Review Summary: Definitive of the classic Strung Out sound, and arguably one of the strongest albums the band has released, but lacks the lustre and memorable quality for "classic" status.
I was 13 years old when I first heard Strung Out's "Twisted By Design". It was the first punk album I had ever heard, and needless to say, it changed my life forever. Strung Out set the bar high for punk bands in my eyes; for the rest of my life, I would compare the musicianship, attitude, and lyrical ability of every punk band to this SoCal quintet. Anyone who has listened to Strung Out for long enough can tell you that those are pretty high standards to meet. Strung Out are easily one of the most technically gifted bands in punk rock today, and this was most certainly the case when they released Twisted By Design in 1998.
Over the years, Strung Out have honed their melodic blend of metal and punk rock to near perfection. The metal influence on guitarists Rob and Jake are immediately noticeable on Twisted By Design, particularly in songs like "Reason To Believe" and "Ice Burn", two of the heaviest songs on the album. Also worth noting is the unstoppable freight-train basslines patented by the late Jim Cherry. Strung Out would not be where they are today without Cherry's relentless support on the low end, especially in conjunction with Jordan Burns' complete mastery of the drum kit.
But perhaps the most identifiable feature of Strung Out's music is the work of frontman Jason Cruz. Jason has always provided the band with thoughtful, honest lyrics, but more importantly he has an uncanny ability to shape his poetry into soaring, irresistibly charming melodies. If you want to fully appreciate Jason's talent as both a writer and a singer, you need not look further than songs like "Paperwalls", "Too Close to See", "Virginia Madison", and the fan-favourite "Matchbook".
Strung Out are incredibly good at switching from their poppier punk anthems to some of the heaviest metal-tinged punk this side of the Greenwich Meridian. This is especially apparent in tracks 7-9, where "Paperwalls" flows seamlessly into "Ice Burn", then into "Ultimate Devotion", another Strung Out classic – all without missing a beat.
In the end, Twisted By Design may be the definitive Strung Out album. The album is an accurate portrait of the "Strung Out sound" -- the charming blend of metal and melodic punk rock intertwined with some of the finest songwriting in punk music. There isn't really a weak song on Twisted By Design. However, that isn't to say that you won't skip any tracks; there are easily a few tracks that might not exactly stick with you – but I'll let you find those for yourself, so as to maximize your enjoyment of one of the most underrated punk albums that Fat Wreck has ever released.
Twisted By Design is not the best punk album you will ever hear, not by a long shot. But I can say (as objectively as a 'luxhead can) that if you enjoy honest, hard-working punk rock, you will get a good kick out of Twisted By Design. For old fans, it is a classic; for new fans (not NUFANs), it is a damn good album to start with. Strung Out are one of the finest acts in punk rock, and after releasing countless albums of this caliber for nearly two decades, it's amazing that they still haven't given up their crowns as kings (or agents) of the underground punk scene.