Like Boston's Dropkick Murphys before them, Los Angeles Celtic rockers Flogging Molly tread that rebellious road hewed by the likes of Irish punks the Pogues and expats like Black 47.
Both bands have scored mainstream triumphs with Celtic-infused drinking hymns, but only Flogging Molly have brought such deep, dark thoughts to the bar with sobering precision. Their latest album, Speed of Darkness, paints a grim picture of economic viability, blight, struggle, and urban decline in America. Bordering on a concept album, it scored big last year with the song "Don't Shut 'Em Down," an uncharacteristic midtempo pop tune that punches at listeners the way corporations decried by the band swing at the American Dream.
To say it's Flogging Molly's most mature effort downplays the high-water mark they hit with 2008's Float. And yet it puts a lot of the group's early work and "Drunken Lullabies" to bed. Drummer George Schwindt says most of the songs were written during rehearsals in Detroit, where frontman Dave King owns a house. "Those lyrics explain a lot about what he was seeing and surrounded by," he says. "Speed of Darkness ended up being very observational, very pointed, and not so veiled, which gave all of us a different sort of depth of experience."
Still, not even Schwindt is sure whether it's a concept record. "In a sense, that political and social observation of the moment steers listeners that way," he says. "So I don't think that's a bad thing if that's how people hear it. It's thematic in that concept-album sense, mostly because it feels very right now."
Speed of Darkness brings Flogging Molly to fertile ground with plenty of midtempo songs replacing the uptempo-ballad jogs of past records. What's more, Detroit itself permeates the melodic sense and influence of Motown's heyday. Tracks like "Heart of the Sea," "Revolution," and "Oliver Boy (All of Our Boys)" shore that up.
Aside from the single "Saints & Sinners," Speed of Darkness was recorded at Echo Mountain — an old church that's been turned into a recording studio in Asheville, North Carolina — with producer Ryan Hewitt, who's worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Avett Brothers. Schwindt says Hewitt and the studio both had a lot to do with how the album turned out. "That church basement and the [adjoining] rooms were great from a sound standpoint," he says. "[Hewitt did a] great job capturing that feel."
Flogging Molly are now tearing through their Green 17 Tour, a pre-St. Patrick's Day bash across America. No surprise that the band loves Cleveland — "particularly when it's not so cold," laughs Schwindt — a city with plenty of Irish people and dedicated drinkers. "The crowds there that come to see us are amazing, and it's nice to see that a lot of people really go for us there. That kind of response and support will always keep us coming back."