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Despistado – The Emergency Response EP

Despistado will take what The Emergency Response has so proficiently shown, douse it with kerosene, and then light the son-of-a-bitch

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It is amusing to think that the majority of quality music produced has been the result of some sort of hardship that in one way or another has befallen said musicians. Poverty, social segregation, supposed “lack of current relevance,” geographical isolation – all can play a part in a musician’s crafting of quality song. Perhaps it is because their situation presents them with greater experience, or that maybe their circumstances provide the necessary drive to provoke change in their surroundings (because lets face it, when you throw a million bucks at someone with a guitar, what follows is more than likely to be a piece of shit). It has been the foundation of all great music revolutions, and while Despistado are far from sparking a neo-uprising, they once again prove that reaching a destination going uphill is far more rewarding that plopping on to the summit from the industry’s silver highway.

If a group of musicians were to write a great song in the remote locale of Regina, Saskatchewan (where apparently there are more hand-planted trees than people), would anybody hear it? Indeed, if geographical isolation were a tough hill to climb, try being musicians in a far-off part of Canada. Thankfully, Regina has been blessed with modern discoveries like the mailbox and with the blessing of such advancement, their music wound up in the hands of longtime purveyors of quality-above-profitable music Jade Tree, who promptly snatched them up from the wintery freeze of creative seclusion.

So what does less than 3000 hours of sunshine a year do to able songwriters? Well for starters Despistado demonstrates a high level of energy not usually reserved for hibernating weather. The Emergency Response is very much built on spastic high-octane treble guitar strums and machinegun snare strikes that is very much up-and-go from the onset. And while the release is unapologetically lo-fi, the snazzy pitch does add plenty to the appeal.

“A Stirstick’s Prediction” very much paves the way for the rest of the tunes. Highly flamboyant (that opening bass line is killer), frenetic, and unabashed about just how damn catchy it is; it could easily parade itself on the dance floor before skipping over to any scummy back alley. Before you scream “Dance?!” put away any notion that they may pogo-along to The Rapture or Gang of Four; they’re more likely to garner comparisons to Wire’s spindly build or early At The Drive-In (both are inescapable references). Nonetheless the songs do envelope certain body-shaking vibes, but they’re more disorganized flailing and less routine steps.

There is hesitance to shove them in to the post-punk caste; but if the need to do so should arise, it would perhaps be the most accurate labeling. “HiFi Stereo” is another fine example of how they tend to skirt around these more accessible means with passionate disobedience. The band’s inventive instrumentation is extremely solid, shown here to breed rhythmic structures with chaotic dissonance; all before longtime neighbors Dargan Harding and Joel Passmore wail in with their beautifully obnoxious vocals.

While the EP isn’t complete by any stretch, it demonstrates a set of songs worth exploring. If anything, it provides a daring thirst for more. And with a full length sure to follow, one can hope that Despistado will take what The Emergency Response has so proficiently shown, douse it with kerosene, and then light the son-of-a-bitch. Pay heed world! Regina, Saskatchewan is about to put itself on the map.

(Jade Tree Records)

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance

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It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).

Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.

In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.

The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).

The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

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Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities

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When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.

Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.

What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.

The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.

(Massacre Records)

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