Review Summary: H2O returns and takes a stab at what made them the highlight of the genre.
Time lapses between albums can be a tricky phenomenon and this tends to ring especially true for punk and hardcore bands. The conventional wisdom holds that return albums are lackluster and leave longtime supporters wishing the band simply played shows and left their recorded legacy intact. But H2O never adheres to convention. Their widespread appeal is a result of breaking with the frequently held belief that hardcore should sound abrasive. Rather than rehash the established New York Hardcore (NYHC) sound, they infuse its core structure with hooks and melodies that echo the melodic leanings found on the Gorilla Biscuits' seminal album Start Today
. Lyrically, Toby Morse has always taken risks and branched out into subject matter that isn't often found on hardcore records. He has consistently avoided clichéd posturing and instead opts to reflect introspectively. His fearlessness as a lyricist made it cool to write highly personal lyrics and helped lay the groundwork for baring your heart on record that has become increasingly common within the current hardcore landscape.
In a review of their Still the Same Fellas
7” I did for a previous blog, I noted that while 1995
and Nothing To Prove
were great celebratory tracks, I was especially excited to hear Toby's more personal material that had been hinted at early on in the recording process. Sunday
delivers strong and is one of the most emotional tracks he has penned. Morse reflects on the cycle of life, mourning the loss of his father at a young age while conveying how blessed he feels to now be a father himself. It's a beautiful and gutsy song.
details the frustrations of having a friend disappoint and its mid-song transition into Sick of it All's Friends Like You
is a brilliant moment. The transition functions in much the same way as a hip-hop song that momentarily switches up its beat to reference a classic track. It's particularly fitting given Morse's history as a roadie for SOIA.
is the album's crown jewel. Morse and Sick of it All's Lou Koller trade off vocals in a mic-passing session during which they sound as energized and passionate as on their earliest records. Matt Skiba matches their intensity in what is arguably a song-stealing appearance, reminding everyone why a generation fell in love with the Trio. Skiba crooning “I can't believe they don't remember what it feels like to be young” is a transcendent moment in its indictment of the jaded and bitter who refuse to acknowledge all hardcore still has to offer.
The album's guest appearances are executed flawlessly and add a significant layer of depth to the songs. They serve as a hardcore history lesson that honors the bands that inspired and paved the way for H2O. NYHC stalwarts such as Civ, Lou Koller, Freddy Cricien and Roger Miret lend their vocal stylings to the album and further confirm that NYHC is both a family and a movement.
The album closes with a bonus track featuring H2O's friends and family shooting the *** about the band. While it may seem odd to mention it during the course of an album review, it is of note because the comments effectively convey how deeply people care about the band. H2O represents an era and style of hardcore that many still hold dear. They served as a gateway into hardcore for a generation of kids and showed their peers that it was possible to cross over into a more mainstream sphere while still conducting yourself and treating people in a manner consistent with hardcore's ethics. Nothing to Prove
carries on this tradition and will likely once again initiate a new generation into hardcore's magic.