Review: XTRMST – XTRMST

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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.

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Review: Four Year Strong – Go Down in History EP

 

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Three years. It’s been three long years since Four Year Strong have released any type of new music. Three years since their incredibly disappointing In Some Way, Shape, or Form album. I honestly thought the band might be dead in the water, or at the very least, about to put out one last mediocre farewell album.

What I didn’t expect is a completely reenergized band playing at their full potential. Go Down in History is not only arguably the finest release by the band thus far in their career, but a reminder to never, ever, count a band down and out.

Go Down in History is a powerhouse from start to finish. It’s loud, aggressive and addictive. While the EP has a theme of loud poppy hardcore, each song is distinct and remarkably memorable. This is a band playing at the height of their ability; if your neck isn’t sore by the end of the EP, you weren’t listening right.

The way that the guitars play against each other is as impressive as the riffs and breakdowns strewn throughout each song. The production is spot on, allowing each instrument to sound raw and crisp without feeling overdone. The result is a sound that feels like a mix of the metalcore edge of Chiodos and the pop punk of New Found Glory (“What’s in the Box?”).

Each song is technical and intricately written to make sure that each second is a surprise for the listener. Guitarists Alan Day and Dan O’Connor’s guitars are nothing short of incredible. While they are the true stars of the EP, they manage to not over-shine the other instruments. Joe Weiss’s bass plays an impressive backing to the songs, managing to smash against the angst of the guitars. Jake Massucco’s drumming is absolutely superb; he not only keeps time to the incredibly quick guitars, but keeps a manic beat that is constantly able to distract you from the incredible guitar work (“Go Down in History”).

Lyrically, the album maintains the theme that this frantic type of music should: fight back against the world. Whether it’s intentional or not, the EP seems to scream out at anyone who thought the band had lost their edge. The opening lines of “What’s in the Box?” say all that needs to be said of the theme, “It’s time to set the record straight, That hopefully you don’t just fade out. Doing what you have to to survive, I’ve been waiting far too long to give up all hope that my heart is strong enough to stay alive”. Each song is a rallying cry to stand against adversity and fight back from the edge.

Against the thrashing power chords of “Living Proof Of a Stubborn Youth”, Day and O’Connor sing, “Hold on to the day, Before it gets too far away, I’m losing faith in all my past mistakes, We’re living proof of a stubborn youth, and I’m waiting for the resurrection.” I could basically write down any lyric from any song and you’d get the gist, but each song is uniquely catchy and intricate. The gang vocals of “Go Down in History” deserve to have a room of jumping kids shouting them from the pit.

My biggest complaint is that this is just an EP and not a full album; I’d kill for just a few more songs. There is literally no variety on the EP, each song is ready to knock you down, if not by the crashing guitars, then by the shouting vocals. If this is your bag, you’re in for a real treat. If you were hoping for a bit of variance among the songs, too damn bad.

Go Down in History is a comeback among comebacks. Four Year Strong have literally never sounded better amongst the best songs of their discography. After not really thinking about the band for almost three years, I am begging for more. While it isn’t a complete album, it’s one of the best EP’s released in recent memory. Three years is a long time to wait for anything new, but Go Down in History was worth every single second.

4.5/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Comeback Kid – Die Knowing

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Comeback Kid have been a staple to the hardcore scene for several years now, blazing through walls of power guitar riffs and shredded vocal screaming. Their latest album, Die Knowing doesn’t disappoint diehard fans, but pushes little new territory for the band as a whole. While the album will keep fans satiated, it may be unlikely to draw in new listeners.

At its best, Die Knowing sounds like a partial sequel to Broadcasting…, the band’s first album featuring Andrew Neufeld on vocals. It’s a rampaging album with nonstop chugging guitars and incredibly fast drumming. While the songs are good, Die Knowing lacks the variety and melody that we know the band is capable of. Instead, the songwriting seems to focus on heavy riff after heavy riff at a base level. It ranges between hardcore punk and metal, and depending on your taste, can either sound wickedly powerful or generic at times.

That’s not to say that the album is without gems. “Should Know Better” sounds like a demented Green Day circa Insomniac, with an insanely catchy chord progression and screaming vocals backed by a haunting gang vocal. “Didn’t Even Mind” is perhaps the most layered and melodic song on the record. “Sink In” is a powerhouse of a closer and the longest song on the album by at least a minute.

