For those of you that have seen previous articles that I’ve published, you already know that I have never pulled any punches when seeking out some good old fashioned hard rock music within the current Canadian new music scene. Sure, there are plenty of acts out there with musical roots planted firmly within the genre, from pop-rock through to metal, but many are quick to add the ‘alternative’ tag to their identity in order to separate themselves from the pack. Never happy to give up in my pursuit, those aforementioned articles led to my discovery of prominent Canadian artists such as Monster Truck and The Glorious Sons, two bands that perfectly embraced the raw, no-tags necessary brand of hard rock music and proved that the genre is indeed alive and well.
Seeking out more conventional hard rock music from our northern neighbor, imagine my delight when I recently encountered The Stanfields, and their recent “Limboland” album. Hailing from Halifax, NS, The Stanfields are certainly no strangers to the Canadian rock scene, founded in 2008 and with a handful of albums already under their belts; yet have only just now been brought to my attention. And as I have also stated on many occasions, better late to a party than to not arrive at all. Currently comprised of John Landry (vocals/guitar), Jason MacIsaac (guitar), Calen Kinney (bouzouki/fiddle), Dillan Tate (bass) and Mark Murphy (percussion), The Stanfields blend that true hard rock tradition with some distinct Gaelic flavor (a la The Dropkick Murphys), as would be expected from a band that calls NS home.
Having listened to “Limboland” over the last few days, while the highly sought after rock sounds drew my attention, it was, upon further reflection, the subconscious connection to the lyrical content that kept me returning to this one for successive spins. Indeed, just hearing those first few lines from the opening track “Afraid Of The World” initiated an uncomfortable shot of adrenaline; something that I do not recall experiencing when relaxing to new music for the first time. If adrenaline is a psychological reaction to feelings of sheer excitement or blind fear, this jolt was clearly an involuntary response to key words that resonated with my own personal paranoia concerning our current political climate. “A line was drawn in the sand / by a fool with the big stick and tiny hands / who promised a wall, talked about greatness / and dared to speak for me.” The words and sentiments were crystal clear, and those goosebumps the result of being alarmed.
While the protagonist here could refer to any political or hierarchical figurehead, this release by The Stanfields has perfectly tapped into such themes during these tumultuous times. They are by no means the first artists, nor shall they be the last, to utilize music as a means of protest. And with tracks such as “Lantern In The Window,” “Your Flag (Won’t Save You Anymore)” and “Let It Run,” the band have no fear in expressing their sociopolitical views surrounding war and the erosion of civil liberties. Go ahead and listen to “Let It Run,” and absorb their uncensored and disturbingly gruesome lines, “From somewhere across the airwaves / blood flows through our living room screens / entertain us we say / let it run, let it run, let it run.” Yet, irrespective of any listener’s interest (or lack of) in such political issues, The Stanfields are not using this album as a platform to promote any specific agenda, but are merely interpreting a volatile landscape that is laid out in front of them.
Of course, there is much more to “Limboland” than political commentary. Moving beyond those first few highly charged tracks, I discovered much more on offer, and questions arose as to whether this is indeed a singularly straightforward hard rock album. “Lantern In The Window” checks all of those hard rock boxes (I detected hints of Bruce Dickinson/Iron Maiden from the offset in this one), before defying convention and adding the strings to close out the track. Progressing to the latter half of the album, the listener is steered gradually from the anger towards those ‘feel-good’ traditional NS influences. More fiddles, more bouzouki, less harsh realities. Upon my first listen of both “There’s a Light” and “How Long Is The Road,” I quickly drew comparisons to the sounds of NQ Arbuckle and Creedence Clearwater Revival in Landry’s vocals respectively. This shift from the dominant hard rock sound to the alt-folk rock sounds down the stretch are an appreciated offering after coming out of the gates so forcefully with “Afraid Of The World” and “Desperation.”
If I had to select one track from “Limboland” that stands out to me, “Total Black” would be my choice. As the only duet on the album, the surprise of guest vocalist Maggie MacDonald adding harmonies with Landry (and with her sister Cassie MacDonald joining Kinney with a second fiddle), this one is definitely more NS traditional than hard rock. This is a track that on paper sounds completely out of place here, but this is definitely not the case. Not only does this collaboration work, but is a much welcomed peace offering that provides a full 4 minutes and 15 seconds to help the heart-rate decelerate for a while.
Whether cranking up the decibels during the first half of this album, or leaning on the traditional influences of their home Province down the stretch, I still consider The Stanfields to be a bona-fide, good old fashioned hard rock band. Landry’s raw vocals and guitar heavy sounds meet all the criteria of the genre, yet the diversity and addition of more traditional ‘non-hard rock’ instrumentation do not detract in any way for listeners of the genre. “Limboland” is a successful amalgamation of both conventional rock and regional traditions, which raises my curiosity for exploring the previous releases from The Stanfields for my own further listening pleasures. Recommended listening for all (political extremists excluded).
Visit The Stanfields’ website.