stripes” is also a standout amongst its peers, featuring acoustic guitar and organs in a jangly pop punk tune, perfect for toning things down after a wild night rocking out.
As the first debut offering from River City Rebels, Racism, Religion and War is a wonderful start, cleverly infusing depth into its simplicity and providing a cathartic punk album that tackles the issues of its time. All the while having a mighty fun time doing it.