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Green Day – American Idiot

Four years on from Warning comes American Idiot, their “punk rock opera;” their most elaborate, ambitious, and concentrated effort to date

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It’s been a good ten or so years for Green Day. Their career path since the release of the multi-platinum selling Dookie boasts the type of longevity comparable to some of music’s most able of servants. And the reason why perhaps Green Day have gone with the ups and downs relatively unscathed is their seeming reluctance to find a formula to their success. Unlike their counterparts of the 1994 explosion, they have never once written a song reliant on a pathetic suburban cliché stretched thin over the course of several albums. And while the Offspring seems to have fallen by the wayside, this Berkeley-bred trio continues to challenge not only their own limits, but test those of their listeners (some of who have been on the journey since the early days when Billie Joe and company were still named Sweet Children).

There have of course, been a few bumps and bruises along the way. The difficulties of writing a successful follow-up to a massive album is one well documented, and some may be quick to point to 1995’s Insomniac as rushed work; heavy on the noise, a few choice melodies, and little discernible ingenuity of any kind. But no matter how comparatively “unsuccessful” that album was standing next to its predecessor, there is no doubt that Green Day never wanted to write a “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” Thank God. And instead of looking to recapture previous album sales, they went away after an exhaustive schedule in 1996 to recoup and inevitably, write a bunch of songs that would begin their solidification as premiere artists rather than one-trick ponies and/or gimmick hounds. What subsequently followed were albums that made clear their intentions of musical growth; experimenting with styles (from “Hitchin’ a Ride,” to “Time Of Your Life” to what would make up the majority of their well conceived Warning album) while never once forgetting their principal means to success.

And so four years on from Warning comes American Idiot, their “punk rock opera;” and as the description suggests, their most elaborate, ambitious, and concentrated effort to date. Easily surpassing Warning on almost all accounts, this lavish production is one of introspection, critical deconstruction, and a dose of life’s weary tales that come across as urgent as it does potent. From the brash commentary of “American Idiot” and the breakneck speeds of “St. Jimmy” (packed to the brim with Billie Joe’s trademark vocal sneer), to the marathon medley of “Jesus of Suburbia” (or as listed early on, read: “Jesus Of Suburbia: City Of The Damned / I Don’t Care / Dearly Beloved / Tales Of Another Broken Home / Jesus Of Suburbia” and clocking in at nearly ten minutes), its clear that Green Day show no reluctance in stepping forward to previously uncharted territory. Even though the medleys (yes, there’s two, both topping nine minutes) are the very antithesis of the punk rock norm (tested several years ago by NOFX’s The Decline); they are both grandly visualized (only at times can they both feel rather overdrawn- due prominently to the stretched nature of their disposition), and provide the album with its most challenging efforts.

Nevertheless, the eleven other numbers on here are simply put; bloody brilliant. A selection of crème de la crèmes boasting the kind of wisdom that reminds listeners of mainstream punk’s less maligned qualities- that punk on the radio can be without the shrill bellyaching of emo diarists (the reserved reflective nature of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and the mournful lament of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), without the alienating mutinies of judgmental overthrow (the very Clash sounding “Holiday”), and without the glossy sheen of rockstar wannabes. It’s rewarding to note that the album possesses plenty of concurrent themes and characters that weave in and out of the songs. And like any great production, it transpires with the sort of fluidity and grace associated with the very operatic theme suggested by American Idiot’s description.

To pluck an apex point of the album, one need not venture any further than “Give Me Novacaine.” An authoritative track that comes off as a cross between “Macy’s Day Parade” and “Brain Stew” with brief moments that can perhaps be best depicted as a “punk rock luau.” It’s just another in the many choice moments reflective of Green Day’s perceptive understanding of their career; that growth and strong roots go hand in hand. And unlike the Good Charlottes of the world and/or the recent misguided breaking-out-of-cocoons of the Blink-182s, Green Day have never once forgotten about either of them. It feels like forever, but mainstream punk music can finally fly their flag with a little dignity again.

(Reprise 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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