Album Review: Archers of Loaf – Reason in Decline

[Merge; 2022]

In their heyday, the rugged blue-collar rockers Archers of Loaf were masters of noise. Making a splash in the early 90s, the Loaf were the quintessential indie rock band – loud, messy, and full of energy. They never reached much success, but all of their albums prior to their break up in 1998 have some merit and their 1993 debut Icky Mettle still resonates to this day.

As with many 90s acts though, the sun set on the Loaf as the millennium approached conclusion. Band leader Eric Bachmann set sail on a new folkier project called Crooked Fingers and released several albums under that moniker throughout the 2000s. Then one wild evening in January 2011, the band quietly reformed and opened for fellow North Carolinians and Merge label mates The Love Language. They then went on to tour through 2011 and 2012 alongside a reissue campaign that saw deluxe editions of their four albums return to stores.

From there the rumors circulated about new music, naturally. Every band that reunites after some time is expected to release something. It took some time, but the Loaf eventually did just that in 2020 with their return single “Raleigh Days”, a standard rocker that felt more indebted to that Crooked Fingers project than the Loaf, but it was still something.

Over a decade after their reunion, and nearly 25 years since their last album White Trash Heroes, the Archers of Loaf return properly with their fifth album Reason in Decline. When we last heard them on Heroes there was an evident disconnect, likely due to exhaustion during the recording process and a tough touring schedule. Heroes wasn’t the beloved swan song the cult band deserved, and as such it unjustly remains the band’s least celebrated work.

Decline arrives like most reunion albums do, with a reintroduction of what everyone loved about the band to begin with. After 20 years, RIDE didn’t go experimental on Weather Diaries, they gave the fans precisely what they wanted, for better or worse. Archers do the same thing, with a handful of tracks that sound like they could have been plucked from any point in their 90s pomp.

Through and through, Reason in Decline is an album made for those original Archers of Loaf fans. “In the Surface Noise” is the nostalgic anthem that feels warm and comfy, like that old coat you found stashed away that still smells like home. It doesn’t push any boundaries and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Bachmann’s still quietly forming a revolution; “Evening girls and boys / free to run, free to choose / insurrection,” he sings, and the rest of the band supports his croon so well it’s like the band never left.

Bachmann recently stated that the album is neither fast nor slow, a summation backed by the opener “Human”, which never peaks but doesn’t dull either. It has all of the necessary bits that make a Loaf song rock, but still keeps things rather monotone when compared to some of the band’s more resounding classics like “Wrong” or “Harnessed in Slums”.

This approach isn’t unexpected though, after a quarter of a century away Archers of Loaf return to what makes sense at this stage of life. Vocal shredding isn’t something Bachmann wants to do, especially after so many years keeping things basic on solo albums like his underrated self-titled record from 2016. That’s not to say the band doesn’t wail anymore either, “Screaming Undercover” will no doubt be a future fan favorite as it displays that intensity that made the Loaf so enduring.

There’s a few breaks in the mold too, like “Aimee”, a soft-spoken number that draws more from country music than punk. It’s this mellowness that might surprise traditional fans, but it’s all part of the maturity of the band and to dismiss it misses the point of the band’s return.

Archers of Loaf were moved by Bachmann’s brutal honesty in his words and that hasn’t disappeared from the music. Much like how the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli returned to the fold without missing a step on their reunion album Do the Beast in 2014, Bachmann’s still capable of sliding into those hallmark moments the Loaf had in the 90s. Riveting punk songs like “Misinformation Age” have their place in the Loaf canon, they just now get paired with more modest rockers like “Mama Was a War Profiteer”, and Reason in Decline is all the better because of it.

While the ones clamoring for a new Archers of Loaf album weren’t the loudest majority, Reason in Decline lives up to its promise. It’s a new Loaf album, with varied rock gems that will fit snugly into live setlists and even get those old fans to sing along. It’s one of those rare reunion albums that satisfies a need, even if it doesn’t land as hard as some may have hoped.