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Challenger – Give the People What They Want In Lethal Doses

Give the People What They Want In Lethal Doses just isn’t dangerous enough.

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We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire ‘punk’ mantra; in the end inspecting the spiraling consequences of the mainstream upsurge that ultimately peaked in 1994. Three years after the breakout year, dubbed by many as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance.

Some high touted scripture penned by punk rock historians? Aging musicians lamenting on what has become? Actually, just part of a feature I wrote a little while ago pointing the significant corollary of a subculture’s rise into its supposed “higher tiers.” Yes, its very self-indulgent, but I’m not one for simply regurgitating something done before, although that could very well crystallize as the one defining impression left by this Milemarker-cum-Challenger trio. Not to say this is some transmutation of Milemarker; although it does consist of both Al Burian and Dave Laney of said band, Challenger is, plainly stated, an update of what Hüsker Dü, The Minutemen and the Dead Milkmen did in their heyday. And when most of today’s so-called flag bearers all look like Johnny Depp’s lost third cousin desperately trying to imitate Conor Oberst, a bit of Bob Mould and Mike Watt is undeniably refreshing. However, it is important to state that in this century, you really only get one real chance at making a lasting impression, and with all their straightforward, no-nonsense rock pastiche, machinegun drumming and heavily fuzzed out guitars, Challenger do little but skip to vague reminiscence and the unavoidable “back in the day this meant something” chain of thought.

Blame it on MTV, blame it on the genre’s current state, blame it on the commercial goldmine it has become, but Give the People What They Want in Lethal Doses lacks the venom to pull the desensitized masses away from the tripe and garbage of music television. The components of Give the People… resonate with certain competence; “Input the Output” would fit a home on a Minor Threat set list while “Crushed City” does well to case the aggressive vocals in similar musical aptitude. Yet as the fist-over-fist hamming struts with reckless abandon, it does so with very little distinction. It is all good and well that Challenger harkens back to more, how do we say? Challenging days, but they too often crave more musical tones – at times making them sound a lot like Screw 32 – diluting the aggression and forcefulness. A problem? Indeed, the bands that pummel, kick and stab with great results are extremely hard to find (save a few), Challenger on the other hand, are readily available thanks to many favorable circumstances.

It leads to this point’s finality. In mainstream acceptance, the thought that nothing is shocking anymore has completely drained much of the initial value of interest. It is unfortunate too because a lot of listeners could use a good kick in the head, but there just isn’t enough here to grab you by the throat. Give the People What They Want In Lethal Doses just isn’t dangerous enough. Fostered to great health some time ago by Fear, Youth of Today and the aforementioned bands, Challenger is an example of all the right ideals done with little effect at all the right times.

(Jade Tree Records)

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The Ritualists – Painted People

The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music

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ritualists

After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.

“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.

Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.

“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.

There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.

(Out Of Line Music)

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The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk

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The Decline

It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.

Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.

From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).

Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.

(Pee Records / Thousand Islands Records / Disconnect Disconnect Records / Bearded Punk Records)

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