Review Summary: Stray From The Path break a hell of a lot of eggs to make their omelette1 of 1 thought this review was well written
Known for their very particular, breakdown-heavy form of alternative hardcore, it’s quite difficult to imagine Stray From The Path thriving in any other genre. Or more to the point, even working in any other genre. Yet here they are, on their debut LP, performing, of all things, grind. In all honesty, though, it’s not quite grind. It’s early Norma Jean without the technicality, and far more unusual implementation of other genres within the sound. Stray From The Path have never been particularly original, but their lyrical and vocal aggression, frantic, energetic songwriting and chaotic breakdowns really sell them as something of a unique hardcore act, and whilst it’s always interesting to see where a band has come from, it’s perhaps always more telling to see where they’re heading in terms of their sound. With this band, it’s perhaps a blessing that more people aren’t aware where they’ve come from.
The first thing the listener really notes about the album is the poor production. Within the grind genre, this is quite a frequent trait, and is usually due to budget constraints, so it’s also quite understandable. Regrettably, though, because the album’s sound is one of extreme mediocrity, the production only exacerbates the problem, highlighting every rattling, tinny drumbeat, every humming, vibrating guitar, every hoarse, powerless yelp. The same style of music is maintained throughout the whole album, with the one notable exception being ‘Where Words Fail Emotions’, which comes across as a SFTP version of a ballad. The style inherent in all the other songs is one of angry, frantic, misguided rage; epitomised by muddied, incoherent screams that do not soar over the top of the aural assault, but rather become one with it: blending, just like vocals shouldn’t. In terms of lyricism, the album is a confused, immature mess. The only song that showcases any modicum of lyrical intelligence is ‘Picture Perfect’, which takes the album on a political turn by attributing governmental issues to people in metaphorical situations. It’s not particularly original, nor will it leave anyone with a reversed political stance, but it definitely shows that the band has the capacity to write something at least vaguely informed and clever, rather than the clichéd jumble on display elsewhere here.
Songs ‘I Made A Hoobastank In My Pants’, ‘Needles’, ‘Survey Says’ and ‘Amnesia Hero’ all feature faux-bluesy style interludes at certain points, in a similar manner to the music of experimental outfit Naked City. Unlike them, however, Stray has managed to make such asides feel banal and unnecessary, through excessive overuse and grossly misjudging optimum placing within song structure. ‘Picture Perfect’ features a bizarre bluegrass section which manages to transcend the boundary of silliness into downright hilarity, marring the listening experience further. The breakdowns, which the band has since proven themselves quite proficient at, are further exercises into uninspired songwriting, with the track ‘Survey Says’ being particularly guilty of this. Completely without irony, vocalist Ed Edge gleefully proclaims, ‘Survey says…..’ before leading the band on a plodding, unimaginative breakdown. It's also the second breakdown in the space of thirty seconds, and as the first one is just as uninspired, it's clearly a 'quantity over quality' thing. Which is also perhaps a more apt title for the album.
It’s not a particularly enjoyable journey, nor a memorable one. In fact, by ‘Why Cars Don’t Start In Horror Movies’, I began to wonder if sections from the first song had been cut and pasted into every other. Then, as if on cue, I was treated to the baffling use of one bar of bass from 'Another One Bites The Dust', and I realized that it was, in fact, a different song. The flashes of intelligence and technicality here and there are tainted by the insipid songwriting and the inexplicable flourishes of jazzy, bluesy nonsense. Even the anger feels forced, with Edge attacking listeners one minute with enough bile to cause the average person to have a prolapse, and wailing regarding his weak emotional condition the next (‘Undermine my heart/ don’t play with my emotions/ I’ve waited for you until/ until that day/ that day when my heart/ turned to stone/ release my heart.’ – ‘Flirt’). Essentially, it serves as the groundwork to Stray From The Path’s sound, and the hardcore influences here are plain to see, but this is a world away from the band who released Rising Sun
in 2012; this is a dreary, unapologetically silly excursion into confused, unbelievably dull music.