An American Paradox
Remember when bands were allowed to mix punk, hardcore, and metal and there weren't a bunch of uneducated idiots mislabeling it "post-screamocore?" I do. Bands like Grade and Strung Out were mixing the aggression of hardcore and the catchy melodies of punk while members of Hawthorne Heights were learning algebra. Strung Out, a current Fat Wreck band, has a particular metal tinge that gives them another edge that Grade didn't have. It brings technicality into the music and it's the musical development that allowed Thrice and The Fall of Troy to exist. Their old releases, which were more youthfully punk, inspired bands that were shamelessly ripping them off. With the climate of melodic hardcore changing drastically, Strung Out pulled an odd move and copied a lot of the bands that were initially ripping their style. They added a darkness to their sound that hadn't existed before. They moved towards more minor keys and songs like "Razor Sex" and "Kill Your Scene" instead of remembering the days of the major keys of "Crossroads" and "Support Your Troops." While it would be unwise for some bands to move with the fads, and Strung Out definitely maintains a lot of their trademarks, Strung Out excelled with this new sound, and proved that anything their imitators can do, they can do better (except Thrice. Thrice is marginally better.). So enters An American Paradox
: hardcore in appearance, metal on the mind, but punk at heart.
A given with Strung Out is solid instrumentals. These guys have been playing for years and are pretty sick at their craft. Often punk bands purposefully stay sloppy over the years, but Strung Out's style has forced them to get better. The guitar solos and general riffing are superb. There's a good variety of sweet background stuff as well as distorted foreground stuff. The inclusion of octaves is tastefully done and is a staple of most Fat bands. In Strung Out's case, this styles complements the faster pace of the riffing. The harmonics change often, which is fun and brisk during major key moments and almost brutal during minor key moments, especially on "Razor Sex" and "UnKoil." The bass is good as usual but is comparatively generic. It mimics a lot of other punk bands by playing the root note and then throwing in fills to merge root notes together. It's definitely above par but they're not pioneering anything here. The drumming is sick. Incredibly tight and fast. He is very clean for being a fast, punk drummer. The breakdowns are well done because it's not just the typical double-bass stuff metalcore bands do. The breakdowns here show influences of punk and in the end seem different because Strung Out isn't a hardcore band.
The songwriting on this album is top notch, definitely better than any album in the past. There is a specific trade-off at hand; by losing the amazingly catchy anthems of their punk past, they acquire a mode of bittersweet songs not unlike AFI or even emotional hardcore bands like Funeral Diner. It's definitely nice to hear Strung Out writing good songs on a completely different wavelength. Sure, songs like "Satellite" and "Contender" hearken back to older Strung Out songs, but this CD is dominated by elements of death and aggression. This isn't the cheesy fare of a death metal band like Cryptopsy, but more the maturation of a long-standing band. The political lyrics aren't "Fuc
k the Man" like some are with punk bands are the emotional lyrics aren't "Black my heart and cross out my whatever" like with some pop punk bands. There is room for political unrest and angst on this album because it is not saccharine and whiny, but respectable and reasonable. It all fits perfectly with the tight musicianship and nicely crafted songs.
On a final note, though technically this album rules, it also grabs me in an inexplicable way. Its mix of candor and melodic superiority produces songs that have countless moments that just get me in that special way. This is a matter of bias more than anything else but I can't help thinking that other people feel the exact same way. I dig Strung Out's new groove. I hope you will too.
Recommended Tracks: Velvet Alley, Contender, Razor Sex