Signed And Sealed In Blood
(Born and Bred)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Signed and Sealed In Blood, the eighth album from Boston’s resident Irish-punk collective Dropkick Murphys, opens with the line, “The boys are back and they’re looking for trouble.” Perhaps a more fitting line has never been sung to start a Dropkick Murphys record. That “The Boys Are Back” informs the listener the flute-carrying outfit enjoys getting into a scuffle isn’t what makes the line pop, though. Such a raucous notion has been evident throughout their catalog and is even more obvious in a live setting.
It’s as if Ken Casey, Al Barr and the rest of the crew want to ensure the listener that while this new album takes a few twists and turns, the signature elements which have given the group its identity will still be there to enjoy. And to a point, the band spreads their wings a tad, but, they’re still the gang-singing shamrock-pounding punks with pint glasses in their hands. Thanks to elevated writing and keenly placed changes in tempo, there’s little need to fuss with their pleasing formula.
The Casey-sung “Rose Tattoo,” with its plucky mandolin, is DKM’s version of a rootsy folk number. Instead of gnarly guitars and breakneck pacing, the aggression for the song comes from Barr’s cigarette-stained vocals. While still showing their folksy side, “Jimmy Collins’ Wake,” and the dysfunctional, Christmas-themed “The Season’s Upon Us” displays a satisfying sonic restraint. The need to kick things into overdrive is put aside by a desire to expertly present stories that are carried by natural, sing-along melodies. The musical clarity these tunes possess provide ample room for Casey’s heightened ability to pen a tune that simultaneously beg for beer-hoisting shouts and intent, careful listening.
Of course, this isn’t an album full of campfire ditties, and at certain points, there’s a slight feel of predictability. “Burn” and “The Battle Rages On,” with their blend of vicious screams, bagpipe, flute, and banjo and hardcore-punk rhythm might be considered a tired mélange if it wasn’t done so well. The band channels their inner Boss with “Don’t Tear Us Apart,” employing a Born-to-Run-meets-Beantown vibe of triumph while “Out on the Town” is a slick-haired, finger snapping number that would likely serve as the result of the band jamming with Mike Ness circa 1983.
In an oft-attempted, but rarely achieved feat, Signed and Sealed In Blood is a record that should thrill the diehards even as the band evolves and escapes enslavement to the sound of their past success.