Even with a feature from the Spiritbox vocalist, Make Them Suffer have very little to say or offer with ‘Contraband.’
In the press release for Make Them Suffer’s first new song since 2020’s ‘How To Survive A Funeral,’ vocalist Sean Harmanis says ‘Contraband‘ is a “low-key political song” about the global pandemic, about “everything and nothing at the same time.” Honestly, with the kind of vague lyricism that’s found all over this track, I believe him. Most curious is its second verse, which goes:
“Repressed, another patient admitted. Depressed, another lie contradicted. Regress, go figure no fucking answers. Except to save yourself at the expense of another.”
This is so loaded that I don’t even know where to begin. Everyone is frustrated by Covid’s impact on our lives, yes, but verses like that read like such reactionary nonsense that it’s worrying. Given how many figures in the Australian music scene, certain members of big prog-rock bands and former members of now-defunct UNFD metalcore acts, have peddled their unfounded covid conspiracies and anti-vaxxer nonsense this year and last, I don’t know whether to give this band the benefit of the doubt or not. Make Them Suffer haven’t given enough framing context towards lyrics like those above, feeling like it’d be easy for someone who doesn’t believe in vaccines or who buys into that “Plandemic” bullshit would find ‘Contraband‘ to be enabling them. And that’s not cute or funny, that’s dangerous. If there’s another intent from the band that needs to be explained here, then they haven’t communicated it properly.
The only real tangible thing you can grab a hold of with ‘Contraband‘ is that it’s, rather broadly, about lashing out at friends/family due to being cooped up at home because of lockdowns; a release of the rage felt by artists, touring musicians and live music crew over the last 18 months. Especially as the Australian federal government leaves the arts sector behind in terms of solid funding and support as (tough but necessary, if sometimes confusingly communicated) lockdown restrictions continue to decimate it. Yet even then, if I had just seen this new song come up on my Spotify and gave it a whirl, I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion myself without being told it from an email sent out by the band’s PR.
As for the song itself, it’s a blend of everything they’ve done up till now, with mixed results. It’s an ‘Old Souls‘ (2014) era sounding metalcore track, mixed in with the band’s riff work from ‘Worlds Apart‘ (2017), a couple of little visual and piano-licked nods towards ‘Neverbloom‘ (2012), with some of the cool electronica from their last album. So at worst, it’s a very familiar Make Them Suffer song with a fuck-off heavy outro as Sean growls “pray for the end” just for the hell of it.
I love Sean’s vocals, he’s one of the best metal vocalists in Australia. Yet with what he’s saying here, or rather not saying, I find it hard to get into his technique and delivery. Also in the vocal realm, we have Booka Nile’s “contraband won’t protect you” hook that’s not a particularly interesting melodic twist, jarring in its placement, and isn’t even that catchy either. (At least MTS aren’t jacking famous RnB chorus melodies anymore.) I’m also getting worried that we’re seeing a trend of bands coughing up cash for Spiritbox’s talented vocalist to feature, artificially inflating their own works with a prominent name, which will only homogenise this music scene further. While I love Spiritbox and Courtney’s vocals, her guest spot starting at 1:41 and ending at 2:12 doesn’t do anything to improve the track in my eyes.