Reflecting On: A Day to Remember – Homesick

The largest crowd I ever saw for a performance at Warped Tour was for A Day to Remember at Indianapolis in 2009. That afternoon, I watched from the top of a small hillside, looking down into a grassy valley where the Hurley Stage sat as a massive crowd moshed like a single organism. It was out of a fear of missing out that I downloaded Homesick a day later to see what all the fuss was about. I burned the album to a CD, which remained in my car stereo for the rest of the summer.

You can buy or stream Homesick on Apple Music.

I was obviously aware of A Day to Remember prior to that sweltering afternoon in 2009. A few different friends had played me various tracks from the band’s debut, For Those Who Have Heart, but none of them stuck. In those early days, I viewed A Day to Remember as a diet knock-off of the bands I loved, like Underoath, Chiodos, or Story of the Year. I’m still not totally sure I was wrong, but there was something about the way things came together for the band on their sophomore breakthrough that just made sense.

You don’t need a 10-year retrospective to tell you that Homesick found the perfect balance of metalcore and pop punk, full of silly breakdowns and one-liners topped off by sugary choruses. It’s an album that quite literally set the tone for the next 10 years of the scene, and it did so simply by having fun.

Truth be told, A Day to Remember would further perfect the very sound they helped turn into trend with later albums like What Separates Me from You and Common Courtesy, but even so, there’s still not a single album of theirs that puts a smile on my face quite like Homesick. From front to back, I know the words to every song and can perfectly synchronize my head banging to every cheesy breakdown. If you haven’t shouted along to Jeremy McKinnon’s cry of, “Disrespect Your Surroundings!” with a friend in the car on a summer drive, have you really lived?

Some of my personal favorite tracks include sing-along choruses, like those found on “My Life for Hire”, “NJ Legion Iced Tea”, or “Holdin’ it Down for the Underground”. Whether the band is flexing their drop D tuned guitars on “You Already Know What You Are” or taking a poppier approach on “Homesick” or “Have Faith in Me”, the album truly serves as an intersection for fans of almost any corner of the scene. Even those that sneered at the band or posted grouchy retorts on online message boards were probably secretly into this record, right?

Unlike many of our retrospective features, I’m not here to tell you what a deep emotional impact Homesick made on me or how it changed the way I listened to music. Instead, Homesick served its purpose in helping me put my guard down and drop my tendencies toward music snobbery. Sometimes music is at its best when it’s helping us have a good time, enjoy good company, and sing aloud with abandon.

That’s what I remember most about that Warped Tour performance. As Mike Hranica from The Devil Wears Prada joined the band onstage for the bridge of “I’m Made of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?” and the crowd went absolutely bonkers, I remember being struck by how something so seemingly mundane could be so communal and joyful. A Day to Remember had a knack for breaking down walls between music fans of various genres and bringing them together. I’m glad I decided to join in on the fun.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Reflecting On: Hawthorne Heights – If Only You Were Lonely

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A decade removed from the release of If Only You Were Lonely, the second full-length album from Hawthorne Heights, it’s easy to forget just how big of a deal the band was at the time. In a scene that seemed to be thriving on conflict, Hawthorne Heights managed to become the poster boys for alienated alt music fans attempting to grapple with the unlikely screamo explosion. Everyone seemed to know about Hawthorne Heights – and everyone had an opinion.

The Dayton, Ohio, quintet came out of absolutely nowhere in 2004 with the release of their divisive debut, The Silence in Black in White – an album that went on to sell nearly a million copies and become the most successful debut in the history of Victory Records. For every screaming fan in an “Ohio is for Lovers” t-shirt, there stood a staunchly disgusted listener bemoaning the demise of punk music (again).

What became lost in the clamor surrounding the band at the time was something very basic and human – five young men learning how to be in a band and discover their sound. Sadly, it wasn’t until the tragic death of bassist Casey Calvert a year after the release of Lonely that the noise died down long enough for the conversation to shift to something much more nuanced.

Looking back on If Only You Were Lonely, it’s easy to immediately identify the elements that made Hawthorne Heights all the rage in the first place. All of the suspects from the band’s debut remain: crunchy breakdowns, poppy melodies from vocalist J.T. Woodruff, gloomy lyrics dripping in heartbreak, and Calvert’s signature gravelly screams. However, each piece of the puzzle is tightened and polished to a glossy finish, thanks in part to producer David Bendeth.

The album is filled with scene anthems, but the newly found luster shaped multiple songs for radio. The crisp delivery of lead single “Saying Sorry” starkly contrasts the rough production found on the band’s debut, even if lyrics like, “Saying goodbye this time / The same old story / Seeing you cry / Makes me feel like saying sorry” leave much to be desired.

