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The Distillers, ‘Coral Fang’ (Sire/Hellcat)

Who can blame Distillers frontwoman Brody Dalle, formerly Armstrong, for feeling a bit crucified of late? It’s been a long summer. She split with her husband, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, to be with Queens of the Stone Age majordomo Josh Homme. And after losing most of the musicians who played on 2002’sSing Sing Death House, Dalle rebooted her band for that alt-punk steppin’ stone, the Major Label Debut, a sure sign that (a) she wants to have her thunder echo outside the scene, or at least on MTV2, and (b) she’s convinced that she has something to prove.

So there’s plenty of dicey karma to burn-which turns out to be the perfect fuel for Coral Fang’s bite-me mojo. This isn’t exactly Dalle’s Live Through This. Despite a runway makeover by Gil Norton, the producer who turned Dashboard Confessional’s church-camp sing-alongs into chart candy, Fang’s edge is a bit more mosh-by-numbers than Hole’s. But Dalle shares a lot with Courtney Love: a sullen, torn-dress bellow; a trouble-I’ve-seen worldview; and a gift for keeping her demons at bay with a barbed guitar lead.

Norton’s deft touch turns Dalle’s jabs into haymaker hooks, but the first half of Fang is still pure poison. The roaring “Dismantle Me” goes all Khrushchev on her ex (“I want to bury you”); half-resigned, half-defiant songs like “Die on a Rope” and the Nirvana-fied “The Gallow Is God” try to place some blame. Eventually, though, Dalle finds lust — and better riffs — among the ruins. The title track and “Hall of Mirrors” channel post-breakup identity crises and visceral imagery into explosive, throat-shredding choruses; “Beat Your Heart Out” is about punching your new love in the arm for making your pulse race so fast. Throughout, Dalle sounds less like a mere survivor and more like a defiant survivalist. Anybody can make like a martyr, after all. It takes guts to chop the cross into kindling, pour on the gasoline, and see how many hearts you can set ablaze.

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