While all of the songs are good, many tend to sound similar and mush together if you’re not paying attention. “Losing Sleep” is a fairly simplistic song that flows on a simplistic metal riff. If it were just this song like this, it would be more than fine, but several songs follow the same formula (“I Depend, I Control”)and makes them sound too similar at times for a hardcore album. What shines through is the fact that Comeback Kid knows how to write a good song, but it doesn’t feel like they were on top of their game this time around.

The vocals are as sharp as they’ve ever been. Andrew Neufeld proves once again that he is one of the screaming kings. He viciously belts out each line with reckless abandon and ferocity. However, this sounds like the same old thing that has happened for the last couple of albums. While his screaming should be commended, it starts becoming almost monotonous after a few songs in, as there isn’t a real shift in scale at all. Instead, there is the dismembering crash of shouted lyrics pronounced by the short gaps between breaths.

Die Knowing is a fun album that is sure to please long time fans. However, it doesn’t seem like an album that saw Comeback Kid pushing and fighting at their best. While there are several gems on the record, there are a few filler songs that are easily forgotten. Anyone paying attention knows what Comeback Kid are capable of, but will be disappointed depending on those expectations. Die Knowing will whet the appetites for anyone needing a batch of hardcore music, but will feel slightly empty in the long run.

3/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: City Lights – The Way Things Should Be

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City Lights are exactly what I needed to hear. Their newest release, The Way Things Should Be, is a love letter to classic pop punk that integrates new-school styles flawlessly. They manage to nail twelve amazing punk songs that never feel like retreads of the same song and prove the band’s prowess for writing beautiful melodic punk. This record fits absolutely perfectly against the biggest albums of the genre from the golden age of pop punk from 2001-2003.

However, it is this sense of style that is the album’s most endearing aspect, as well as its biggest hindrance.

City Lights are a five piece from Columbus, Ohio, that play perfectly into the pop punk and hardcore scene. Their sophomore LP, The Way Things Should Be is a success for the group that doesn’t stray too far from their past releases, but perfects the sound. What results is an amazing collection of songs that deliver a relentless wall of melodic guitar, honey dipped into the hardcore genre.

Each song is one memorable guitar riff after another, dressing down the harder break downs that occasionally appear (“Promises”). The drumming keeps pace frantically and offers some impressive pedalling. As I listened to The Way Things Should Be, each song on the album sounded like it could be a single and constantly kept reminding me of New Found Glory’s legendary self-titled album.

That though, is my biggest complaint against the record: It sounds like it is ten years too late to the game. If you placed The Way Things Should Be against anything from MXPX, New Found Glory or Alkaline Trio circa 2001, it would sound like one of the albums of the year that fans would still be singing along to today in their thirties… or whatever.

While that is the best compliment I can give the album, it’s also the biggest slight against it. This is extremely well tread territory and nothing here sounds extraordinarily new. There is very little experimentation towards a unique sound for the band. If anything, it feels like something that has always been around in your CD collection. It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t make the album stand out as much as it could.

Lyrically, the album is light years beyond many of their contemporaries in the genre. Each song belts out anthems of lost loves, betrayal of close friends and commentary on the scene at large. For a pop punk record, it might be one of the darkest, in that it tends to dig deep and fight back. In “Jeremy’s Song”, singer Oshie Bichar lashes out, “Why is it that the closest of friends / Sometimes are first to lose faith / And the first to betray / Think twice before you talk down to me / I’ll make you sorry you ever did”.

However, for as dark as the lyrics can get, they’re balanced out by the hopeful dreaming and call to believe in yourself that we’ve come to expect from the pop punk genre of late. The album also never really takes itself too seriously. During “The Dark Side”, Bichar sings out various phrases from the Star Wars saga (“You were supposed to be the chosen one!”). Although Bichar belts out a powerful performance with his singing, he can find the growl and screaming of the hardcore genre to punch up a few notes when it’s necessary. This aspect is sparsely used and really adds the power to a song when it is.

The Way Things Should Be is poised to be one of the memorable albums in the pop punk scene and hopefully helps to spearhead City Lights much, much further into their careers. This is a sound that is both tragically nostalgic and impressively cohesive and strong. If you’ve been itching for an album to take you back to the highlight of the pop punk genre, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Though it feels like it was released in the wrong decade, it’s unrelentingly powerful and unapologetic. The Way Things Should Be is here to stay.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.