Review Summary: Angry kid songs for angry kids
Sierra were a short-lived and little-known hardcore band from Australia. I don’t know much about their history, nor do I know much of their music - and it looks like I’m not the only one. It’s a stereotype, at this point, to reflect on the wonder of finding a hidden gem, a buried treasure, so I won’t. What I will say is that I was very surprised when I first listened to Reality Redefined, the final release from Sierra. The lack of information about the band and their lack of a real legacy contributed to this surprise. Reality Redefined is an excellent EP that sounds like something you’d stumble across in the archives of any prolific and well-respected hardcore punk band.
The easiest comparison I can make to describe the sound of Reality Redefined is to Modern Life Is War’s Witness. Perhaps it is just the very similar album art affecting my vision, but I think it has more to do with the two bands’ heavy-hearted brand of melodic hardcore, which features catchy vocal hooks employed to spout off acerbic observations and anthemic choruses (constituted largely of lyrics fixated on societal and personal failures), complex interplays between bright guitars, and rhythm sections which keep everything oscillating between slow-burn hardcore and high-speed punk. One might also be reminded, in listening to Reality Redefined, of bands like Heart in Hand or Departures.
Reality Redefined spans 5 tracks and clocks in at just 20 minutes, but Sierra utilize every second to make those 20 minutes varied, unique, and memorable. On opener “Bittersweet Youth”, Brett Kennedy screams “Lately I’ve learned that it’s alright to not be okay” over a rogue steamroller of jangling, clashing instrumentation - the song takes a sharp turn into a more introspective and explorative middle section, replete with ominous bass lines underlying soft and spare guitar lead that could have been plucked from a progressive post-rock exploration, where Kennedy implores the rest of his cohort to stop taking life lying down (“We are the young, we are the impressionable/Our legacy should be one of revolt”).
From the rousing and thunderous first moments of the album, Sierra continue to command attention throughout the proceeding compositions. A standout track is the eerily powerful “Bittersweet Youth” - which finds Logan Wilkens and Jordan Osborne taking center stage in their lead/rhythm guitar duties, laying down beautiful and understated lines in near-quirky contrast with Kennedy’s proudly ugly snarls. On “Hideaway Revolution”, Sierra are at their best, offering blaring and electrifying up-tempo punk fused with an extremely catchy chorus that would be radio-ready in itself if it didn’t come with such a heavy sense of foreboding and gloom (Kennedy’s vocals in the infectious chorus eventually transport the band into what is arguably dark pop-territory).
While “Hideaway Revolution” is undeniably an example of Sierra at the top of their game, the entirety of Reality Redefined is just as listenable and enjoyable as its pinnacle track. It is well-produced, it is quick, it is nasty, it is sometimes beautiful, and it is often memorable. It’s a release that will never garner the reputation of EPs such as Defeater’s Lost Ground or More Than Life’s Brave Enough To Fail, and Sierra will never have the reputation of those bands, in part because Sierra were a band with such a short career.
It is also true that Reality Redefined has its occasional missteps, with some lyrics sounding a little familiar - particularly in the final two tracks, two tracks which also seem to serve as anticlimactic closers in comparison to the bristling opening section. The second half of the EP seems to sputter and stall and occasionally grow tiresome, sometimes meandering and sometimes treading overly familiar water, with lyrics that include a thematic focus on the general inconvenience of gaining entrance into Heaven and lines like “So it’s about time you sat down/Cause I don’t want to hear another word out of your mouth/Goodbye” - at times, one is reminded of those early Deftones b-sides that we’d justifiably forgotten about.
That’s all forgivable, though, because Sierra show so much potential and are so much fun to listen to for much of Reality Redefined. It’s an album that might be like the career of the band of Australian punks who released it: briefly burning bright, containing glimmers of greatness, fizzling out a tad disappointingly. But, nonetheless, an album that should be experienced and enjoyed - made by a band that we perhaps should have paid more attention to.