Sound — 8
Though Sweden in the '90s was mostly busy with the pioneering of the Gothenburg metal scene, that still didn't stop the country from producing some remarkable punk music; and while Refused would break up after their highly-lauded third album, "The Shape of Punk to Come," Millencolin would be the longer-running poster-band of Swedish punk. After signing with the domestic punk label Burning Heart Records to release their debut album, "Tiny Tunes," Millencolin would catch the attention of Brett Gurewitz, who wanted to release the band's future albums in the U.S. under his own Epitaph Records label; this strong outlet into the U.S. would essentially make Millencolin Sweden's punk rock ambassadors.
After hitting an apex in popularity with 2005's "Kingwood," Millencolin ran into a snag of ambivalence with their seventh studio album, "Machine 15." Traveling furthest into pop punk and alt-rock territory, it easily became the band's most polarizing album, dividing listeners between accepting and reviling the change in sound. Though Millencolin would still tour here and there in the years after, their music-making endeavors would split up into different facets: frontman Nikola Šarčević would focus more on his solo career, and guitarist Mathias Färm would record a follow-up album with his pop punk side project, Franky Lee. But after seven years since the shakeup of "Machine 15," Millencolin decided to get back in the studio to make their eighth album, "True Brew."
As the album title hints in a not-so-subtle way, "True Brew" brings a return to Millencolin's straightforward punk sound. Their melodic hardcore side is restored in "Sense & Sensibility" and "Wall of Doubt," and they dust off their skate punk side with quick and fleeting cuts like "Autopilot Mode" and "Silent Suicide." This initiative of returning to no-bullsh-t punk does have its drawbacks, mainly in the form of derivation. The rolling snare verses of "Man of 1000 Tics" is recycled from the older Millencolin song "Farewell My Hell," and the opening "Egocentric Man" strongly bears resemblance to Bad Religion, both in Šarčević's vocal style and the "Watch It Die"-esque melody in the guitar riff.
While one would think Millencolin would have completely avoided making anything close to pop punk after the jarring result of "Machine 15," they still opt to put some pop punk spirit into "True Brew," to better avail this time around. Whether it's the pop punk songs of "Chameleon" and "True Brew," or the heavy-singalongs in "Perfection Is Boring," "Something I Would Die For" and "Believe in John," the band still urge to wield vocal catchiness without falling into the valley of cheesiness that the previous album did. The band achieve this by duly investing a lot into the instrumental value, with stacks of guitar layers in each song (most notably in "Mr. Fake Believe") and plenty of bass variation from Šarčević as well, which help give songs more substance and have more appeal than just being grandiose anthems.
Lyrics — 7
As always, a fair amount of Šarčević's lyrics act as a status update for his life and the band, establishing a state of their union - and with seven years since the last Millencolin album, there's much to catch up on. Whereas "Machine 15" had Šarčević sharing a large amount of relationship struggles, the proverbial dust has settled in "Bring Me Home," where Šarčević comments on losing what he used to have but finding clarity beyond such ("I've got no girl, no big house, still I'm living large / Got the peace in my mind, it was hard to find"). "True Brew" calls back to the theme of the "Home From Home" song "Greener Grass," where Šarčević admits his continued struggle with attaining personal happiness, speaking of his ambivalence towards getting a college degree at a considerably old age, but of course, his revelation is that his happiness lies in making music with Millencolin. It's a message Šarčević has expressed numerous times before, but as they say, clichés are what they are because they're true.
However, the lyrics of "True Brew" bring some freshness by putting a much bigger spotlight on issues of social awareness - more so than Millencolin's previous albums. "Egocentric Man" attacks the selfish and narrow-minded (though in a fairly elementary sense), and the more articulate "Autopilot Mode" works in tandem by shining a light on the mentality of closing off one's awareness for the sake of sanity, both highlighting why such a tactic is acceptable and unacceptable. "Sense & Sensibility" also attacks the narrow-minded, more specifically on the issue of racism, though it overlaps the same message heard in the "Kingwood" song "Cash or Clash." And though Šarčević has given numerous shout-outs to influential punk rockers in earlier lyrics, "Believe in John" is his ode to John Lennon, as well as being a wake-up call to quit embracing hollow consumerist culture and embrace one another - just like John would want it.
Overall Impression — 8
Whereas "Machine 15" was designed to be the biggest deviation from Millencolin's style of punk, "True Brew" has Millencolin stepping back into their classic punk style. But while face value would assume that the album's existence is meant for a complete backpedal to what the band tried to do on "Machine 15," Millencolin actually stem off from that album and learn from its mistakes, rather than completely shunning it and attempting to pave over it. This actually helps out the canon of the band's discography better, and it also helps "True Brew" act as something more than just a regressive back-to-basics album; it wields a familiar Millencolin sound, but it still grows forward.