Political activism in music can go both ways. It can win an act new followers in unlikely circles. But it can also potentially be a deterrent for the existing fanbase.
It’s a particularly risky business if the first-ever track you share with wider audiences is a fierce statement on an issue currently polarising the world.
That’s precisely why Reign Maker’s debut release has got my attention.
Artists are often told to “stay in their corner” when it comes to criticising political (in)action and global social issues, such as poverty, human rights violations, or lack of equality. But musos know very well they have a massive platform they can use to advocate for what they believe in. And mobilise their followers to follow in their footsteps.
Rage Against The Machine, Pussy Riot or N.W.A globally, and Midnight Oil or A.B. Original on the Australian turf are just a few bands that have often expressed their views about politics on- and off-stage.
But it’s a completely different story if you’re an emerging act. A debut record is always marked by a certain degree of uncertainty, even if your reception pre-release was positive and encouraging. So many acts prefer to stay on the safe side and unleash “heavier” topics and compositions on the world at later stages when they’ve already gained a loyal fanbase.
That didn’t stop a Melbourne-based prog-rock group, Reign Maker, from releasing their feisty single “Blood Reign” as their debut, though. And the timing couldn’t be any more perfect because the song expresses the collective tiredness/exasperation towards war felt in ripples across the globe.
Rhianna Wilson and Luke Baird formed Reign Maker in 2020. It is a collaborative project of passionate activists who weave politically-charged, social commentary throughout their songs. They aim to raise awareness and give voice to a wide range of current issues faced in the world today.
The duo have been described as “Tool meets the Cranberries” with their unique, haunting and emotionally-charged sound. It is mostly due to the thought-provoking lyricism often delivered in a highly emotive way which prompts audiences to look deeper into their own perception of the issues addressed. The soaring vocals are complemented by dynamic melodies and dark, memorable guitar riffs.
“Blood Reign” is a perfect taster of Reign Maker’s music activism. The single dropped on 16 May. And it captures raw, unfiltered outrage at the injustice and inequity of war.
According to statistics, there are currently 61 armed conflicts happening in the world as we speak. Five of them are major ones, with 10,000 or more combat-related deaths in the current or past year. Amongst them is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
I’m not sure if it’s only my perception (and it’s terrible what I’m about to say), but it kinda feels like the war in Ukraine has been “normalised” to a certain extent. Remember the news reports in the first days/weeks of the aggression? Now it doesn’t even make headlines.
We no longer hear so much about the Myanmar (Burma) conflict, either. Even though nearly 9,000 people have already died because of it solely in 2022.
Reign Maker pour fuel on this fire with their first single. “I’m so tired of your wars” is the first line of the lyrics. And, as if the driving guitars and powerful vocals weren’t enough, “Blood Reign” is accompanied by a striking lyric video with imagery that captures the essence and meaning of the song.
It’s not a dinner-conversation kind of topic, but we need to talk about the war. And musos need to highlight this topic once in a while, the same way they advocate for environmental issues, animal rights and gender equality. Because armed conflicts have no place in the world we’re so desperately trying to create. “We have bigger fucking problems”, sings Rhianna.
The song touches on a few war-related aspects. It shines a light on the unnecessarily killed families, harmed children, and all the lives people have built for themselves that are now in ruin, literally and metaphorically speaking.
On the other hand, the chorus channels an outrage that calls out the hypocrisy and cowardice of leaders who send their people off to die but would never have the courage to fight on the front lines themselves.
While I think the verses are much stronger in this track than the chorus, it’s interesting how Rhianna modulates her vocals throughout the whole song depending on the message she transmits. When she expresses rage, her voice nearly turns into a scream. But when she sings, “All the little children running for their lives”, her vocals are much softer.
In a way, the way the track is arranged also demonstrates hopelessness and helplessness. It starts dynamically, and intensifies throughout to finish off with a sort of resignation, “I can’t fight you with anything but my voice”.
“Blood Reign” is Reign Maker’s first single from the upcoming debut EP. And I reckon it truly takes balls to enter the music business with such a bold political statement. So I’ll keep an eye out for the next release, which is scheduled for mid-July.
It’s going to be hard to match this powerful introduction.
Cover image: “Blood Reign”‘s cover art. All images supplied by the artist.
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