It’s easy to call Bad Religion “old” … because after listening to the initial samples of the New Maps of Hell, the song “Honest Goodbye” in particular, the gut reaction is “man … these dudes sound old.” But after repeated listens, you realize that “old” isn’t quite the word you’re looking far, but rather “ripe.” Ever since Brett rejoined the ranks (and the band returned to Epitaph), they’ve been searching for their perfect tone- in both songwriting and production- that would keep the band relevant in the current music landscape while not forgetting their rather dynamic and significant past. The New Maps of Hell then, is their conquering ode to the Bad Religion history that not only holds up well alongside some of their greats, but finally marks the pinnacle of their reformed and re-energized sound.
Their initial foray back into the “indies,” 2002’s The Process of Belief and 2004’s The Empire Strikes First, were relatively benign in their composition- providing instances of flair but rarely holding out for the duration. Thankfully, they never encroached on becoming caricatures of themselves and even their most uneventful of songs proved at least worthy of a few listens. Bad Religion seemed to merely chug along (as opposed to blazing through as they once did) on their most recent records, and it really isn’t until you listen to New Maps of Hell a few times that you realize it’s the natural progression from their previous two. It still has the expected up-tempo punk numbers, “Murder” and “Requiem for Dissent,” rip through the paces as “Modern Man” and “I Want to Conquer the World” once did, it’s just that their more mid-tempo, slow-building songs have finally found comfort beside them. “Honest Goodbye” may actually turn out to be one of the finest cuts from the album- a song reminiscent of Generator’s “The Answer” in potency. The band’s noted melodic tone is ever present as well- songs like “Dearly Beloved” and “Grains of Wrath” evoke some of the band’s finest moments, while maintaining a certain urgency to them.
It is however, no secret that once you’ve heard a few Bad Religion albums, you’ve really heard them all. New Maps of Hell is certainly no musical messiah of the future- it really is the same Bad Religion album, topically and musically, since 2002, just much better. The one true throwaway track of the release is the opener “52 Seconds.” It really should be renamed “a waste of 52 seconds” as the track does nothing to further the band or the album. If the band were ever in danger of self-parody, this song would be it. But as soon as the machine gun percussions of “Heroes & Martyrs” kick in, it’s pretty sweet sailing from then on.
New Maps of Hell won’t change your mind about Bad Religion whatever your current view on the band is. While it may not be the band’s finest moment, it is easily the best album they’ve done since they left Sony, and it is clear that Bad Religion remains the shining beacon amongst the sea of noise that has become the cross-pollination of the major label world and the independent one.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.