The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me: Brand New’s gem holds up a decade later
It’s weird. For an album as obnoxiously loud as “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” it’s remarkably soothing. It’s the only album that can actually end bouts of insomnia through shrieks and screams. It’s the only thing that can fix — at least temporarily — the problems that actually matter. It’s the only piece of art that can make me feel like I’m the most insignificant person on the planet while simultaneously giving me a sense of peace.
It’s weird, but it’s entirely fitting, because Brand New has always been a band that doesn’t make any sort of sense. They began as pop punkers screaming “I hope you choke and die!” which later became “Die young and save yourself!” but ended up creating their own genre that melds emo, alternative, and post-hardcore — with bits of Morrissey, Modest Mouse, and Archers of Loaf sprinkled in. I’m sorry if that’s vague, but there’s really no way to typecast Brand New. They were on the cusp of mainstream success in the early 2000s, but decided to shun media outlets to live as a recluse. They’re the most popular band on the planet — and inspired a fan base more akin to a cult — that nobody on the planet has ever heard of.
Without “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me” — their third full-length album — that accomplishment would’ve been impossible.
On Monday, “The Devil and God” turned 10 years old. It’s strange, depressing, and overwhelming all at the same time to think about that. It’s strange that I even care, because when I first listened to the album a decade ago — I was in middle school — I despised it. I wanted “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” Part II. I wanted an anthem song even better than “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t.” I wanted to keep on chanting “I’m gonna stay 18 forever” as if I sang it loud enough it would actually come true. I wanted something I’d love immediately, instead of something that would require work, patience, and persistence. It’s depressing, because I still haven’t been able to find music that measures up to it. It’s overwhelming, because it’s actually been 10 years and, well, I feel old.
But here we are — a decade after the arrival. And it’s even better than it was when it was released. The true test of an album’s worth isn’t how it’s received on first listen. It’s how it’s remembered years down the line.
“The Devil and God” holds up.
When the first song, “Sowing Season,” begins, it’s the sound of a clean guitar and a broken-down voice almost whispering, “Was losing all my friends/ Was losing them to drinking and to driving/ Was losing all my friends/ But I got them back” that serves as the hook. When the song reaches the chorus, the “Yeah!” and howling guitars keep you around, intrigued, and in the dark as to where the rest of the song and album are going. When the song hits its climax, as Jesse Lacey shouts, “I am not your friend/ I am just a man who knows how it feels/ I am not your friend/ I am not your lover/ I am not your family/ Yeah!” over a quiet guitar, that’s when you realize you’re in store for something special. The album never loses itself.
“Millstone” might be the most personal song on the album with lines like, “I was the glue that kept my friends together/ Now they don’t talk and we don’t go out.” And when Lacey roars through sections of “Whooooooaaaaaa!” you wonder why there isn’t another round on tap until Brian Lane’s drums take over.
“Jesus” features the best lede on the album, both in terms of guitars — you know the riff I’m talking about — and lyrics: “Jesus Christ that’s a pretty face/ The kind you’d find on someone that could save/ If they don’t put me away/ Well, it’ll be a miracle.”
“Degausser” is the quintessential Brand New song, with Vincent Accardi’s charged guitar, Garrett Tierney’s sneakily catchy base line, and Lacey’s final stanza of a failed proposal and an incoming storm spoken over power chords.
The storm reveals itself soon enough. “Limousine” tells the true story of a 7-year-old girl who was decapitated on the way home from a wedding by a drunk driver. “You Won’t Know” feeds off that story with a burn-down-the-forest kind of rage. “Welcome to Bangkok” features no vocals besides “Space cadet, pull out” and Lacey’s screams, which are buried underneath the weight of their instruments.
“Not the Sun” gets intimate with lines like, “And if you breed/ Please don’t tell me.” “Luca” contains a Godfather reference and a mid-bridge surprise so surprising that my mom nearly swerved into a ditch the first time she heard it. “Untitled” gives you a brief break from the chaos, while “Archers” confronts the hypocrisy of religion. The album’s closer, “Handcuffs,” unsettles listeners with a few simple words: “I’d drown all these crying babies.” It’s certainly not an easy listen.
I lied earlier. The greatest test of an album isn’t how it holds up a decade later. You know an album is perfect when you’ve been listening to it for 10 years straight and you still can’t name your favorite and least favorite songs.
I’ll be honest: For the longest time, I couldn’t really figure out the purpose of this essay. I’ve known for a while that the anniversary was coming up and I’ve known for a while that I wanted to write something about it. I saw them perform “The Devil and God” in its entirety on Halloween and I hoped that a spark would come in that moment. It didn’t, to no fault of the Where’s Waldo?-costumed band.
I guess I’m just writing it because a 10-year anniversary only happens once and this album means more to me than almost anything. I’m also writing it because, for the millionth time, “The Devil and God” was there for me when I needed it.
Almost two weeks ago, I felt a new kind of depression and anger. This sort of feeling trumped how I felt when I found out after school one day that my parents had given away Junior, my Boston Terrier. It trumped any sort of high school sadness I felt when a girlfriend broke up with me. It trumped how I feel when my favorite teams lose a heartbreaker. It trumped the feeling of driving away from my childhood home for the final time. It trumped almost everything.
That night, I realized just how awful and unfair the world can be. I’m still not over it. It’ll take a while until I am.
So, I grabbed my headphones, plugged into my iPod, turned up the volume, clicked play, and found the hope I was looking for: “Sowing Season.”
Is it in you now,
To bear to hear the truth that you have spoken
Twisted up by knaves to make a trap for fools?
Is it in you now,
To watch the things you gave your life to broken
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools?
A decade after Brand New released “The Devil and God,” they saved me again. By now, I shouldn’t be surprised. These songs weren’t written about anything remotely related to me, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of this album is how it can serve as a cure to just about any emotion.
That’s why this album is relevant 10 years later. As I’ve aged and changed, it’s always been there for me. It’s one of the few constants in my life, always adapting and becoming whatever I need it to become. In high school, I used “Sowing Season” to move past failed relationships. In college, “Sowing Season” spoke to me about my changed friendships back home. Two weeks ago, “Sowing Season” gave me hope of fighting for a better future.
So, I guess I’m writing this because it’s the only way I know how to say thank you. “The Devil and God” didn’t just save Brand New, which Lacey revealed several years back, it’s saved everyone who’s been listening to it for the past decade. That’s why it matters.
On Brand New’s most recent release — a single called “I Am A Nightmare” — Lacey claims, “I’m not a prophecy come true/ I’ve just been goddamn mean to you.”
I’ve got a $20 bill that says he’s wrong.