Modern Life Is War- Tribulation Worksongs (Album Review)

Jan. 25, 2024


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Modern Life Is War had a pretty incredible run in the 2000’s, with albums like Witness and Midnight in America showcasing the hardcore/punk band’s ability to hit hard but still provide a lot of variety and memorable moments.  Less than a year after Midnight in America the group would disband, but that time apart was short lived, and they announced a reunion in 2012.  Their fourth full length Fever Hunting came out of this reunion and showcased that familiar balance of darker melodic passages and aggressive hardcore.  In the time since then Modern Life Is War has been fairly quiet, playing the occasional show and focusing on smaller releases, with the Tribulation Worksongs series of EP first emerging in 2018.  Over the next three years the group released three EPs in this series, each containing two songs and lyrics hand typed and stamped on the front and back covers.  While I was hoping that 2024 might bring us more new material, for now we’ve gotten a compilation of the Tribulation Worksongs with a remix of “Feels Like End Times” and a revised track list.  It may not be a must have for those that already experienced these songs in their original form, but for those that missed out there’s plenty here to make this worth diving into.

I appreciate that Modern Life Is War decided to reorder the tracks from their original volumes, as Tribulation Worksongs now flows more like a short twenty-minute album rather than a collection of odds and ends.  The one-two punch of “Feels Like End Times” and “Revival Fires” is effective, as it showcases the type of heavy hitting and melodic hardcore/punk the group has done so well throughout their career.  The former keeps things moving along at a mid-tempo pace where the low end really pops out and the guitar work moves from jagged and aggressive to flourishes of melody at key points, while the latter goes for a faster attack where the leads soar over the recording.  “Survival” may be the most interesting track Tribulation Worksongs has to offer, as here Modern Life Is War transforms the 1975 reggae song from Marcia Griffiths into a frenzied and intense hardcore/punk anthem.  This type of transformative cover should come as no surprise to fans of the band, especially seeing what they did with “Stagger Lee” on Midnight in America, but it’s impactful and will make you want to crank the volume up.  “Lonesome Valley Ammunitions” and “Indianapolis Talking Blues” are also noteworthy and showcase additional sides of the groups sound, moving from dense and almost metallic tonality over to a subdued Americana leaning melody that is driven forward by the vocal narrative.  The only two songs I’m not as crazy about are the cover of The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and the “End Times Dub”.  The former’s not bad by any means, but with how many bands have covered this song over the years there wasn’t anything to me that truly stood out about Modern Life Is War’s version.  Meanwhile, the dub version makes some tweaks in production but with how short this collection is it isn’t different enough from the original. 

Singer Jeffrey Eaton has always been one of the main reasons Modern Life Is War’s music stood out so much to me, as he has one of those screams that’s so jagged and in your face that it feels like it can leave bruises.  Yet at the same time, the lyrics are delivered in a way that makes them easy to understand despite the abrasiveness and when you combine that with the very real and dark subject matter it works to the group’s advantage.  That’s no exception on Tribulation Worksongs, and every single track delivers harsh yet memorable performances.  But two in particular stick out upon repeat listens, the first of which is the cover of “Survival”.  Eaton starts off with his usual raspy scream, but you get some slightly cleaner shouts and backing vocals from Sarah Cram Driscoll and Brooks Strause that give the track a very different feel from the others.  “Indianapolis Talking Blues” goes for spoken word, with harsh, biting commentary on its subject matter that stands out upon repeat listens.

The first two volumes of Tribulation Worksongs came out in 2018, with the third not seeing the light of day until 2021 which did make it feel a bit overlooked by comparison.  With that in mind it’s great to see these tracks re-sequenced and presented to listeners, and while the last two tracks didn’t do too much for me the remaining five are strong enough on their own to make this worthwhile.  Tribulation Worksongs is available from Deathwish.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg