A transhistorical and transcendental experience
On December 3rd, Toronto-based punk band Fucked Up will release their limited-edition vinyl version of Year of the Horse, an experimental opera of an album. The four-part album is the ninth installment of their album series based on the Chinese zodiac, following albums from their 2006 Year of the Dog to their 2017 Year of the Snake.
Unlike these past works, however, Year of the Horse was released incrementally over the course of 2021, with a new 20-30 minute track coming out once a month from February to May. The length of the four “Acts”—spanning over a total of 90 minutes—creates scenes, settings, characters and dialogue more akin to a play than a record.
“Act One” lays the scene in a medieval village, the home of public hangings, drunken mothers, the naive Blanche (voiced by indie artist Julien Baker) and her beloved horse Perceval. Though the lyrics may appear to be esoteric and overly theatrical, the combination of spacey instrumentals and screaming vocals set the stage for an epic poem enhanced through the power of vulnerability.
The village’s story continues in the following acts. In “Act Two,” Mother Kaye and the Sheriff King argue about the young Blanche’s autonomy, and the tension builds through “Act Three,” until Blanche seeks revenge for the murder of her mother in the final track.
For fans of Arthurian literature, the references to Zazamanc, witchcraft and the titular horse Perceval may be evocative of the 13th-century poem “Parzival” (that, and the celebratory trumpets of “Act Four” instantly place people in a fairy tale).
Unlike a traditional epic, however, Fucked Up utilizes a quick yet smooth shift between genres to portray how volatile our emotions are—as each character moves from confusion to anger, the music likewise shifts from dreamy psychedelia to buzzing metal. In addition to the dramatics of these swirling styles, each guest’s appearance brings an otherwise convoluted poem to life: the aforementioned Julien Baker, Tuka Mohammad, The National’s Matt Berninger and Chubby and the Gang’s Maegan Brooks Mills are all featured on the album. At first glance, this archaic story may seem incompatible with hardcore punk, but such electricity is fitting for a tale about betrayal, redemption and grief. This is a sense of despair that only screamo can capture.
This intensity is nothing new for the band: from the yelling children in their 2011 “Queen Of Hearts” video to the touching tragedy that lies within “Turn The Season,” the band has undoubtedly mastered the craft of art punk. And though the narrative experimentation of their latest piece diverges from their now 10-year-old album David Comes to Life, the tricky balance of tranquil lyrics and harsh vocals—the beauty of hardcore punk—remains a staple of Fucked Up’s sound.
Year of the Horse and the 10-year anniversary repress of David Comes to Life are now available for pre-order online (via Tankcrimes).