Margaret Thatcher famously referred to herself as practicing “conviction politics” in the months before her 1979 rise to the office of Prime Minister. She holds no candle to Winnipeg-based thrash-punk band Propagandhi, an all-vegan band so dedicated to environmentalism that they organize tours to minimize their carbon footprint. But it’s not all kale and tofu; the group is staunchly committed to hands-on activism for a number of anarchist and radical-Left causes, donating songwriting prizes to humanitarian projects and filling their lyrics with anticapitalist, anti-imperialist sentiments. Eat it, Maggie.
The band released its seminal work, Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, on February 6, 2001 – 17 years old in the next two weeks. Thematically, the album centers around American cultural hegemony in the wake of the Cold War, taking the position that cracks in the foundation of power imply an inevitability to the crumbling of the empire. This is prescient: undoubtedly the image of American society has declined in recent years (with the presidencies of Bush and Trump being no help for the country’s reputation and consequent influence in the world at large, especially with respect to social values and political mores). With domestic issues from the opioid epidemic to stagnant wages, and Agent Orange being the face of American diplomacy, the US finds itself taking more and more of a backseat role in world affairs, a far fall from the influence once wielded.
Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes point fingers at the dark underside of US power. FBI programs to suppress dissident groups (‘Who the Fuck Needs COINTELPRO?’), women’s rights (‘Ladies Night in Loserville’, where a female narrator taunts misogynists with the sexually-liberated refrain “I fuck to cum / Don’t lay your repressed shit on me”), and immigration (‘Fuck the Border’) are all on the chopping block. The subjects are still topical: perhaps it is a sad commentary that the same radical statements made near two decades ago are still radical today. Whatever the political reading, the lyrics are in lucid prose, and are worth a read.
Musically, the album thrashes. Propagandhi is possibly the most technical punk band in the business, and this album features musicianship in spades. The grooves on this album are, through and through, mad; drummer Jord Samolesky deserves a special shout-out for his vibrant toms work. The guitar lines are intricate works of blow-the-roof-of punk rock art, glimmering for mere seconds before disintegrating into more power-chord thrash.
To conclude, Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes is a powerful statement by a passionate band about issues that are still very much primary in the public consciousness, brimming with thrash-punk goodness reinforcing the album’s core thesis: here today, gone tomorrow. Ashes is a classic album that isn’t to be missed.