On their fifth album, ‘Rat Saw God’, Wednesday channel the angst and ferocity of alt-rock’s legendary bands and, in the process, deliver one of the great rock albums of the past 10 years. 

As the guitars screech and Karly Hartzman unleashes a grunge-laced wail on “Hot Rotten Grass Smell”, the opening track to Wednesday‘s new album, Rat Saw God, leaves little doubt what the band intends to achieve – to tear down walls, annihilate minds, and melt faces. Over the course of 35 minutes, the quintet not only succeed in their objectives; they also deliver one of the great rock albums of the past ten years, channeling the angst and ferocity of bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Hole. 

As furious as “Grass Smell” is, Wednesday amp up the intensity on the masterful Bull Believer”.  The guitars ignite, the rhythms hammer hard, and Hartzman’s voice hollers with unbridled desperation. She is the witness to the fall of a friend, who struggles with addiction and despair. A brief moment of serenity arrives near the halfway mark, at which point Hartzman’s voice turns tender and intimate. The reprieve, however, is short lived, leading to a tumultuous wall of noise in the song’s final 2.5 minutes. Hartzman’s vocal screams over the scorching soundscape. She is anguish, watching everything come falling apart.

“Bath County” further examines the crumbling of society but within the confines of an isolated Virginia community. A solemn, grungy vibe opens the track, but then the tempo quickly accelerates and the intensity rises. The guitars become immersed in reverb while what sounds like a mellotron tickles in the background. It’s an usual addition, yet it offers a great contrast, acting like the angel to the devil that sits on the other shoulder. However, the rage cannot be suppressed, as the song explodes the final minute and Hartzman’s voice occasionally becomes a primal scream. These final moments are unforgettable, as is Hartzman’s songwriting. 

The song’s first half is littered with Biblical references, which are nods to growing up in a rural, deeply religious part of the USA and how some people feel invincible. However, we are just children “of God”, and Hartzman shares how a tragic accident shakes Bath County. Her lyrics are vivid, startling, and awesome (she references Drive-by Truckers!).

The band continue to pummel the speakers on the rowdy “Quarry”, on which Hartzman delivers some of her best songwriting. She narrates various events in and around her community, where couples argue in the open, teenage pregnancies are common, and an ordinary couple is found to be drug dealers. This is just another day in America. Hartzman’s keen observations and clever songwriting highlight the slow-building “Turkey Vultures”. As the track gradually turns from a melodic rambler to a roaring rocker, Hartzman describes the contradictions that litter America. “We’re fired up about Jesus / We’re tired out of all the nature” and “There’s a sex shop off the highway with a biblical name” are just some of her wry remarks. 

Meanwhile, the melodic rocker, “TV in the Gas Pump”, teeters on the edge of the precipice, where it gradually intensifies with the guitars drowning in reverb and the rhythms pulsing harder. The song, however, never falls off the cliff nor even explodes, and that is its genius. Throughout its crisp 143-second runtime, the track stays on the ledge, coming close to exploding like on “Bath County”. The moment never comes because this tune reflects the mundane life on the road. That the life of a touring band is not as glamorous or exciting as one would like to think, as it is filled with constant movement and numerous stops at gas stations. And Hartzman brilliantly captures the exhaustion and the quietness while finding something, anything to chronicle.

“Violently came up
in a Dollar General
You took too much
Jake walked into a Starbucks
TV in the gas pump
blares into the dark”

The album is not just a full-throttle, raging compilation. Moments of calm and introspection also are present, specifically in the Americana-laced, somber “Formula One” and the stark melancholy of “What’s So Funny”. The latter has a Radiohead tone to it, including in Hartzman’s deadpan delivery. Her songwriting, though, remains heavy and poignant. “Memory always twists the knife / Nothing will ever be as vivid as the darkest time of my life,” she mournfully shares, as if writing the epitaph to her own tombstone. 

On “Chosen to Deserve”, Wednesday turn to epic, indie folk-rock, and it’s one of the album’s many highlights. The song moves and flows between short, restrained anthemic bursts and a springtime, melodic tone. Hartzman’s words weave between the steel guitar and the pitter-pattering of the percussion. She describes moments of her youth where she and others did, as Hartman says, stupid things that almost cost them their lives. Her vignettes are amusing, but after some reflection they are also tragic because a life could have been taken.

This is what makes Rat Saw God outstanding – the band’s ability to elicit emotions and responses in their music and Hartzman’s stories. At the same time, they challenge us to reexamine our biases, the realities that we live in, and our own experiences. Within each memory and tale, there are lessons to be learned and sometimes even some humor. The ability to do these things are the mark of a great band. 

Wednesday includes Karly Hartzman (guitar, vocals), MJ Lenderman (guitar, backing vocals), Xandy Chelmis (lap steel), Margo Schultz (bass), and Alan Miller (drums).

Rat Saw God is out on Dead Oceans. Get it at these links or directly on Bandcamp

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