I wasn’t into Brand New before it was cool. But I did love the Long Island emo rockers before The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me landed on November 20, 2006. In fact, I was waiting for it. By that time, I knew what to expect—straightforward mid-aughts rock with pop punk undertones and intense, passionate vocals. That, however, is not what the band brought to the table with its third album.
The first track, “Sowing Season (Yeah),” begins quietly—Jesse Lacey’s vocals just a whisper, the solitary guitar a mere hum—before exploding into a mourning waltz. “Time to get the seeds into the cold ground,” the lyrics say. “Takes a while to grow anything before it’s coming to an end, yeah.” Lacey, who was raised in a religious family and attended Christian school, is no doubt referring to the parable of the sower. The sower spreads seeds of faith across his land, but only those that land in good conditions, free of rocks and weeds and tough soil, are able to sprout. The rest wither and die.
With a title like The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, it’s pretty obvious that faith will be important, but it’s not everything. The album signaled a departure in sound and subject for the band. While the band’s first two albums, Your Favorite Weapon (2001) and Deja Entendu (2003), as well as the 2009 followup, Daisy, scream of the era in which they were made, this one ignored many emo hallmarks and as a result retains a timeless individuality.
My first taste of Brand New arrived on a black-nail-polish-decorated mix CD from a girl whose heart I’d eventually break. This was freshman year of high school, and “Jude Law and a Summer Abroad,” playing over and over on my anti-skip disc player, made so much sense.
Just months later, the band released Deja Entendu. While it was catchy, I didn’t notice anything too extreme until a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A friend’s parents drove him, me and another guy from Indianapolis to Cleveland in their early ’90s GMC Vandura.
Back then, we wore black T-shirts with red letters and the metal-studded belts and bracelets of the variety that young rebels buy at shopping malls. Into the tops of our baseball caps, we screwed silver spikes—also bought at shopping malls—to be unique, to be true individuals.
“You’re different,” my parents would say about our clothes and our music, “just like everyone else who shops at Hot Topic.” They’d refuse to let me leave the house wearing black on black, since the Bible said to avoid even the appearance of evil. As youth worship leader, I had a reputation to keep. But in the Vandura on the way to Cleveland, I could wear whatever I wanted—listen to whatever I wanted.
The van had been retrofitted with a multi-disc changer, and my friend’s parents were usually very lax about letting us choose the tunes. However, somewhere near the Ohio border, in the middle of “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” they asked—no, demanded—that we change it. No more Brand New for the rest of the trip.
“I can’t take the screaming,” said his dad, even though Brand New is pretty mild compared to Emery or From Autumn to Ashes or similar bands we listened to then.
“Maybe put on Blink-182 again,” his mom pleaded, “or Eminem.”
I couldn’t understand it. That song was one of the most radio-ready tracks of the year—of emo music, maybe ever. Though I couldn’t understand their reasons why, I could see, for the first time, that something truly subversive hid in Brand New’s music.
I associate Deja Entendu and Your Favorite Weapon with my own fake rebellion. The period, the music, is full of youthful angst and artifice, leading to a larger crisis. The third album broke free of the pattern. At that time, something broke inside me. We both rebelled for real.
Amid the mix of instrumental interludes and hard-hitting rock, including the eight-minute masterpiece “Limousine,” the song that sticks out on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is “Jesus Christ.” It starts out with that simple, repetitive guitar riff, which rings out in smooth, reverberating tones, unlike the distortion-heavy leads on other tracks.
While most of the song, a direct address to the son of God, could come across as snark, the Millennial insincerity that fuels Twitter, the ending provides a moment of clarity. “I know you think that I’m someone you can trust,” Lacey sings, “but I’m scared I’ll get scared / and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up.” This song, the first time I heard it, gutted me, especially the moment when the singer worriedly warns Christ: “I know you’re coming for the people like me / but we’ve all got wood and nails…” Honestly, it still guts me. Every time.
The album expresses doubt in an authentic way and ruminates on it, often shouting it out. (I wonder how my friend’s dad would’ve reacted to the vocal-chords-shredding refrain in “You Won’t Know.”) This rumination shows in the music as well. Most songs feature repetitious chord progressions. Some songs repeat two chords over and over. The tracks use varying drum patterns or guitar and bass riffs to delineate chorus from verse from bridge, creating a tapestry of sounds and weaving various threads through each piece.
Stripped to its most essential elements, the album is about loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of faith, loss of friendships, and loss of self—the losses compound into a black hole of longing. Something that once was there no longer is. Which is obvious especially in “Millstone.” “I used to be such a burning example / I used to be so original,” Lacey sings, later adding: “I used to pray like God was listening / I used to make my parents proud.” Even if you haven’t strayed, you know how it feels to disappoint, to remember how much potential you possessed when you were younger.
It’s a crisis that doesn’t fade with age. It’s a sentiment that remains real even after the break-up anthems of high school feel dated. Maybe that’s why The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me continues to be essential listening 10 years later.
by James Figy
James Figy is a writer from Indianapolis and MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has two cats, two rabbits, and an amateurish collection of Duke Ellington LPs. His creative work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Punchnel’s, and the anthology Bad Jobs & Bullshit.