For every perfectly placed melodic guitar riff, Lonely managed to stretch the band in unexpected ways. Tracks like “Dead in the Water” overshadow the band’s emo pop tendencies with much darker instrumentals and post-hardcore-esque passages. In some ways, Hawthorne Heights managed to find a heavier sound even as they scaled back on Calvert’s bellows. If Only You Were Lonely didn’t set any standards or break down any sonic walls, but it did take some mighty steps forward for a band needing to make a statement.

Yet for all of the venom that unfairly rained down on the young band, it’s important to remember just how well they handled adversity. At a time where every band in the world was suddenly able to read the unfiltered opinions of every detractor within reach of a keyboard, Hawthorne Heights seemed playfully unaffected. The song “Where Can I Stab Myself in the Ears” still remains the gold standard for comebacks, named after the hilariously mistyped heckle of a forum member at AbsolutePunk.

In light of the band’s spirit and character, the blow they would be dealt still seems cruel and unfair. The shocking news of Calvert’s passing sent waves of grief across the music scene, forever altering the conversation surrounding Hawthorne Heights. A community of music fans laid down their opinions and rallied around a band in need. For a brief moment, the beauty of that unity seemed to counteract the deep pain that still lingers to this day.

Hawthorne Heights are no strangers to hardship. That the band has continued to evolve and grow as musicians over the course of the past decade is a testament to their will. With five full-length albums and five EPs under their belt, there’s a conversation to be had about the band’s discography and where each era of the band’s sound stands in the minds of their fans.

If Only You Were Lonely served as the soundtrack to my final semester of college, providing a dose of poignancy and nostalgia each time I spin the record. It reminds me of Casey and it reminds me of a time when this sound seemed to blare from every dorm room and passing car. It’s not an album without its flaws, but it is an album chock full of heart.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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: A Day to Remember – Common Courtesy

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A Day to Remember is pissed off. This probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, since the band has made a massive career off of the angry chugga-chugga breakdowns and ambiguously aggressive lyrics that have come to define what is currently considered the metalcore genre. In a lot of ways, A Day to Remember helped shape and mold that very formula that has been carbon copied relentlessly.

But this time, it’s different. This time, A Day to Remember is pissed off for all of the right reasons. This time it feels genuine.

That’s not to say that they weren’t somehow genuine or honest in the past, but there’s only so many “Nobody takes us seriously!” and “Everyone is against us!” songs that one can handle from a band that an outrageous number of people seem to love. If a messy lawsuit with their label, Victory Records, and the real possibility of the band’s career dissolving before their eyes is what it took to light a fire under the Ocala, Fla. band, then so be it.

What resulted from the fallout is the best album of the band’s career.

Common Courtesy is surely an A Day to Remember album and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. What it does do is add a touch of authenticity, a dash of aggressive motive and a lot of maturity to an act that could have easily gone stale. Instead, the band produced an extremely focused and diverse album that will not only please their current fan base, but win over a few of the rest of us in the process.

Produced with the help of Andrew Wade and Chad Gilbert and released completely by themselves, Common Courtesy starts off with a full dose of the A Day to Remember sound you’re familiar with, turned to 11 and polished to near perfection. “City of Ocala” and “Right Back at it Again” are obvious choices to open the record, providing a punch of aggression and melody and even featuring the tongue-in-cheek humor the band seems to pull off so effortlessly.

The real treat begins during the quiet bridge in “Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail”, when a suddenly somber and mature Jeremy McKinnon bears his struggles and fears. When McKinnon sings, “I reserve my right to be uncomfortable / I reserve my right to be afraid / I make mistakes and I am humbled / Every step of the way” it’s a welcome breath of fresh, honest air.

It doesn’t stop there. Tracks like “Best of Me” and “Life @ 11” allow McKinnon to reflect even further upon his doubts and uncertainties. The band even pulls off the elusive believable ballad with “I Surrender”, a track that throws the metalcore handbook out the window in favor of a truly appealing and listenable alt-rock song. In fact, the softer moments prove to be some of the best on Common Courtesy.

Not to worry, there’s still plenty of head-bangable tracks like “Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way” and “The Document Speaks for Itself” that allow the band to chug out the their feelings towards Victory Records and will surely be mosh pit favorites. The fact that these moments are confined and appropriate is proof enough that this band is expanding its palate and branching into new and welcome territory while not completely losing what made them appealing to so many in the first place.

It’s hard to be mad at A Day to Remember at this point. They fought the man and won (for the meantime), released their best album yet (by themselves, with little promotion and no physical copies) and managed to expand their sound in welcome and unexpected ways. Admit it. You enjoy Common Courtesy. As well you should. Let’s hope that there’s more where this came from.

3.5/5 

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog.  You can follow him on Twitter.