I was at the Warped Tour in Fresno a few years ago and I had successfully dragged two of my friends to the show along with my sister. After the security check we ran around the tents and got to the front of the stage where some techies and roadies were setting up. On walked three women and one man. Together they were … The Distillers! It’s true; the band had once consisted of three females, Casper, Kim and Brody, and one male, Matt. Being the first band of a short show sucks. These brave souls were the first band of a daylong event. Needless to say, most of the crowd was not overly enthusiastic. I had not heard of The Distillers until that moment and after the first couple of songs the band grew on me. I loved the idea of having three women and one man in a band. On top of it, this mostly female band kicked a lot of ass. It was impressive. Like any show, this show had its share of assholes in the crowd. Some jerk took it upon himself to hurl some water bottles at the band. As if it isn’t hard enough opening the Warped Tour and playing to unenthusiastic kids. Still, they took it in stride and powered on. The vocals that came out of the women were very brash and unapologetic without giving up the concept of melody. I remember thinking I had not heard anything of the sort before. It was quite different; not hardcore by definition but far from pop-punk.
Since this first encounter the band has gone through a multitude of transformations: lineup changes, marriages, and divorces. As one would imagine, with so many changes it would be a miracle for the music to remain the same. While I loved their self-titled album, I found their following album to be more than decent but not meeting my expectations. Once again we have come across the same labeling … Coral Fang is decent but not on par to expectations. It seems as if the sound, the energy, the fury, the passion, the creativity, the uniqueness I had initially experience at that Warped Tour in Fresno has faded or been misplaced. This album is extremely reminiscent of Courtney Love and Hole. This is not necessarily a bad thing because I like Love’s voice; her antics and inability to care for her daughter are far different matters, but in sounding like Hole, or Love, the Distillers have definitely lost their identity. I know it is customary for bands to try to progress and try difference things in attempt to push the boundaries they may see for themselves. This album, however, is a step in the wrong direction.
Let me begin with the cover insert. It is appalling. I am unsure of the message that is trying to be portrayed through the misplaced limbs and random blood. There is a woman with what seems like a razor blade for a head, who appears to be searching for a nonexistent vagina with her fingers. I do not understand the motivation behind the gruesome, spastic, and sadomasochist illustrations. The insert provides the lyrics but unfortunately, they are extremely difficult to read and in some cases, simply impossible.
On to the music: The songs are excessively consistent with each other. Still there are some songs in which there are a few promising melodies. For example in “Coral Fang” the line, “the coral fang sinking in” (if I got the words wrong it is because I can’t read the lyrics), is not a bad melody. Unfortunately, this line is left to flounder and is followed by more semi-boring and tried sounds. In this album it seems as if Brody is trying to showcase her voice a bit more. In “The Hunger” she attempts to slow the pace down. Her voice is surprisingly calm and chill. That is, until she scares you with “Don’t Go”; she screams it with all her viciousness. It is such a terrible contrast with the rest of the song. While the increased pace for the instruments is not terrible in this part, the vocals are. It seems as if there is a lack of transition from the slower to faster parts as far as the instrumentation goes. Aside from that and the lack of transition the song is pretty good; in comparison to the rest of the album.
In “Beat Your Heart Out”, there is a line where Brody slips into some very pleasant, deep, slow, kind of talk/whisper vocals which I love. These vocals are replicated later in the song, this time with some vocal effects causing her to sound distant. These effects did not work well. In “Death Sex” there are various points where her voice sounds as if it is going to fail – clearly noticeable in the parts where she screams or attempts to scream for a prolonged period of time. If she keeps this up she may have to be put on voice rest and what a shame that would be.
While the album’s best song, “Drain The Blood” is seemingly ill-placed because for each preceding song I was expecting something better, only to be left disappointed. The problem I have with this song is that while the chorus is decent and the verses great, they did not seem to fit well together. I suppose that is how I feel about the album in general. Some reasonable points that were not capitalized, matched with some passable but not great material, hindered by some failing and unoriginal vocals all made for an adequate but in no way stunning album (I just do not understand any of the artwork or how it corresponds with the album). It will satisfy those who are complacent as far as their music findings go and leave others disgusted or at least disappointed. Others will praise the heavens for a Hole reincarnate. I, on the other hand long for the days where three girls and one guy were willing to dish it out as the first band of a Warped Tour date as they were faced with apathetic faces and flailing water bottles.
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.