One of the most enduring qualities of punk rock music (short, fast, loud) is at times also its most restricting. Be it by design or by the constraints of public perception, punk music has and always will be focused on being direct, without the textures and layers you find in pop music and the less organic sounds of what is on the radio. But don’t tell Ten Foot Pole that, especially after the release of their genre-busting, expectations crushing Escalating Quickly, their first studio album since 2004.
The long running California punk band made a name for themselves amongst the wave of 90s melodicore whose music circumnavigated the globe. There were many reasons why their output from that time- Rev (1994), the terrific Unleashed (1997), and Insider (1999)- caught the ears of many. Ten Foot Pole, with or without original vocalist Scott Radinsky, were one of the bands that proved you could still be fast, loud, sometimes short, but could still hold a note and write music that didn’t sound like it was recorded and produced inside a trash can. After the departure of Radinsky, guitarist Dennis Jagard stepped up to the mic and the band remained steadfast with their ability to sing well and play melodic music- it is one of the few things that have remained unchanged for the band, because their new album is a bold, adventurous statement that few bands have successfully undertaken before.
Escalating Quickly is absolutely out of left field- a punk album with its foundation in 90s melodic skate punk, but one that throws away all notions that an album of the genre (especially by a band form that era), must sound or be written in a certain way. Credit is due to noted producer Ryan Greene, who is working with the band for the first time since Insider. Jagard has said the catalyst for this new sound is Greene’s influence and Jagard’s desire to do something different. What we get here is new layers, textures, and sounds that you just wouldn’t hear on an album cut from that Epitaph/Fat Wreck mold. There now walls of sound and harmonies, and not just the Bad Religion type harmonies, but the Spector Sound kind- where the music becomes sonically dense. From the opening cut “Everything Dies” to the repeated, textured vocals of “Don’t Be a Dick” (something about the repeated, but layered refrain of “dick dick dick dick” that makes this great), there are just so many new sounds to take in. “Numb” is part skate punk, but also part space pop-punkopera (it’s a thing, I promise)- and it’s quite glorious, especially when the synthesizer packed chorus hits. It’s fun, it’s a little silly, but also proof that skate punk can be adventurous.
What Ryan Greene has brought along with his myriad of studio tools is a cast of additional musicians that make up the kaleidoscope of sounds. Dan Palmer (of Death by Stereo), Dan Jacobs (Atreyu), Lil Joe Raposo (Lagwagon, RKL) and Sean Sellers (Good Riddance) add sometimes small touches to the songs (some extra percussion work, some extra bass noodling, lots and lots of harmonies on top). But as a completed album, they are the added layers that make this outing an eventful one. Sometimes the sounds are more straight forward, like “Long Night”, a song that could have come off Unleashed. But when the stadium-filling guitar solos hit, you know it’s something new to the Ten Foot Pole catalogue. Similarly, “Forever Road” sounds like early Ten Foot Pole, but only until skate punk urgency is given glossy rock overtures that once again there’s new musical spaces to explore.
That is essentially the crux of Escalating Quickly. Ten Foot Pole have done everything a skate punk band could ever do; their accomplishments are noted and their back catalogue will remain a vital part of the genre. The one thing they haven’t done until now was write an out of this world record. Jagard has said that he wanted to write “the Bohemian Rhapsody of 90’s punk”, and as you traverse the multitude of layers, sounds, and textures of Escalating Quickly, you come away realizing that yes, Ten Foot Pole spent a night at the opera and they (along with Ryan Greene), have come as close to achieving it as possible. It may not please the old punks and traditionalists, punk diving into territory often deemed musical hedonism, but I am an old punk and I had a blast listening to this record. We will probably never see Descendents co-write an album with Queen, but if they ever did, just know that Ten Foot Pole beat them to the punch.
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.