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Zebrahead – Brain Invaders

Zebrahead continues to party just below the surface, not-so-quietly kegstanding the nights away; having more fun than anyone else. They always have, and listening to Brain Invaders, always will




It’s crazy to think that of all the bands who made the airwaves sound like a frat house in the early 2000s, that California rap/rock punks Zebrahead are one of those still going strong. In 2000, when they released their seminal Playmate of the Year, it was cool to be juvenile. In a sea of moshpit wannabes and backwards-worn red hats, there was Zebrahead; who unlike some of their contemporaries never took themselves too seriously. They were loud, they liked punk, they liked metal and they liked hip hop. They liked to sing about girls and having fun and it showed in their music. Playmate of the Year, with all of its hooks, catchy goodness and penchant for delinquent humour was in fact, a staple of my juvenile adolescence. The single, about the joys of receiving your copy of Playboy magazine, so you can “make things milky clear”, was one of the many songs blasted constantly from the rooftops of my fraternity house across campus in what can only be described as, “we were dickheads”.

It’s been almost 20 years since and while the major label support may have long gone and many of Zebrahead’s contemporaries are probably in Maroon 5 cover bands, they march on. Often funding and self releasing albums, its clear that they love what they do. Brain Invaders, their 13th(!) studio album doesn’t stray too far from the metal-heavy chugga chugga riffs, soaring choral harmonies and the occasionally rap/rock interlude, but the album is Zebrahead to a ‘T’. Brain Invaders is an absolute blast.

From the opening heavy metal soaked “When Both Sides Suck, We’re All Winners”, the Zebrahead mantra is clear; get on board or get out of our way. Remarkably, vocalist Ali Tabatabaee sounds better than ever, and after the departure of co-vocalist Justin Mauriello and two decades of it mic work, hasn’t lost a step. Whether he’s rapping the verse to “I Won’t Let You Down” or harmonizing choruses in the anthemic “You Don’t Know Anything About Me”, he sounds like he just finished recording vocals back in 2000. Matty Lewis, who replaced Mauriello in 2004, took some time to settle in but he’s completely in-sync with Tabatabaee now. They tap into Blink 182/Sum 41 territory in the pop punk heavy “We’re Not Alright” and get a little introspective in the melancholic punk hip-hop hybrid song “Take a Deep Breath (And Go Fuck Yourself)”. There is rarely a moment the album isn’t drenched in catchy melodic punk sing-a-longs, and there isn’t much time to slow down as the album pummels its way through the 14 tracks with high energy purpose.

So what’s not so great about Brain Invaders? Well, if you’re looking for intellectually stimulating music than you’re probably looking in the wrong place. But one can argue if you’re looking for it with Zebrahead then maybe there’s something wrong with you. It ain’t Rhodes Scholar stuff here, and if you’re not really into never becoming an adult, then you’re probably not going to find much joy with Brain Invaders. And yes, the bong-noises of “Up in Smoke” are a little superfluous, and outside of the Zebrahead formula, there isn’t too much else. But that’s what makes this album great.

In a sea awash with bands who take themselves too seriously, rock music can often seem so very unfun. Zebrahead are the remedy for that malaise. Frat rock may have had its day in the sun, but thanks to Zebrahead it continues to party just below the surface, not-so-quietly kegstanding the nights away; having more fun than anyone else. They always have, and listening to Brain Invaders, always will. What did you expect? It’s “Motherfucking Zebrahead, Bitch”.

(MFZB Records)


Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance



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.

(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




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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