Like rapture so ominously muted, Sumday reminds me of a stretch of land that rests between Stockton, CA’s anomalous integration of haughty dilapidation and the busy nature of San Francisco’s international terminals (circa 1999-2001). Relying on vague recollection, this section of earth finds itself between I-5 South and I-239 North; most likely the 30 mile escape known as I-580 West. Paraded by arid rock formations and a healthy palette of dirt colors, this passageway of solitude is broken only by the blossoming windmill population that spreads itself over the hilly plateaus. While drained of its beauty and poise, the echo that resides between these valleys is a strange, eerie comfort. A voyager amongst these aged panoramas is left clear in its presence; a peculiar seclusion whose whispers absolves even the greatest of condemnation. And Grandaddy’s latest is that absolution; if not for the band, for those who share such duty.
The Sophtware Slump saw Grandaddy veer into OK Computer territory with its less than organic themes and electronic glitches in a desperate struggle to find humanity amongst the machines. Now three years since, the androids, the robots and the computer bleeps have, on most accounts, found a far more settled resistance and in place, a mellow rock countenance that only sporadically charges on sprinklings of blips, loops and bloops. Instead they push forth with soft guitar strumming, gentle percussions and great idyllic composure that so exquisitely blossoms in the opening track, “Now It’s On”. With Jason Lyttle’s rasped croon and high arching melodies tuning the fine air of escape, the track is a perfect blast of thoroughfare reminiscence and is keyed by the breaking free found in the words; “Bust the lock off the front door / once you’re outside you won’t wanna hide anymore.”
Yet with this distinctively subdued disposition (with the emphasis less on experimentation), the songs become deceptively foretelling. In “I’m On Standby”, the band once again harkens into the thematic tales of human/robot anglings; either it is an interpretation of humans as machines waiting for an upgrade (“I’m on standby / out of order or sort of unaligned / Powered down for redesign”) or it is merely personal question marks that go unanswered at song’s end, a waiting for evolution that is as eloquent as the song’s soothing coastal pop swirling.
There is a profound sense of lyrical observation and sardonic humor that Lyttle so cleverly employs in “The Group Who Couldn’t Say”. Upon first listen, it was thought that this tender ditty spoke of a band who sold enough records to fund a countryside tour – but in fact, it sings of disillusioned workers being set free on nature’s graces and following their apparent inability to comprehend the new, uncluttered atmosphere. Characters go as far as doing math when encountered by lofty trees, “He wondered how the trees had grown to be so tall / He calculated all the height and width and density / for insurance purposes”. All while constantly sparking ideas of reassessment and life-realignment, “And the sprinklers that come on at 3am / sound like crowds of people askin’ / “Are you happy what you’re doin.””
It isn’t until “Yeah is What We Had” that this G-unit utilize a more galactic rock sedative; distorted walls chime in as the vocals waver, the track is perhaps the album’s most morose moment, far less buoyant it sneaks away from the carefree breeze that has become Sumday’s custom; striking a far different chord and ultimately adding a cloud of distinct gloom. However, it does appear to be a fitting prelude to “Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World”, a gutted piano number that runs the gamut of downtrodden pity and alcohol fueled separation.
Grandaddy then optimistically pen human decline in “O.K. With My Decay”; stating that there is little one can do about the inevitability of humanity, so little is left but to accept and rejoice – a progressive recognition of the modernization that engulfs our world and the weight cast on our shoulders. Sumday is clarity amongst the stillness that is found in between those cavernous surrounds. And if traveling home / breaking free / casting off from the weary past requires clemency, then the end sum of all that resides here is that glorious sense of lifting burden; an emancipation with great conviction.
Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers
The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance
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.
Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness
From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities
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.