Review Summary: Raw, fast, melodic, and pissed, Career Suicide is the album that by all rights should put AWS firmly into the pantheon of punk greats, despite them taking a tiny hit in memorable songwriting. Oh yeah, can you say Super Shred?
It's pretty amazing how fast a band like A Wilhelm Scream has risen to the top of the heap of old-school SoCal punk rock. With Bad Religion keeping on (good and bad), NOFX putting in their 60% effort on every new record, Good Riddance broken up for good, Lagwagon being dead/on hiatus/whatever, Strung Out going even more mainstream in sound, Pennywise continuing their stint as Bad Religion For Trendy Jocks, and No Use For A Name starting to blatantly suck, AWS have kept the once-formidable flame of mid-90's SoCal punk rock burning brightly in the last few years. In a short five years, the band formerly known as Smackin' Isaiah have churned out a decent first record (Benefits Of Thinking Out Loud
) as well as two highly-praised, quality records (2004's Mute Print
and 2005's Ruiner
) that recall some of the greatest sounds to ever come out 90's punk rock with a mix of old and new-school metal twist.
is a bit of an odd name for this record. I can see where the band was going with it, in a way. Whereas Mute Print
was the true beginning foundation of their sound, featuring some awesome leads and guitar harmonizing with a basic SoCal template, Ruiner
refined their attack even more, adding more melody, experimentation, a polished sound and even more pop hooks to the mix. A poppier, more restrained direction would have been totally expected afterwards, especially listening to songs off Ruiner
like "In Vino Veritas II", "Killing It", and "Congratulations". Not really the case here. Career Suicide
plays somewhat like a rough mix of the two prior CDs, only this time on fat rails of coke and 'roids. There isn't really a single song that drops anywhere below supersonic during the entire 35 minute play time, hooks take the backseat to the shred more often, some songs venture into prog territory at times, and the band's un-effing-believable display of melodic punk/metal shred, complex songwriting, and interplay is unquestionably in the spotlight.
is most definitely a record made with far more of a full band effort here, and it shows. Wilhelm's guitarists (Chris and Trevor, now down to just Trevor as of this writing) have always stolen the show on past records - and trust me, they continue do so on here as well - now, however, the drummer Nick and ESPECIALLY the bassist (newcomer Brian) have risen to the challenge and matched their insane guitar duo in every way, creating the hands-down best AWS record yet, musically speaking. The songs change up, start and stop on dimes, and lock in like no other punk band out there right now, including even the venerated punk/metal kings in Strung Out and Propagandhi. Not to be brushed aside, singer Nuno lends his gruff, distinctive vocal style well to the nature of the album, in-your-face at all times (along with their trademark three-part vocal harmonies), but at the same time takes a noticeable backseat to the show the band is putting on.
A word must be said about Brian Robinson, the new bassist. Simply put, he's absolutely mindblowing and contributes by far the best addition to AWS's sound. His lines are the true musical standout, laying down some amazingly complex low-end (your jaw WILL drop when you hear the first verse of "The Horse" and the bridge of "Jaws 3, People 0") and straight-up raping even Trevor and Chris's onslaught more than a few times here. The guy is almost always off doing his own melodic thing underneath the Trevor/Chris duo, rarely going for the root-note approach, matching up with counterpoint lines when needed and adding far more rhythmic/melodic bounce and freedom, and making the band in general tighter than an elephant's ass. The crazy start-stops all over the record and impeccable harmony leads will impress any tech-heads in attendance - it's almost superhuman how tight AWS have become on Career Suicide
. They seem to balance between the punk and thrash/metal spectrums effortlessly while adding their own distinctive touches to make it their own, while keeping their trademark hooks intact when needed.
