Truth Cult hail from the famous Baltimore-D.C. hardcore scene, but on their second album, Walk the Wheel, they branch out into swaggering, eccentric rock ‘n’ roll. Lead vocalist Paris Roberts is geared more towards showmanship than beatdowns; guitarist Ian Marshall’s riffs are feverish and frenzied rather than crushing; there are piano and saxophone forays, not mosh parts.
Take the breakneck opening track “Squeeze”: the guitars are chaotic and discordant, the vocals rabid and breathless as Roberts howls about paranoia and panic. It’s pure, primal punk, a show of visceral abandon. Yet the band can also slow things down and take some moments of deliberate cool. “Resurrection” pairs an impassioned Roberts performance in the verse with harmonic ooh’s, hooky guitars, and a disaffected melodic vocal by bassist/co-vocalist Emily Ferrara in the chorus. “Kokaine Kommando,” with its super-slick bass, hi-hat, and hand-clap intro, provides the record’s cockiest moment and one of its best.
Roberts shines as a frontman, his presence commanding and vital. He has fun, introducing guitar solos with Yeah-uh!‘s and Come on!‘s, without being hammy. His emotions, all tangled rage and fear and rapture, are palpable and intense with every line he cries. On the heart-rending “Naked In The End,” in a rare melodic part for him as he duets with Ferrara, he’s almost wailing.
The lyrics, co-written by Roberts, Ferrara, and Marshall, are poetic and thematically complex but never pretentious or wordy. “Clearskin” is a reflection on the ultimate unknown of death that’s at once comforting and ominous. “You either believe in God or ghosts but nothing in between,” Roberts snarls. “Naked In The End” is a dreamlike chronicle of despairing grief. There are a lot of allusions to nature across the album, such as a snowstorm on “Resurrection,” stars and the southern lights on “Clearskin,” a river and a hill representing change on “What Is Time?” These metaphors lend emotional depth to Truth Cult’s jagged, unpredictable sound, balancing its brute force with tragic beauty.