Bear vs. Shark’s frontman, Marc Paffi, scares the shit out of me. It’s not his appearance –the guy can’t be more than two foot seven, with a perfect fourth-grade bowl cut and an impish grin. It’s more that the dude could crack at any moment. Live, Paffi howls like a doberman and slithers through the audience without ever making eye contact, the microphone cord his only restraint against cannibalizing every last one of us. Even during the occasional quiet moments, the quaver in his voice suggests instability.
Bear vs. Shark’s terrific second album, Terrorhawk, conceived in a secluded cabin in northern Michigan, thrives on that instability. Overdriven guitars crackle with explosive potential, the drums seem to get faster and faster, and Paffi relentlessly pushes his vocals cords beyond their breaking point. The band barrels ferociously through every last chord change and drum fill, constantly threatening to lose control but miraculously keeping its shit together.
For much of Terrorhawk, Bear vs. Shark delivers the melodic post-hardcore goods like a woollier At the Drive-In, but the five-piece taps into the same ragged passion that made the Constantines’ Shine a Light so urgent. All these bands make music that moves. “5,6 Kids” is the sound of perpetual motion, with a cyclical guitar riff, polyrhythmic drum pattern and throbbing bass each searching for its own way to break free. When they all lock in on the thrilling chorus, Paffi wailing at the upper limit of his range, it’s clear that they’ve found release.
Even if there’s nothing here as kinetic as “Ma Jolie” from the band’s debut, Bear vs. Shark moves in some exciting new directions on Terrorhawk. The band expands its attack to include pianos, electronic interludes and even brass — former Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley summons the spirit of Albert Ayler over a powerful four-chord vamp at the end of “Baraga Embankment. With the stunning “Song About Old Roller Coaster,” Bear vs. Shark perfects the art of the waltz-time power ballad. Take that, Nickelback.
Though they could get by on their blistering passion, the guys in Bear vs. Shark are smart enough to know that a pastoral melody or gruffly delivered hook can be just as potent as a scream. On Terrorhawk, we get all of the above. This is a band to watch.