Review: XTRMST – XTRMST

xtrmst1
Three seconds after the song “Conformist” ended, my friend in the backseat felt the immediate need to defend himself. The line “Inhale, Hold it in. Inhale, hold it in / Let the deterioration begin” hit him hard as he held an e-cigarette. “I don’t smoke to be cool,” he said sadly before trailing off with, “I just…” and the conversation ended there.

Davy Havok and Jade Puget have touched every musical genre available to them, from punk rock, to metal, to electronica and arguably pop punk. But XTRMST is something else entirely. It’s an album that will make the listener as uncomfortable listening as they are bobbing their heads. It’s possibly the only band I can think of that not only attacks the listener, but challenges them directly on their lifestyle choices.

XTRMST is a straight-edge (no alcohol, no drugs, no meaningless sex) hardcore band. It sounds simple, but it’s a complex union that is without a doubt the most controversial album the Havok/Puget collaborations have released. On the one hand, it’s more in line with what fans of older AFI have been clamoring for: an extraordinarily dark album in line with Black Sails and Sing The Sorrow. On the other, there is little of Puget’s hypnotic guitar melodies, or Davy’s poetic rage. This is a record that aims directly for the face, ruthlessly attacking for thirty-one minutes.

XTRMST is designed from the ground up to cause a reaction, so much so that even the most diehard fans of the duo may have difficulty enjoying it. Musically, the album is a violent vortex of hard power chords and dark melody cut with rough breakdowns and twistedly haunted squeals (“Words For the Unwanted”).

Jade’s guitar work is either the most technical of his career or the most sloppy depending on who is listening. There is little of the melody and precision that his work in AFI is known for, replaced instead with deep and dark searing riffs that sweep the album. His musicianship straddles the line between perfection (“Swallow Your God”) and amateurism so much so that it sometimes borders on ‘noise rock’. “Merciless” is one of the most melodic songs on the record, jumping between Chiodos-esque guitar riffs to a chorus that plays a counterbalance to Havok’s building vocals.

While the drums and bass are appropriate, they aren’t quite up to par for what one would expect of Puget. However, the distinct sound of the album allows for the instruments to work. The bass keeps pace with the guitar work, and often finds its way to the forefront, but the drumming sounds like an amateur punk band turning hardcore. The beats are simple and sharp, combining with crashing cymbals before giving way to savagely fast attacks. It definitely does the job, but it might be the weakest aspect of the album.

While the music is almost inaccessible to anyone not into this subgenre, the lyrical themes are even more vicious. Davy Havok is relentless in his attacks on concepts taken for granted within pop music. There is no hiding behind poetic verse or imagery; he’s blunt and angry. Each song is an aggressive question about the listener’s lifestyle choices and way of life. Mixed with the piercing screams (the hardest he’s ever screamed, by the way), it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to.

Any fan of AFI knows of Davy and Jade’s straight-edge lifestyle, and for all of the dark lyricism in AFI’s 20 year career, this is the most vicious. Opening track, “Words For The Unwated” starts with Davy attacking faux straight-edge lifestyles, as he screams, “You’re not one of us, don’t speak of us… You never used to be, if not now you never were / Yet you marched with the pure and still besmear our name / No, you will never be true to anything”.

“Conformist”, the album’s lead single, more or less calls out the punk culture in general of being a machine of conformity, pointing to straight-edge as a true subculture to be looked up to. In direct opposition to most of the album, the first few lines are delivered in cynical spoken word; “Oh you’re so wild / You think you’re so wild but your counter culture falls straight in line”. Havok jumps straight into throat shredding screams of, “You want resistance? Then look to mine”.

In true Davy Havok fashion, he can’t let the opportunity to attack religion go to waste. “Swallow Your God” might be his most brutal attack since Crash Love’s “Sacrilege”. As Jade ravages through the most traditional guitar riffs on the record and thunderous drums, Havok relates religion to drug use as he screams, “I will destroy the King of Kings / I will never swallow your God / Until you bring your eyes down to the Earth you cannot claim this sight / Your faith is a disease, another poison I deny / I deny the high of Heaven”.

XTRMST is a remarkable album. It’s at once the answer and the worst enemy to those annoying fans who have been ranting for a dark album since Sing The Sorrow. While fans of Havok and Puget are sure to enjoy the album, there is no denying that it will force you to start mentally defending yourself to some degree. This album will mean something different to most anyone who listens to it, either satisfying the hardcore fans or making casual fans uncomfortable. Regardless, Havok and Puget have constructed a masterpiece of rage and defiance.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and during AFI’s Crash Love tour, followed them across the Midwest to a half-dozen shows like a creep. At a show in Indianapolis, Jade Puget winked at him and tossed him a guitar pick. His girlfriend was jealous.

Advertisements

Trackbacks

  1. […] It’salldead.com has reviewed the XTRMST album in detail, giving it a 4/5. Head on over and see what they have to say! […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: