CANCER BATS – Hail Destroyer (Metal Blade)

Cancer Bats - Hail Destroyer coverWith a sound incorporating equal parts Southern metal and modern hardcore, Canada’s Cancer Bats have been a fearsome rock beast since their inception in 2004, but their second album ups the intensity and heaviness, in the process managing to surpass their impressive 2006 debut, Birthing The Giant.

Liam Cormier’s rabid vocals have increased in ferocity and throatiness this time out, escaping previous comparisons to Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley and creating a new benchmark. His performance challenges guest vocalists Ben Kowalewicz (from Billy Talent), Alexisonfire’s Wade MacNeil, and Tim McIlrath (Rise Against) to equal levels of intensity, and is one of the signature features of this release.

Guitarist Scott Middleton (who additionally recorded the bass parts on this album following the departure of Andrew McCracken) also hits harder than ever before, delivering plenty of incisive riffs (see the title track) and aggressive chugging grooves (Deathsmarch), as well as slightly more accessible hooks on occasion (Harem Of Scorpions).

The heaviness of this album is especially notable on the more deliberately paced likes of Bastard’s Waltz or scorching Lucifer’s Rocking Chair. Make no mistake, these decelerations don’t reduce the impact or power of the band, but rather give Middleton the chance for precision riffing that’s just as brutal as the frenzied battering of Sorceress, the hardcore shoutalong Let It Pour or the out-of-control insanity of Pray For Darkness.

With Hail Destroyer, Cancer Bats prove that sometimes you have to destroy to create.

Owen Heitmann



Less Than Jake - GNV FLA coverWhile I’m a huge Less Than Jake fan, even I’ll admit that 2006’s In With The Out Crowd had more than its share of duds, and many of the winning tracks shied away from their trademark ska-punk style. Not knowing whether that album was to be an aberration or the start of a trend, I played GNV FLA with a sense of apprehension.

The atypically subdued opener City Of Gainesville had me wary, but my fears were unfounded, as it plays directly into the comfortingly breakneck blast The State Of Florida: the band’s vintage sound is back.

The geographic theme doesn’t stop with those two song titles – the quintet’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida is a major recurring character in the lyrics throughout the album (hence its name). The record is also a tribute to their musical as well as physical roots: while their last three albums have featured the occasional ska song thrown out like a bone to appease older fans, this album is drenched in upstrokes and summery rhythms married with punk energy.

Co-lead vocalists Roger and Chris are full of passion on tracks like Handshake Meet Pokerface (a tribute to a mother’s sacrifices for her sons) and Abandon Ship (hopelessness has never sounded so upbeat), and Scott Klopfenstein from Reel Big Fish adds trumpet to the existing horn section of Buddy and JR throughout, drenching numbers such as the frenetic Summon Monsters in brass. The opening gambit of using a quiet song to to lead into a louder one is repeated with the seamless transition from The Life Of The Party Has Left The Building to Devil In My DNA, but apart from those exceptions the album is raucous and fast all the way through. Golden Age Of My Negative Ways is short but razor sharp and catchy as hell; however, my pick of the litter is the euphoric Conviction Notice with its irrepressible “na na na na” chorus.

My first reaction was that this was a return to form. After repeated listens, I’ll go further: I’d recommend this to an LTJ newcomer as much as their previous career best, 1998’s classic Hello Rockview.

Owen Heitmann

THE OFFSPRING – Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace (Sony)

The Offspring - Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace coverThankfully bucking their trend of having horribly gimmicky joke songs as singles (Pretty Fly [For A White Guy], Original Prankster, Hit That), the first cut released from Orange County punk band The Offspring’s 2008 album has been their hardest-hitting single in nearly a decade: the punchy Hammerhead races along like the band’s best for two-thirds of its nearly five minutes before taking a twist, changing tempo and rhythm for a strong finish.

It’s almost symbolic of the whole album. Much of the record is familiar: Trust In You is vintage Offspring (so much so that it sounds a little too close to the title track from their highwater mark, 1994’s Smash), and Takes Me Nowhere and Rise And Fall also showcase their typical chugging guitar riffs and catchy melodies. However, there are a few twists: You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid incorporates dance-rock influences into their trademark sound, and Let’s Hear It For Rock Bottom’s verses recall The Police. Slower-paced stadium rocker A Lot Like Me may be in a very similar vein to Ixnay On The Hombre’s Gone Away, but the band take a step further into true ballad territory with piano-embellished Fix You and the well-intentioned but saccharine Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?

While recognisable as the same band many of their fans have grown up with, Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace finds The Offspring growing up a bit themselves, as evidenced by the lack of novelty tracks (although it might be kinder to call Stuff Is Messed Up a joke than take it seriously, given its glib response to social and environmental problems, Shit is fucked up). They’re still having fun though, as Let’s Hear It For Rock Bottom’s exuberant chorus testifies.

While flawed, and (naturally) no match for Smash, this is still the strongest Offspring album since 1998’s Americana.

Owen Heitmann.

H2O – Nothing To Prove (Bridge Nine)

H2O - Nothing To Prove coverSeven years after their last full-length album, New York’s H2O finally have a new record, and it finds them continuing to deliver the positive, melodic hardcore they began playing in 1995, minus the overtly pop inflections that weakened 2001’s Go in the eyes of some.

The album kicks off strongly with 1995. This song has it all: aggressively catchy guitars, racing drums and addictive gang vocals backing up just about every second line that comes from Toby Morse’s mouth. The rest of the album follows suit, amping up on some tracks and mellowing just a touch on Sunday. However, despite the strength of the songs, the album missteps with the overuse of spoken soundbites between almost every track. These interludes quickly wear thin and sap the repeat listening quality of an otherwise fine album.

Maintaining the band’s posi-core attitude, the uplifting lyrics generally look on the bright side – on Fairweather Friend, Morse focuses more on love for his true friends than hate for a fake, while Sunday balances the loss of Morse’s father with the gift of his son. Most of the lyrics are equally personal, from the straight edge affirmations of Still Here to the powerful love song Unconditional. Tough guys have feelings too, as Heart On My Sleeve makes clear, pleading for people to look past the singer’s tattoos before passing judgement.

After such a long absence from the studio, the record is understandably a celebration, and a whole bunch of hardcore legends join the party to provide guest vocals, including Roger Miret on Nothing To Prove, Freddy Cricien on A Thin Line, Civ on Still Here, and Kevin Seconds on Fairweather Friend. In this company, Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio could seem an unexpected choice to grace anthemic final track What Happened? (which also features Lou Koller of Sick Of It All) but it may nonetheless be the best song (it’s hard to choose) from a strong return.

Owen Heitmann

BLACK LUNGS – Send Flowers (Dine Alone)

Black Lungs - Send Flowers coverThe second Alexisonfire spin-off band – guitarist Wade MacNeil’s side project Black Lungs – will likely be overshadowed by the established success of the first, Dallas Green’s City And Colour, which is a shame, as this gem is more deserving of attention. MacNeil’s guitar and gravelly voice are complemented primarily by Sammi Bogdanski’s upright piano and Ian Romano’s drums, and this combination is so effective that it could be argued that the occasional sweep of strings is superfluous.

The album’s not an instant winner – opener A Blessing And A Curse frankly doesn’t promise much, consisting mainly of a heavily echoed vocal chant, and the following Fire And Brimstone, while more fully developed, might still have seen me go either way. But with track three, When It’s Blackout, the various elements of the group’s sound coalesced to produce a stirring folk-rock anthem and from that point on I was sold.

Although the album takes those first couple of songs to find its footing, once it establishes its niche it doesn’t slip up. While leaning at times towards punk and hard rock, the folk-rock core of guitar riffs and piano melodies holds strong, completed by strong lyrics and raw, honest vocals. Hold Fast (Sink Or Swim) incorporates an expansive, affirmative chorus alongside jittery verses, These Moments Define Us is rollicking, and the contrast between the buzzing guitar and crystal-clear piano is at its peak on So It Goes, a yearning and heartfelt standout.

I don’t know if Black Lungs has the marketability of City And Colour’s sensitive heartthrob image, but on the strength of songs alone, MacNeil will be able to hold his head high when he regroups with Alexisonfire for their next album.

Owen Heitmann

MILLENCOLIN – Machine 15 (Epitaph)

Millencolin - Machine 15 coverCurrently celebrating 15 years with the same lineup, Scandinavian punk rock mainstays Millencolin’s history and legacy is reflected in the lyrics on their new album – the wonderfully self-referential Brand New Game consists of multiple allusions to previous Millencolin songs (making it a kind of follow-up to Mooseman’s Jukebox from their last album, which name-checked a string of influential songs by other artists), and the title track commemorates the band’s milestone with the chorus, “the machine is turning fifteen”. It’s an appropriate metaphor: they are a true rock and roll machine by now, firing on all cylinders on tracks such as the buzz saw guitar-driven Who’s Laughing Now.

With this seventh studio album, Millencolin continue the slow but steady evolution of their sound – their ska-tinged skate-punk roots have given way over time to a musclier, more mature approach. This maturity is reflected in the presence of two atmospheric instrumentals (Centerpiece and End Piece) which divide and conclude the album, while Done Is Done features a string section, which enhances the song’s melancholy mood. In fact, a similar desolation marks much of the album, including the gloomy Ducks & Drakes.

It’s not all downbeat, though – first single Detox is a chirpy, bouncy number, Come On is bright and poppy, and Danger For Stranger is way more cheerful than a song with a chorus featuring the line, “where there is hate there is you” should be. Meanwhile, Turnkey Paradise and Broken World are simply catchy melodic punk such as fans have come to expect.

While maybe not quite up to the standard of career highpoint Pennybridge Pioneers, Machine 15 offers plenty of reasons to hope Millencolin endures for another 15 years.

Owen Heitmann

NEW FOUND GLORY – Tip Of The Iceberg (Bridge Nine)

New Found Glory - Tip Of The Iceberg coverHaving wound up their previous record contract, New Found Glory have taken advantage of their newfound freedom to pair with renowned hardcore label Bridge Nine for this two-disc package. The US five-piece have always been a pop-punk group, but the band members’ background in the hardcore scene has occasionally shone through in their songs. The new partnership sees the band focus on that side of their music: the six-track Tip Of The Iceberg EP is recognisably NFG, but with a heavy edge highlighted by gang vocals – particularly on the 90-second title track – and fierce drums (Dig My Own Grave).

After three solid originals, the band pay tribute to some of the melodic hardcore bands that have influenced them, completing the EP with three great cover songs – Gorilla Biscuits’ No Reason Why, Shelter’s Here We Go and Lifetime’s Cut The Tension. These versions are all faithful to the original recordings, and actually improve Here We Go in my book; Jordan Pundik’s trademark vocals sound more passionate than Ray Cappo did on the original.

But that’s not all: the package also includes a second, 12-track disc by NFG’s alter egos, International Superheroes Of Hardcore, called Takin’ It Ova. ISOH contains the same members as NFG but features Pundik on guitar and guitarist Chad Gilbert on lead vocals. This incarnation of the band plays straight-up melodic hardcore with a ridiculous sense of humour. The music is circle-pit-worthy, but the lyrics tackle subjects like clean substitutes for profanity and the importance of wearing seat belts. While light-hearted, it’s hard to tell if Madball’s Got Our Back is actually a joke – after all, Gilbert did produce the new H20 comeback record.

It’s a short affair – the two discs combined barely come to half an hour – but it’s up there with Catalyst as one of the best things they’ve ever done.

Owen Heitmann

GOLDFINGER – Hello Destiny (SideOneDummy)

Goldfinger - Hello Destiny coverGoldfinger’s self-titled 1996 debut album spawned the era-defining ska-punk single Here In Your Bedroom, but the band switched tack when the third-wave ska revival crashed, almost completely forsaking any ska influence on releases after 1997’s Hang Ups, with increasingly diminishing returns.

With Hello Destiny, however, Goldfinger have promised a revival of their heyday, complete with the return of early guitarist Charlie Paulson and cover art that mimics that of their debut – the album even ends with a quote from Mable, a song off the self-titled.

With this in mind, things begin promisingly with the pop-punk of One More Time (even if frontman John Feldmann doesn’t realise that the uber-polished style he’s used as a producer with acts such Hilary Duff doesn’t actually suit his own band all that well) and Get Up, a horn-infused ska ditty that makes you wonder why they ever abandoned the genre. Goodbye is punchy, and the classic Goldfinger reggae-ska of If I’m Not Right finds Feldmann appropriately singing, I’m the guy from way back when.

With the flavourless War, however, proceedings start to go downhill. Bury Me is forgettable, the best thing that can be said about the Paulson-sung hardcore thrasher Not Amused is that it’s short, and by Handjobs For Jesus (a screamo-influenced track featuring Bert McCracken which bizarrely switches to country gospel) it seems like “going back to their roots” was just a marketing claim to erase memories of 2005’s poorly performing Disconnection Notice. In fact, winsome How Do You Do It is the only cut that makes it worth listening to the second half of the album.

The lacklustre results shouldn’t be a surprise: Goldfinger have been on a downward spiral for years. It’s just the signs that this could have been a return to form that make it hurt. If this is Destiny, let’s hear it for free will.

Owen Heitmann

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Punk Goes Crunk (Fearless)

Various Artists - Punk Goes Crunk coverPunk Goes Crunk is without doubt the most hilarious concept of the Punk Goes… compilation series so far, and I don’t expect anyone will buy it expecting more than a novelty or an ironic party album. Good: if you take either your punk or your crunk too seriously, stay away, because this collection isn’t really much of either – it’s mostly indie and pop-punk bands covering popular hip hop, rap and urban tracks.

There’s no consistent approach to the source material: some bands rework their chosen target in their own style (The Maine and All Time Low remake Akon’s I Wanna Love You and Rihanna’s Umbrella, respectively, as sugary slices of pop-punk, while The Devil Wears Prada do Big Tymers’ Still Fly as metalcore), some take it as a challenge to see how closely they can replicate the original (mainly Emanuel’s take on Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ Kryptonite), some opt for the middle ground (the guitars-and-beats approach of Forever The Sickest Kids on Men In Black, My American Heart’s California Love), others take a comedic approach (Lil Jon’s Put Yo Hood Up – incidentally the only track to originally really qualify as “crunk” – is performed by Set Your Goals as if Yoda was rapping, Say Anything’s reading of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Got Your Money has an affected, near-spoken vocal delivery), and then there’s a few completely out-of-the-blue left turns (Hot Rod Circuit’s bluesy version of Snoop Dogg’s Gin And Juice, The Secret Handshake deciding Skee-Lo’s mid ’90s hip hop single I Wish should be done as vocodered electropop).

Fans of the cover bands involved are likely to take to this more kindly than fans of the original tracks, but even so there’s a fair few duds – while there’s plenty of gimmicky fun, the only bands that offer repeated listening pleasure are The Maine, The Devil Wears Prada, Person L’s respectful version of The Roots & Cody Chesnutt’s The Seed (2.0), and New Found Glory, who close the compilation with a mellow, guitar-based version of Arrested Development’s Tennessee.

Owen Heitmann

FALL OUT BOY – **** Live In Phoenix (Island)

Fall Out Boy - **** Live In Phoenix coverHow on earth did this get released? I’ve heard enough live b-sides and bootlegs from pop-punk band Fall Out Boy to verify that Patrick Stump can actually sing live, but you wouldn’t know it from this recording, where he spends most of the running time sounding like he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

No one expects live songs to sound exactly like their studio counterparts (it’s both pointless and often impossible), but vocals aside, this whole recording sounds horrible. The playing is sloppy, and the mix is murky and bass-heavy, particularly on recent tracks such as Thriller. Older songs, like Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things To Do Today, translate best to this recording, possibly because they were written when Fall Out Boy used to be a real band and not overproduced studio puppets.

**** Live In Phoenix is also available on DVD, which pretty much makes this CD superfluous – not only are many of the band’s fans most interested in watching bassist Pete Wentz, but the CD version excises five songs from the gig (three FOB originals and partial covers of Akon’s Don’t Matter and Timbaland’s One And Only). To add insult to injury, the CD sleeve still includes credits for these songs, as if rubbing in the fact that they’re not present.

Disappointing even to fans, this is utterly inessential for anything except proving that Wentz needs to be kept away from the microphone at all costs (witness his screams on set closer Saturday).

Owen Heitmann

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