Published Oct 30, 20152011 was a year of change for Wade MacNeil. Alexisonfire announced their much-grieved (and short-lived) break-up, and MacNeil became the frontman for UK hardcore outfit Gallows. It was also the year his side project, Black Lungs, recorded their second full-length after the band's complete makeover following 2008's Send Flowers.
Amidst everything since — Gallows' multiple releases, Alexisonfire's farewell and reunion tours, MacNeil's radio gig in Toronto — that record looked to have been forgotten. Yet more than four years later, here's Pagan Holiday — "the record that almost never came out," as the bandleader called it. It's years removed and worlds apart from the band's debut; in contrast with the low-gain, piano-backed, raspy crooning on Send Flowers, the recast Black Lungs drive fast and hard with a brash set of youthful, snotty, no-bullshit songs designed for basements and dive bars.
In the style of late-'70s British punk and mid-'80s hardcore, he and bandmates Phil Waring, George Clark and Pat Mathers rip through 12 original songs in 23 minutes, a high-octane mix of circle-pit starters ("Panic Attack"), raucous chant-alongs ("Dishonest Man") and fist-pumping floor-stompers ("Gimme Violence") plus a rocking cover of Gun Club's 1981 favourite "For the Love of Ivy."
Alas, for all its energy, Pagan Holiday doesn't leave the most lasting impression. While the high points strike from the heart of old school hardcore ("Stay Out of Parkdale"), the low points can almost seem like parody ("Bored?") — these are the consequences of basing a band on your 14-year-old self, as MacNeil did.
But this iteration of Black Lungs is a fitting correlation to mid-career MacNeil: a reborn punk-to-the-bone whose fervour and youth-forever ethos have kept him constantly evolving. Sceptics wondered years ago whether he had the guts to carry Gallows. Had they heard Pagan Holiday, they wouldn't have worried. (Dine Alone)