It's pretty insane how much this band rips it considering their chosen genre of punk rock, something not really known for technical musical tricks. The tech is really off the scale here and doesn't let up for an instant. Of course, AWS still have their finely-tuned pop hooks that balance it all out, as seen in album opener "I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz", arguably the catchiest and most straightforward song on the album (meant to bridge Ruiner
to Career Suicide
), or "These Dead Streets", with its uplifting chorus of "I'm gonna wreck this/and like a snake sticks to its hole, I won't come out 'till the sun heats up these dead streets". That's what separates this from being straight wankery - it's fun to listen to and not overdone, and most importantly, catchy. The intro to "These Dead Streets" is a great combination, with its light-speed dual riffing serving as a super-catchy yet tech anchor to put the song on. AWS interweave their metal leanings into the punk fabric without sacrificing the primal sound or raw intensity that the music is known for and do it really, really well. "5 To 9" is a perfect example of this, starting with a crazy start-stop tom roll beat, with some very awesome bass tapping and tense palm-muted riffs before thrashing into a galloping pace with a memorable guitar harmony that would make any old-school NWOBHM band jealous. And unlike on their older records, AWS pull out honest-to-God guitar solos fairly often here, although they are mainly melodic stopgaps between the far more interesting leads that pepper all the songs' verses and main hooks. Cool, huh?
It's not all widdly-widdly-woo Guitar Center heroics here, though. "I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz", "Career Suicide", "Get Mad, You Son Of A Bitch", "5 To 9", and "These Dead Streets" highlight some of the best vocal harmonies and hooks seen yet by AWS ("Run motherf*cker, run/Will you jump with me through the fire?" from "Career Suicide" in particular featuring truly transcendent vocal harmonies/melodies) to date, while "The Horse", "Get Mad, You Son Of A Bitch", and "We Built This City! (On Debts And Booze)" go into soft/loud, epic (almost, dare I say it, progressive) song structure dynamics that AWS have never even hinted at previously. The trademark three-part vocal harmonies are intact and better than ever, and have no problem taking some of the wind out of even Bad Religion's vocal sails. Another noticeable tick is that these dudes have most definitely been taking notes from Propagandhi in the songwriting department - in fact, the musical parallels between this and Propagandhi's Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes
are thickly apparent (something the band themselves would probably admit, as it was one of their biggest influences in the recording), even down to the short run-time, short song-length (most of the songs never go above 2 minutes and change), highly aggressive, in-your-face attitude and steps away from their more melodic, pop-punk aspects.
The aggressive 24/7 nature of Career Suicide
and its main focus on shredding your face off may at times detract from the record, mainly because the feeling of the album being in one pace/sound/speed might grate on some. It's not as musically varied as Ruiner
was, but at the same time a bit more consistent. It does seem at times that the record also lacks obvious singles/standouts like "The Rip", "Anchor End", "The King Is Dead", "God Loves A Liar", "Killing It", or "Cancer Dream", although I can say for certainly that "5 To 9", "The Horse", "Get Mad", "Jaws 3, People 0", "Career Suicide", and "We Built This City!" are qualifying quite easily at this point. Still, it takes a bit more time to get it than the immediate catchiness and polish of Ruiner
. The album's relentless pace starts to cloy a bit near the very end, but in itself the short run-time is another strength - the songs say what they want to say and move on without muddling it down with more parts or unneeded verse/chorus repeats, thus making it easy to listen to it front-to-back without getting bored. Perhaps the overall songwriting took a small hit with the added focus on technicality, but repeated listens uncover so many cool little quirks and idiosyncracies, it's easy to ignore the more ho-hum parts of the record.
Either way, this album is extremely fun to listen to and more than worthy of purchase to anyone that like fast/aggressive music with a razor-sharp melodic edge. Career Suicide
may be A Wilhelm Scream: Super Turbo Hyper Champion Tournament Edition
instead of a truely big progression, but despite the small step back in memorable songwriting, it edges out their older records by a nice margin, and it's easily the best punk record to come along in at least a few years (poops all over BR and Strung Out's 2007 efforts as of late anyways). Not to mention it serves a hard, focused notice to the old guard of SoCal to step it up, which they will undoubtedly need to do now.