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Project 86
Picket Fence Cartel
Tooth & Nail Records
11 songs / 39:55

Picket Fence Cartel is undeniably heavier than its predecessor, the more rock-oriented Rival Factions, which will make many Project 86 fans happy. If Cartel can be compared to any of the group's prior work, it is closest to (but hardly a repeat of or return to) the maligned major-label release Truthless Heroes;  catchy, goth-tinged, theatrical riff rock not unlike Marilyn Manson.  Comparisons aside, this, the seventh full length by Project 86 is distinct from its six brothers and marked by its own unique sound. Lead-off track "Destroyer" burns slowly towards the apocalypse, rather than charging headlong into the fray;  "The Butcher" follows, an aggressive cut sure to get the blood flowing.  Vocalist Schwab then takes a turn as ringmaster, directing "the Spectacle of Fearsome Acts," becoming a mustache-twirling, top hat wearing fiend reminding the listener that he only gets one chance... "SO MAKE IT RIGHT."  "Cold & Calculated" and "Two Glass Eyes" are easily two of the fastest songs in terms of beats-per-minute in the Project catalogue.  Songs like "A John Hancock With The Safety Off," "Dark Angel Dragnet" and "The Black Brigade" all have their merits, but each lack that extra "something" which sets great songs apart from merely ordinary ones.   "Cement Shoes"... is eminently skippable. A definite highlight is the hypnotic, venomous "Cyclonus." Schwab screeches out "DEVASTATORRRRR" with a sinister grin, frightening distorted vocals hiss in the backdrop, and the band plows ahead as if on a bulldozer driven by the damned.  

Fittingly, lyricist Andrew Schwab paints pictures of fire, blades, armageddon, violence and death over the sonic canvas his band gives him  And yet, never has the band's Christian faith been more clearly on display (which is not to say that Project 86 is engaging in Mortification-style bluntness - Schwab is too talented a wordsmith for that).  The metaphors are no longer obtuse; the messages are reasonably self-evident, soaked with figurative ichor as they are. Christian spirituality pervades the material. Concepts like putting the old man to death, being "already dead in Christ,"  the emptiness of selfish desires and material wealth (you can't take it with you!), even of heaven rejoicing for a new soul turned to the savior. However, the lack of mystery may be a contributing factor to the album's biggest disappointment: lyrics which are merely "good," when so often Schwab has proven capable of "brilliant." 

Picket Fence Cartel contains no tracks which immediately demand attention;  but with repeated listens the album's quality and depth reveals itself.  Personally, I could ask for a louder guitar tone, or greater dynamics in both the song-writing and the overall mix.  But these are minor issues of a well-produced album which, while by no means "perfect," is a solid hard rock record with moments of brilliance to be found throughout.  It is also the sound of a band unwilling to rehash prior art, and comfortable with themselves as individuals, as a musical entity, and as Christians. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the chills that ran down my wretched spine during the epic closing track, "To Sand We Return."  Now that is how you end an album.  

Ryan Ro
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