Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk
Record Label: Equal Vision Records
Release Date: June 14, 2005
On a whim, I decided to search the reviews section for this album, to see what other people thought about it. I then discovered that NOBODY had reviewed this album. What!? OK, I'm not going to freak out or anything, but this album was literally a turning point in my musical journey, and nobody on this site has reviewed it. This means there are hundreds, nay, thousands of people out there who have not heard this work of absolute musical genius, and they must be taught!
Bear vs. Shark's first full-length (here goes...) Right Now, You're in the Best of Hands, and If Something is Not Quite Right, Your Doctor Will Know in a Hurry (whew.) was an impressive debut. It was chaotic, emotional, and showed a band with limitless talent. And that talent has been put to damn fine use on Terrorhawk. This album is everything an album should be. It has highs, lows, in-your-face rockers, and reserved, quiet songs. Maybe the most impressive thing about this album is it's consistency. Fifteen tracks, and nearly an hour's length, and the album never lets up. Nearly every track is solid, and the album displays a surprising variety, while every song was very obviously written by the same band. Nothing sounds out of place or contrived, and every song is brimming with emotion. The worst part of this album is that it was, tragically, Bear vs. Shark's last work, as they disbanded shortly after its release.
From the explosive opener "Catamaran," it's obvious that this isn't your normal generic post-whatever album. This was all written from the heart, even if the meaning of the songs, or even exactly what they're about, isn't always entirely obvious. Vocalist Marc Paffi sings like a man possessed, displaying an impressive ability to bellow his lungs out and then suddenly switch it up, crooning sweetly into the mic, leaving the listener hanging on his every cryptic word. The lyrics on the album are strange, but stick with you long after the disc stops. The album opens with Paffi softly singing "Got your bones spread out on the dancefloor," before suddenly yelling "Chompin' bits on your way to the supermarket!" And after that, as they say folks, it's on, as the razor-sharp guitars shred their way deep into your brain and never let up.
"5, 6 Kids" features a looping, discordant guitar lead and loose, off-time drumming, as Paffi carries the song with his impressive vocal range. Later, in the 28 second track "Six Bar Phrase Hey Hey" he sings "I would be a liar / I would be the poorest saint / Clipped like the angels in the arms of a gentleman." I don't know what he's singing about, but it moves me nonetheless. It's less about what he's singing and more about the emotion that he's evoking with his powerful lyrics and soaring voice.
"Baraga Embankment" is an instant standout. Paffi's voice is somber and bittersweet as he sings "They will all be heirs / To their own thrones and old homes / Without a downtown to grow old in or a son to telephone." But just when you think you have this piano ballad figured out, it erupts into a full-blown noise fest, complete with a squealing saxophone. Alternately, "Entrance of the Elected" starts in a mosh-worthy fashion, all crashing cymbals and distorted guitar, before a simple, bouncy bassline takes over and carries the song the rest of the way. "Seven Stop Hold Restart" is similarly bipolar, with an almost poppy verse and a chaotic, scream-filled chorus.
As great as the rock-out moments are, the most moving songs might be the slow, deliberate ballads, such as "What a Horrible Night for a Curse." Repetitive and moving at a turtle's pace, the song shows great vocal melody over some simple, gorgeous instrumentation. The song's climax arrives as Paffi shows us that he knows the days of the week, singing "Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday / S-u-n-d-a-y m-o-r-n-i-n-g" All joking aside, the line is surprisingly powerful, especially with the music.
"India Foot" is a short, looping track that sounds like a carnival gone crazy, but it honestly could have been left out, as it doesn't bring anything to the album. On the other hand, "Heard Iron Bug, 'They're Coming to Town'" is by far the craziest song on this album, as the intro steadily accelerates to breakneck speeds before Paffi's manic rambling takes over. Halfway through, the song completely falls apart. Now, this may sound like a negative, but it literally sounds like the band all screwed the song up in the studio, as Paffi screams at guitarist John Gaviglio to stop playing, before the whole band comes right back in as if nothing ever happened.
The two final songs on the album are some of the most impressive. "Song About Old Roller Coaster" is, for lack of a better word, epic. The song builds to it's explosive climax, at which point all of the music stops, leaving Paffi quietly singing "From wheels to motors... / From wheels to motors..." Before the music suddenly returns, loudier and more abrasive than before, much like the song "Luca" on Brand New's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, and much to the same effect. I literally jumped from the shock, and was immediately delighted that the song surprised me so much. At first listen, "Rich People Say Fuck Yeah Hey Hey" sounds a bit simple, but is actually a complex, technically impressive song. Equal parts dance and rock, and with a hook that would make Fall Out Boy jealous, Paffi sings "Can't be the city cause the city never gets caught sleeping/be the city cause the city never stays." The song climaxes with powerful guitar chords and equally powerful singing, closing the album on a definite high note.
Bear vs. Shark crafted their masterpiece with Terrorhawk and, like too many other bands, disbanded far too early in their career. Drawing inspiration from such greats as At the Drive-In, the MC5, and Fugazi, Bear vs. Shark have managed to create something unique with genuine staying power. This album has been in constant rotation on my stereo since the day I got it, and will remain there for many years to come. I know this is a bit of a lengthy review, but I couldn't express my feelings on this album any more concisely. This will be an album that our children's punk bands, god willing, will cite as an inspiration. Manic, chaotic, and at the same time beautiful and passionate, this is an album that shows sincerity not found in many bands in the scene today. A genuine classic.
Now if only I knew what the hell he was talking about.