Esteemed punk rock juggernauts Millencolin have returned to their roots on Kingwood, a cathartic but infectious assortment of tunes that is as collectively uplifting as it is unstoppable. ""I think it's our best, most focused record yet,"" guitarist Erik Ohlsson attests, and in the length of time it takes for these dozen explosive songs to play out, punk loyalists will reach the same conclusion.
From the celebratory, opening roar of ""Farewell My Hell"" -- one of the finest musical kiss-offs in recent memory -- to the old school hardcore stomp of ""Biftek Supernova,"" Millencolin has indeed outdone itself. If the former boasts a potent Bad Religion-inspired delivery and defiant refrain (""Forgive me/life is cruel/I'm leaving you""), the raw optimistic punch of ""Birdie"" finds the band -- which also counts bassist/vocalist Nikola Sarcevic, guitarist Matthias Farm, and drummer Fredrik Larzon -- unleashing a spirited missive about the value of independence.
Recorded near Millencolin's point of origin in Orebro, Sweden with producer Chips Kiesbye of Hellacopters fame, Kingwood is an album that runs the gamut of punk's emotions and styles. Be it the hypnotic ferocity of ""My Name Is Golden,"" which brings a rare groove to punk rock, or the fiery Strummer/Jones nod ""Cash Or Clash,"" Millencolin gives unique depth to an oft-times repetitious style.
Looking at things differently has helped build Millencolin into a universal success. In their formative years as melodic punk-loving skateboard enthusiasts, the group honed its musicianship and aligned with Sweden's infamous Burning Heart Records. ""We really couldn't play very well back then"" Ohlsson concedes with a laugh. But the foursome had will and vision, perfecting their abilities by the time they linked up with one of their heroes, producer Brett Gurewitz of the aforementioned Bad Religion, for 2000's Pennybridge Pioneers.
Chronicling Millencolin's positive approach to punk and its keen sense of melody, subsequent Warped Tour appearances behind Pennybridge earned the group legions of North American fans, bolstering an already-bulging international profile. 2002's mega-selling, accolade garnering Home From Home -- produced by Lou Giordano (Sugar, Sunny Day Real Estate) and housing hits like ""Kemp"" and ""Man Or Mouse"" -- gave way to another enormously successful touring initiave.
But after sharing stages with the likes of Blink 182, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age at festivals in Australia, Denmark and Germany and while reaping nearly two million in worldwide album sales, frontman Sarcevic (who, with Farm makes up Millencolin's songwriting nucleus) returned home itching to do a solo record. The resulting Lock-Sport-Krock, released in 2004, was a stripped-down disc that many thought had driven a wedge between the band members. Not so. Instead, it made them more dedicated than ever when they came together for Kingwood.
""It was so good for Nikola to get those songs out of his system,"" says Erik. ""Now he realizes that he can make softer, more emotional, singer/songwriter-styled songs on his own. Because of that, he came into this album with tons more energy. The atmosphere and focus in the band while making this record has never been stronger, but at the same time it was way more relaxed.""
""I was definitely not as pushy in the songwriting process as I usually am,"" Sarcevic admits. ""I gave more space to Matthias."" And on the hook-injected anthem ""Ray,"" Nikola acknowledges his own metamorphosis through the proclamation, ""It's in my nature to be changing.""
""I've written a lot of songs about myself over the years and last year,"" Sarcevic continues. ""My solo album was quite personal lyrically. I didn't have that much inspiration to take from my own life this time. I felt like I'd emptied myself, so I wrote more about other people and from other people's perspectives.""
That looseness even carries over to the disc's title. ""It's an inside joke,"" says Ohlsson. ""Nikola bought a Kenwood sound system and he's been calling it 'Kingwood' ever since. In Sweden, the Elk is known as 'King of the Woods,' so that kind of explains the album's artwork as well.""
All jokes aside, the punk rock on Kingwood feels like serious business. Be it the urgent, riff-sturdy guitar interplay of the absolutely great ""Novo,"" a tune written by Matthias in partial homage to the Afghan Whigs, or the breakneck blast of ""Simple Twist of Hate.""
Of the latter, Ohlsson says ""It just may be the fastest song we have ever recorded."" To which he adds, ""This is easily the most 'Millencolin' album we've ever made."" Enough said.
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