Flogging Molly's new album, "The Speed of Darkness," comes out May 31.

I’m not really sure how Flogging Molly pulled this one off.

The months leading up to the album’s release didn’t help either. The single Flogging Molly released “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down,” was possibly the worst song they have ever recorded, and I have been worried about their new album, “Speed of Darkness,” ever since.

Despite my fears, Flogging Molly has delivered the perfect album for our age, shining light into the modern era darkness of depression, war and poverty. Molly has created an album filled with anthems and their usual grit, but also with  emotional growth and the band’s best showcase of musical prowess yet.

If you are a Molly fan, you will love and devour this album. And if you aren’t, then it provides a good, and stylistically broad, entry point

Many who found Molly’s last album, “Float,” too soft or withdrawn are going to be happy that a loud and fast Molly is back. It may not be the album fans wanted or expected, but it will end up being one that defies expectations and only further raises the musical bar of what the band is capable of.

“Speed of Darkness” is a passionate and emotional ride through the human condition, lambasting greed and attacking, but also celebrating, one of the only things that unites all of us: our mortality and humanity.

Rehearsed and written in Detroit — a far cry from the lush Irish country side where they recorded “Float” — this is Molly’s darkest album so far, yet somehow it also manages to be their most inspirational and hopeful. It takes you through the dim, depressing streets of Detroit and Dublin, and even the darkest parts of the human soul, only to save you a song later. While some bands simply vilify the human condition, Molly manages not just to drag the listener through it, but even to celebrate it — the light with the dark, the sin with the glory.

It’s also by far the band’s most musically accomplished album. Smashing the Irish punk stereotype, Molly performs songs on a musical tour de force unseen in any of their previous works. Far from resting on their laurels, the seven-piece outfit stretches themselves across 12 tracks of pure musical joy, all while still retaining one foot solidly in the Celtic tradition that brought them where they are.

The album starts off with the title track, a blaring and fast rock staple that stands strongly up against Molly’s previous openers. “Revolution” is a guitar-filled call to arms, with  lead singer Dave King calling attention to factory workers who lost their jobs in the depression. I don’t want to ruin all the surprises of the album, but be ready for track after track that will challenge what you thought Celtic music could, and should, be.

Not all of the band’s genre- stretching experiment worked, though. As I said earlier, “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” is a power pop example of territory that Molly should stay far, far away from. The megaphone in particular kills me each and every time, and King seems to be trying very hard to lose his Irish accent through most of the song.

Aside from that track though, which is even starting to grow on me, there isn’t a weak song on the album.

Half way through the album the full musical breath is developed, and it ends up resulting in some of the most stirring songs the band has ever recorded.
The Motown influenced power ballad “The Power’s Out”  features the band at full strength, mixing stadium rock guitar with a powerful Celtic hook that climatically builds into one of the best tracks on the album.

The best track, however, goes to the Freddy Mercury-esque, piano driven “The Cradle of Human Kind,” which shows King at possibly the best we have ever seen him. Featuring some of the most personal and introspective lyrics of the album, combined with  the passionate emotional depth that fans have come to expect from a Molly album, “Cradle” is a masterpiece from start to finish.

Other highlights include the Nashville-tinged “Saints and Sinners,” which gives bassist Nathen Maxwell and banjo player Bob Schmidt time to shine.
The softer “Say a Prayer for Me in Silence” has King and fiddle player (and now wife) Bridget Regan dueting on a beautiful love song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Dubliners record.

The overall sound and pace of “Speed of Darkness” calls to mind a combination of the anger, speed and loudness of “Drunken Lullabies” with the honest and more acoustic-folk tradition grounded “Float.” It just may be the band’s loudest and ferocious album, and yet it manages to balance this with some of their most intimate and pasture folk works, including several almost completely acoustically recorded tracks. The band may have finally found the perfect balance between their two sides, as well as in their sound; This is by large and far the best they have ever sounded recorded.

Though the trips down folk, unamped lane serve as great breaks between the heavier songs, they do seem a little short and under developed as compared to the majesty and time that is given to the other tracks. That isn’t to say that these tracks are anything short of beautiful. They just seem a little too short in the overall picture of the album.

It’s not much of a complaint however, and it’s the only minor nitpick to be made about the album.

King shines the most when self reflecting, and it is interesting to see him take more of a storyteller role in this album, yet still making it so bitingly personal. The repeated Detroit references come off as slightly campy — as do the constant debridement of CEOs, — but Molly has always had a blue collar and do-it-yourself spirit about them, making the politics of the album work.

Molly really dug deep for this album, and that’s not to say that their previous works weren’t intimate. At times some of the songs do really seem a stretch from the one beat song style of their earlier albums, but while “Speed of Darkness” is different it is in no way less good — in fact, it’s strength lies in it’s ability to call to mind Molly’s previous works and yet still stand apart as something unique, different and powerful.

Through and through, this is still very much a Flogging Molly album. It manages to keep the cutthroat honesty and personally strong emotional depth that is found in all of Molly’s music, while pushing Celtic rock past boundaries and to places the band, and the genera, has never gone before.

If you’re a fan and were worried, fear not. This album is everything you want and expect from a Molly album, plus some, and I have the highest standards. It even manages to surpass Molly’s high musical bar and give long-time fans surprises that they weren’t expecting, while allowing the band to grow musically and lyrically in directions we have never seen before.

But most of all, this release manages to show that despite all the darkness surrounding us, music still can give us the light and hope to carry on.
“Speed of Darkness” hits stores on May 31 via Flogging Molly’s self-formed Borstal Beat Records and is available for preorder at www.floggingmolly.com.

Rating: 4/5
Clark is a member of
the class of 2012.

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