There seems to be a trustworthy formula for writing albums that are considered to be truly ‘classic’. Your band needs to be around for a short time, releasing only one or two albums; be largely unheard of and apparently, the rest (making that ‘classic’ album) will follow. One band that seems to fit this template is Marshalltown, Iowa’s Modern Life Is War. The now defunct hardcore troupe were only around long enough to make three albums, but 2005’s ‘Witness’ will cement their status for years to come as hardcore greats. Their debut, the confidently titled ‘My Love, My Way’, was a blistering first release from the band, and was very different from 2007’s ‘Midnight In America’. In between those two great albums was ‘Witness’ – possibly the best hardcore album of our generation.
Modern Life Is War truly stood out from their contemporaries, not only because of their superior quality, but also because of their style. While many prefer to keep tempos and energy levels consistently high, MLIW chose to take a slower, more lethargic approach to hardcore. However, someone once said that slower equals heavier, and when it comes to Modern Life Is War this is right. There are moments on ‘Witness’ that are cripplingly heavy such as the epic, yes, that’s right, epic, ‘Marshalltown’
. The song builds from a distorted, distant guitar riff to vocalist Jeffrey Eaton roaring poetically about his hometown before pessimistically offering the advice that “this world isn’t against you, my dear, it just doesn’t care!” The overall feeling of the album is one of despair, but it is a tangible, ‘non-emo’ despair that is reflected by the distorted guitars, muddy bass and relentlessly heavy drums.
While the instruments are proficient, and at times very creative – the marching snares and twinkling guitar tremolos on ‘Young Man On A Spree’
are brilliant – the best part about ‘Witness’ is Eaton’s lyrics and his ferocious, and sometimes frightening vocal delivery. Every one of the nine tracks here contains some excellent lines, and because of this, even though the songs don’t have a chorus, per-se, they are undeniably catchy. For example, the chanting of the song title at the end of the frantic punk of ‘D.E.A.D.RA.M.O.N.E.S.’
is simple yet so effective. Even better, is the pulsating yet haywire ‘Young Man Blues’
which sees Eaton scream “I feel the loneliness of the long distance runner now, the sterility is rotting me out – can’t live in service I’m dropping out!” with the unwavering conviction of a man possessed.
As well as each and every song on ‘Witness’ being utterly incredible, the very deliberate ordering of songs for transitional purposes gives the album great flow. Being book-ended by two songs titled ‘Hell Is For Heroes, Pts 1 & 2’
the album flows seamlessly from track especially at the start where the tom-toms at the end of ominous album opener ‘Outsiders’
segue perfectly into the primitive intro to ‘Martin Atchet’
’ counterpart ‘Hair Raising Accounts Of Restless Ghosts’
ends a superb album on a relative high as the song fades out with Eaton hoarsely screaming “they can never truly kill us, and we will never truly die!”
The last lines of the album ring so true because despite Modern Life Is War calling it quits as of April 26th, 2008,after making an album as exceptionally cathartic as ‘Witness’, they “will never truly die!” In the six years that they were together they made that elusive classic album that many will try their whole career to write but never succeed. It is stunningly powerful musically, lyrically and vocally. Angsty, yet intelligently poetic, the lyrics are the real highlight here, and help make ‘Witness’ possibly the best modern hardcore album of our generation.