It has been a considerable amount of time since the Chicago industrial/rock collective had released a full-length album, but it’s not as if Project .44 had been languishing in complacency; with each of the band’s members involved in various other endeavors, along with such unfortunate events as the loss of guitarist/vocalist Jason McNinch, the band’s long absence can certainly be forgiven. And besides, with the 2020 reissues of previous efforts and the singles whose culmination led to (The Storm Before) Reform, all proving that the group was continually stoking the fires of social and political upheaval, Project .44 seemed determined to ensure that the wait would be worth it.
From the sardonically self-celebratory underground punk stylings of songs like “Forty-Four” and “Chicago,” to discordant and politically charged anthems like “reGROUP.reFOCUS.reVOLT.,” “REVOLuTIoN(G),” and “capiTOLL,” Project .44 picks up right where past efforts like The System Doesn’t Work and Look Me in the Eye left off. Every track emits palpable waves of acerbic and venomous energy – the thrashing riffage of McNinch and Louis Svitek evoking the best moments of ‘90s era MINISTRY, the percussive fury of MTL and Ken Pillar’s drumming matching the intensity and force of Pigface, the unmistakably signature bass grooves of Charles Levi, and the seething and searing interplay of McNinch and Chri5 Harri5 equal to what one might expect if Al Jourgensen and Chemlab’s Jared Louche were in an onstage battle of rivethead vocalists. “Murder Weapon” stands out for the presence of En Esch’s layered baritone growl atop sparse beats and Levi’s funky bass fills, the machine gun guitar solos adding a distinct heavy metal flavor too sweet to ignore, while the Die Warzau mix on the CD edition makes for a slightly more rambunctious and toothily electrified version. The use of samples from The Untouchables on “Chicago” is rather cute, the shouts of “It’s how we act, it’s how we play” and “It’s in your face the Chicago way” making it an instant genre classic, while “reGROUP.reFOCUS.reVOLT.” is notable for its pure industrialized punk/metal power, the flange effects on the acoustic guitars creating an almost sitar-like vibe that makes for an atmospheric drone in the Skatenigs remix. The rather faithful and distinguishably upbeat cover of DEVO’s “Gates of Steel” is an interesting addition that in a way prefaces the primarily synth-driven ‘80s balladry of “MAXanCHoly,” on which Erica “Lady E” Dilanjian’s scratchy vocal performance coupled with slight guttural growl of guitar makes for a distressing ambience.
With production and mastering by Hate Dept.’s Steven Seibold and Rob Robinson, Project .44 remains as much an amalgam of its disparate components as a salute to the American industrial and punk underground scene. Sure, it’s not groundbreaking, nor does it really need to be – the band’s focused and sharpened ire toward the infuriatingly stagnant state of politics and social ills makes (The Storm Before) Reform a consistently relevant album, if not an important one. As the sample ending “Forty-Four” states, “History isn’t made by conformists,” and while Project .44 may not necessarily make history with this record, they’re certainly not going out quietly.