Essential New Music: Savage Republic’s “Meteora”

Savage Republic first convened in the early 1980s. Original guitarist Bruce Licher and a shifting array of musicians shook up the Southern California underground scene with pyrotechnic concerts held in unusual settings that combined elements of industrial, punk, surf and minimalist music. One could fill a few pages chronicling the group’s history of turnover and down time. The current lineup may not include any founders, but it does have Ethan Port and Thom Fuhrmann, who’ve been integral members since 1985. In fact, the current group—with Alan Waddington on drums and Kerry Dowling joining Port and Fuhrmann in a swap-o-rama of guitar, bass and percussion—is the band’s longest-lived edition to date. 

It takes just a few moments to place Meteora, the current crew’s third album, as Savage Republic music. The massed percussion and gang-chant vocals of opener “Nothing At All” will careen about the walls of your listening space just as wildly as those old oil-drum beats slapped the ears of attendees of parking-garage gigs back in the day. “Stingray” seats ringing, unusually tuned guitars on top of an unruly bass line, and “Bizerte Rolls” sounds like just the thing to ride a Tongan tsunami swell.

Meteora also nods to old friends and inspirations. The spoken-word vocal that winds through martial stomp “Unprecedented” was written by Wire’s Graham Lewis, and the aching, single-note leads and sizzle-thwack groove of the title track amount to a pledge of gratitude to Joy Division and early New Order. But Meteora isn’t just about reaffirming what was great about olden times. These guys live in the present, and they have some things to say about it; the gothic, trudging “God & Guns” is a roaring denunciation of MAGA delusions.

—Bill Meyer