Review Summary: American Paradox might not be new. It wasn't totally fresh and original when it was released. However, Strung Out built upon the standards of punk to create one of the best punk albums ever recorded.American Paradox
was released in 2002, and a decade later, it's still fantastic. From the decisively minor riffing of Unkoil to the musical thank-you-note that is Satellite, there isn't a single bad song, or even a single mediocre one. Every song stands out very well on its own. Every song brings plenty of new ideas to the table, yet they still work together as a whole, proving that this is an album rather than a collection of songs. Every song has a distinctive personality; most notably the violent and abusive snarling of Razor Sex. So what exactly does a strong album sound like? American Paradox
is a blend of punk and metal, easily lumped into "melodic hardcore." Unlike modern melodic hardcore bands, Strung Out manages to mix technical riffing with catchier chugging and sing a long choruses without sloppy transitions or cliched lyrics.
More on Strung Out's lyrical achievement later; the guitar composition on this album is stellar. The aforementioned minor styling of Unkoil is a very common concept: minor songs are dark and brooding. Strung Out structures the song with a standard formula, yet the riffing ties everything together to keep the song from sounding overdone and contrived. And what kind of riffing is this? Strung Out has two guitarists who have a wonderful style of interplay, somewhat like the call-and-response licks of emotive hardcore group Hot Cross
; and the pop-punk/faux-thrashy shredding of Thrice
. There are plenty of harmonic riffs where one guitar plays the same thing as the other guitar, but a few steps higher. No riff is ever forced, or present because "that's where the riff goes!" The best example of Strung Out's riff-based songwriting is Dig; the song is packed with riffs, octave chords, and bass fills.
Speaking of the bass's role, it's pretty standard for the genre. Generally, the bassist just plays the root note, and links chordal changes with fills. The drumming, however, is nowhere near "standard;" he plays very fast, even by punk standards, and does some absolutely insane double-bass patterns in the breakdowns of Razor Sex. The drumming is incredibly tight and precise, without being showy or obnoxious, and that's exactly what is required.
Strung Out's vocal section is also superb. Jason Cruz, the singer, sings in a higher register than some punk singers. It's apparent that he's at the top of his range in a few songs, but he holds it together without any voice cracks. Besides the fundamentals, Cruz puts vocal melodies together incredibly well. Every song is infectious; and chorus repetition is pretty sparse on American Paradox
. Cruz also screams a little, although with his rasp, it's not too different from his singing. Whether the song calls for bombastic energy, like the title track, or a nostalgic, joyous tone like in Satellite, Cruz performs to the highest degree.
Cruz's lyrics are what really make the vocal section stand out. There's often a political leaning in his lyrics, but it's well integrated, and very subtle. For more anthemic tracks like Dig, Satellite, or Contender, Cruz manages to balance catchiness and simplicity with emotion and meaning. Simply put, the lyrics on this album are perfect.
American Paradox might not be new. It wasn't totally fresh and original when it was released. However, Strung Out built upon the standards of punk to create one of the best punk albums ever recorded.