REVIEW: In The Whale - Full Nelson

Raquel Dalarossa

At first glance, In The Whale look like just a couple of guys—one from a tiny town in Colorado, the other from a slightly less tiny town in Texas. But the two-man band have quite literally come a long way from their provincial roots, touring relentlessly with the likes of Jane’s Addiction, Presidents of the United States, Local H, and Slash, and slowly establishing one hell of a passionate fanbase. They’re a hardworking band, no doubt, but on top of that, they’re an electric, red-blooded band making punch-you-in-the-face, high-octane rock, so it’s no wonder so many are paying close attention.

Though they've officially been at it since 2011, their latest release, Full Nelson, is one of only four EPs averaging around four tracks each. Their recorded output, they've said, is largely dictated by the reaction their songs get at live shows, and listening to Full Nelson makes it clear that this process has allowed them to be rather exacting. These tracks make hardcore punk sound effortless—they are tightly written and performed with blistering, searing energy. 

The two religiously-raised boys combine traditional hardcore elements a la Black Flag or Dead Kennedys with the rough-and-tumble swagger of Johnny Cash, while biblically-aware lyrics paint a picture of the quintessential rock 'n' roll sinner. In Full Nelson's opening line, singer Nate Valdez spits out, "Devil's in your radio / He's in my voice and he's control." The degenerate character takes on slightly different forms as the EP plays—in the second track, "Whiskey, Gin & Beer," he's an unapologetic, raging alcoholic, while in “Johnny Two-a-Day” he’s a “small-town kid” who “drinks too much” and “beats his girl.”

Nearly all of the songs are fierce and blazing with little aspects of classic rock and roll incorporated into their fabric, but none flaunt this formula more than mid-EP scorcher “Cavity.” It encroaches on thrash-metal territory with drummer Eric Riley’s breakneck speed, but reminds us of an earthy blues with its “Bad to the Bone”-esque sputter and lyrics like “I long for that sugar kiss.” And in “Cavity”’s ultimate foil and EP outlier, “Mail,” these down-home touches very suddenly take center stage. An acoustic guitar and piano seem to appear out of nowhere, and Nate gently sings “Went out and drank up all my money / Spent it all on the devil’s honey / Lord please change my ways.”

And with that, In The Whale make it very obvious that they won’t necessarily be tied to any one genre. Though they lean decidedly towards hardcore rock, their backgrounds seem to inform and, indeed, fortify their music.