Even for a band that built its reputation on the quality of its brooding, Low seems particularly worried and preoccupied on Drums And Guns. As the title suggests, the Duluth trio's eighth studio album explores the timely topic of war and violence, and they don't seem to like what they find either looking outward or inward. Violence and its consequences lurk behind every lyric, starting from the first line: "All the soldiers are all gonna die, all the babies are all gonna die." And while it's obvious that the Iraq War is a primary inspiration for Drums And Guns, it's far from an overtly political album. Instead, songwriter Alan Sparhawk seems most concerned with war's ethical and metaphysical toll. Sparhawk's penchant for introspection leads him to explore his own reaction to the caustic temptations of anger in unsettling lines like "my hand just kills and kills" and "all I can do is fight." He offers his services to God as a contract killer in "Murderer," simultaneously delivering a scathing attack on religion's role in stirring up unrest and an empathic understanding of how even the most peacefully spiritual people can be lured down the wrong path.
Low's quiet, still songcraft made it the standard-bearer of the slowcore movement in the 1990s, but the move to the indie label Sub Pop for 2005's The Great Destroyer signaled a major shift to a bigger, louder sound. Teaming the band again with producer Dave Fridmann, Drums And Guns pushes that evolution even further, and what seemed like a radical departure two years ago now sounds like a waystation on the journey to this more disjointed, more fragmented, more demanding, and ultimately more rewarding work. The musical arrangements have an edge and roughness that matches Sparhawk's words—the reversed guitar on "Breaker" is particularly effective. The darkly textured production sounds more like a typical Steve Albini-produced album than either of the two discs Low previously made with him. It's slow and somber, but boiling underneath.