Long Island alt-rockers The Republic of Wolves have been around for a while now, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing them if you were outside certain musical communities. Their debut EP, For His Old Branches, was mistaken for demos by fellow Long Island band Brand New, and caused some hype; it is testament to the quality of the material that it could excite the most cult-like fanbase in modern rock music. Their first full-length, Varuna, was a satisfying chunk of atmospheric experimentation and clever lyricism, which saw frontman Mason Maggio establishing himself as an outstanding songwriter. This was followed by either their two greatest efforts or two missteps, depending on who you ask: The Cartographer EP and No Matter How Narrow. These saw the band move towards more straight-forward, optimistic indie and away from the oppressive soundscapes of their early work.
With Shrine, the band has merged these two sounds flawlessly. Songs like The Canyon and Birdless Cage feel like they were meant for No Matter How Narrow but have some of the band’s earlier atmosphere, particular with the chorus on the former. Meanwhile, Mitama and Bask sound like they were written by the same band who wrote His Old Branches, but bigger and more powerful.
Maggio’s lyrical prowess remains unchallenged on Shrine. It lacks some of the mystery that permeated Varuna, but their immediacy and accessibility makes up for it. No longer must one be versed in matters of Islamic philosophy to appreciate the full meaning of certain songs. For those who loved the mewithoutYou vibes of their earliest work, this may be a disappointment, but it is a necessary step for the band to grow and develop.
Shrine is, for the most part, a strong display of controlled musicianship and the celebration of a band who have forged their own sound and built a tight-knit fanbase. However, there are weakness that cannot be ignored. The most notable of these is that the order of songs feels jumpy, less so on the extended edition available to those who backed the album through a crowdfunding campaign, but this prevents one from getting lost in the flow of the music as was so easily done with His Old Branches. Then there are the weaker tracks that don’t stick in the mind, such as Worry If You Want, which could have been replaced on the standard release by those on the extended one.
Despite these faults, Shrine is a worthy follow-up to the rest of The Republic of Wolves’ earlier work and, hopefully, will be the one which gets The Republic of Wolves more widespread recognition