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In the early weeks of 2020, the members of Big Wreck were returning home after a heavy few months of touring, ready to settle into a cyclical period of workshopping and woodshedding new material. Of course, an emerging global pandemic unwelcomely extended a few months of creative respite into nearly a year-and-a-half of inactivity and uncertainty. But borrowing whatever adage you’d like about lemonade or open windows, frontman Ian Thornley and his bandmates decided to take full advantage of the downtime.
“It was a crazy and uncertain time, but I kind of fell right into my rhythm,” Thornley recalls. “I’d come into my basement writing room and just lock it all away and start following leads – riffs from soundchecks or old phone recordings. There are sounds we’ve never gone for before that I’ve secretly always wanted to try, so the attitude was kind of, ‘If not now, when?’”
Following that lengthy span of experimentation and gestation, the band hit the studio with revered producer Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Arkells) returning behind the board. The result is a wealth of riches for the Big Wreck faithful and new fans alike; 15 tracks divided into three EPs that capture the essence of every entry in their celebrated back catalogue while pushing into some unexplored sonic territory – and that’s saying a lot considering the resumes of this particular group of players.
Joining Thornley and longtime bassist Dave McMillan for the sessions is guitarist Chris Caddell, who entered the fold in 2019 following the passing of founding guitarist Brian Doherty. Another fixture in the line-up is drummer Sekou Lumumba, who performed with Thornley’s eponymous solo project in the early aughts and a diverse group of other big names since.
“Everybody’s got their own fingerprints on this, and it felt as natural as anything,” Thornley enthuses about the recordings. Reports and reviews of recent shows have called this the best iteration of Big Wreck they’ve heard, and Thornley admits he’d have a hard time disagreeing; the five tracks comprising Big Wreck: 7.1, the first installment of the triad, make a compelling case for it, too.
Despite its relatively short runtime, the collection encapsulates the raw, anthemic rock of their inaugural LPs – 1997’s In Loving Memory of... and 2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed – and edgy eclecticism of their more recent JUNO-nominated offerings since reforming in 2012, including 2019’s dynamic ...But for the Sun.
“Bombs Away” is arguably the heaviest we’ve heard Big Wreck to date, with a thundering palm-muted riff exploding out of an ominous acoustic guitar intro to anchor the musical intensity and lyrical urgency. The beautifully orchestrated “Fields” is upbeat and uplifting, sure to have longtime fans feeling right at home, while the absolutely smoking “High on the Hog” gives everyone a chance to flex their chops and serves as an earnest reminder of Thornley’s impressive range and impactful prowess as a vocalist. “It was a lot of fun playing with this rhythm section,” Thornley notes. “Things ended up going in a direction they weren’t going to go when we first came into the studio, but as a musician, I love being thrown curveballs.”
The moratorium on live concerts through the pandemic may be the biggest curveball of his career, considering Big Wreck’s penchant and reputation for impactful performances. They’re hungry to get back to bombarding audiences with their signature brand of rock, and fortunately, their latest work was seemingly built for the big festival stages and headlining runs.
Indeed, from both the stereo and stage, Big Wreck are sure to leave fans satiated and, considering the breadth of fresh and familiar sounds in their latest tour de force, anticipating where they might musically venture next.