Review Summary: "If it ain't broke...", don't break it.
I can understand where critics come from when they accuse Strung Out of abusing the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" adage. It's hard to fault the band - if the musical machine's been humming along without incident for over two decades, I can imagine why the band would be reticent to make any sweeping changes on Transmission.Alpha.Delta
. However, I argue that, throughout their discography, Strung Out have been musical engineers who have scoffed at the prospect of not fixing something just because it isn't broken. If something can be improved, should it? Who would be content with the status quo? Isn't it something that should be questioned, be it in business or science or art? Rather than being comfortable with resting on laurels or phoning it in (this record will be the band's 8th with Fat Wreck Chords), the band continue to find ways to deconstruct their renowned archetypal sound and expand upon it.
From the outset, Jordan Burns's rollicking thoom-thoom-thoom
drum intro in album opener "Rats in the Walls" showcases that the band and producer Kyle Black paid diligent attention to the album's production, and this amplified sonic architecture is further illustrated on the track with Jake Kiley's and Rob Ramos' blistering guitar harmonies. As expected, the guitar work throughout Transmission.Alpha.Delta
is sublime - the intro to "The Animal and the Machine", the harmonized breakdown and solo in album highlight "Black Maps", the thrash-influenced "Tesla", and the flamenco-like flair in the appropriately-titled "Spanish Days" are just a small sample size of the record's manifold highlights. In lockstep with his 6-stringed brethren, bassist Chris Aiken's low-end rumble thunders along in tracks like album closer "Westcoasttrendkill" and "Spanish Days", but his work on "Black Maps" is magnificent. The seamless manner in which the three guitarists' lines are interwoven is distinctly memorable. There are plenty of throwback cuts on the album, too -- "Nowheresville" is most reminiscent of the band's '90s discography (specifically Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues
and Twisted By Design
), followed closely behind by "Tesla" and "Magnolia".
Rounding out the quintet is vocalist Jason Cruz, who hasn't deviated in the slightest with his seasoned, timeworn delivery. Thematically, he frequently challenges where the human race is headed, for good or for ill, broaches broad topics of freedom and hope, and sardonically infuses political and religious imagery in songs like "The Animal and the Machine" ("We've all been down this road before / Our history . . . shows exactly what we're headed for"), "Rebellion of the Snakes" ("The past is dead / It don't exist anymore / The present is passing quicker than ever before"; "We are devoid of religion, we are the science of it all / And when forever came calling, we never thought that we'd give in"), and "Westcoasttrendkill" ("Articulate the chaos and the way to resurrection / You are the bullet that killed the revolution / 'Cause you're the sum of every moment that you've been alive"). While Cruz has made his mark on vitriol and spite, his heart-on-sleeve messages are equally satisfying, especially in songs like "Go It Alone" ("Another day of waking, being next to you / The world could end and I'd be fine right here where I am"), "No Apologies" (which is heartily reminiscent of "Mission Statement" from Blackhawks Over Los Angeles
in motif), and "Black Maps" ("I believe there's a place where you and me can find our way / ... It's a place we never let 'em see, a place designed for you and me / 'X' marks the spot / You'll always know exactly where to find me"). On his own, Cruz is a capable, resolute vocalist, and songs sound cohesive and tight-knit with or without the back-up vocals. There are also frequent references to "our song", which is admirable to hear, as this sense of unity and solidarity has been an essential element in Cruz' lyricism.
Ultimately, being familiar with Strung Out's discography will dictate whether or not you listen to Transmission.Alpha.Delta
-- there are no innovative surprises but a collection of solid songs. If this is your first album, it's a respectable choice. Their breakneck melodic punk/thrash hybrid sound has stood the test of time for over 20 years, and the instrumentation is as intense and frenetic as ever. To that end, there's not a wide array of variability in tempo across Transmission.Alpha.Delta
's 43-minute duration, with nary a respite or moment to breathe. When considering everything from Another Day in Paradise
to Agents of the Underground
, there are more familiar commonalities than groundbreaking distinctions. There are some dreadful missteps ("Modern Drugs"), and while the sampled messages heard here-and-there throughout the album reflect the album name and theme (my favorite appears in the album's opening seconds: it's a passage from Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator
), they are not always incorporated effectively. Above all else, Transmission.Alpha.Delta
is assuredly a Strung Out record and, despite the augmented production, it's formulaic to a 'T'; however, given their consistency, energy, and passion, this machine could easily continue to sing, strum, and pummel away for another 20 years. The album might not necessarily enhance their legacy, but it certainly makes a case for cementing it.
"The Animal and the Machine"
"Rats in the Walls"
"Rebellion of the Snakes"