STRIFE “LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR” CD/DVD
(WAR Records, Released November, 2017)
Live recordings always seem to go one of two ways. Sometimes the recordings can feel way too rehearsed and stiff, which can lead to an overall absence of character. On the other hand, there are live recordings that encourage minor instrumental and vocal mistakes. These are the type of recordings that feel natural and act as a portal, sonically throwing the listener into the room where the initial concert took place. Strife has been able to accomplish the latter with their Record Store day release, “Live At The Troubadour”.
These recordings have been sitting in the vault since 2005 and have finally been released to the public via guitarist, Andrew Klein’s WAR Records. In eleven songs, spanning Strife’s first three Victory Records albums, “Live At The Troubadour” brings the chaos of a hometown Los Angeles show to listeners all over the world. Consisting of the original Strife line up, this record oozes character, energy and passion. Pure hardcore vitality reverberates through this whole project. The guitar tracks are mixed all the way to the front and sonically smack you in the face with crushing rhythm parts. Some of the guitar tracks tend to fall behind the beat at times, especially the leads. But let’s be real, they were probably jumping all over the stage during this recording, so they get a pass.
The rhythmic interplay between the bass and drums is the overall tightest part of this recording. They are completely locked in and at times thrust the songs forward with extreme power. However, there are times when I think that the bass can afford to come up in the mix. For example, on Track 3, “Will To Die”, the bass does keep a memorable groove, but it would be nice to have it be brought closer to the front. There are times in this track where I have to tightly push my over-the-ear headphones into my ears to make out what exactly the bass is playing. The drums have an exceptional snare sound. The snap of the snare is damn near perfect. The overall levels of the cymbals would be nice to have higher in the mix to add stronger dynamics to the tracks.
There’s no doubt that vocalist, Rick Rodney has a truly aggressive and commanding vocal delivery. When he’s in control of the microphone, the songs sonically bark at you. You can feel the intensity of his screams. I understand that it’s a live show and part of the beauty of a hardcore show is being able to grab the microphone from the band. However, some of the crowd’s screams are very hard to listen to and are borderline cringe-worthy. Then again, without the crowd participation, the band may have not have had as much energy as they showcased on this recording.
“Live At The Troubadour” showcases a strong sense of unity between Strife and their fans. The sold-out Troubadour show highlights Strife’s energy and passion. They are a captivating group of musicians with an infectious live show. This record shows that perfection sometimes isn’t key. The engineers didn’t go back and edit every mistake, which would’ve created some sort of stale rendition of a memorable show. They ran with the subtle mistakes and created a project that feels natural.
NOTE: This release is available as a double disc with the live recording on one disc (CD) and a DVD video version accompanying it in a 2 disc package. Click below for more info.
UNIFIED RIGHT “IF I CAN’T LISTEN TO UNIFIED RIGHT IN HEAVEN THEN SEND ME STRAIGHT TO HELL” LP
(Triple B Records, Released December 2017)
What if someone told you four years ago to check out a band, and you finally got around to it and discovered their new material sounds like a cross between Rest in Pieces and True Blue? You'd feel pretty stupid, right, or at least a shade regretful that your obstinance at being told what to do had resulted in missing years of their output? Or perhaps you just tuned in at the right time due to a recent change in direction. In the case of the new Unified Right LP, "If I Can't Listen to Unified Right in Heaven, Then Send Me Straight To Hell", the latter is true. While UR has accumulated a devoted core of fans from their first few releases, the progression in sound displayed on the new LP may win an entire new cohort.
Unified Right's original material was more in the vein of Straight Ahead, Warzone and early Agnostic Front, and while I love all three of those bands, when I went back and listened to the earlier stuff, it didn't grab me as much as the new LP. And rather than a drastic shift in sound, Unified Right seems to be following a natural progression, much like how Beyond became more wiggly and weird from demo to LP, Agnostic Front transitioned from “Victim In Pain” to “Cause For Alarm” style or even (God forbid depending how you feel about the thing - I for one am a fan) Warzone from “Open Your Eyes” to the bullethole LP.
This 10 song effort kicks off with “So It Goes.” While I generally hate albums that start quietly and make it difficult to determine the correct volume levels, this one is worth it. The pre-song ambient noise displays a mysterious clanking that initially reminded me of a Metro North train arriving but is probably some apocalyptic thing, before bursting into a powerful intro. True Blue is probably the best comparison for many aspects of the current Unified Right sound, from the quiet intro like on “The Ice” to the vocal style and excellent mosh parts. If you like True Blue you'll probably like this, and if you can't get down with TB vocal stylings, you might not be too keen on this one either. I am already loving the drum sound, and am a sucker for songs that mention the year they were recorded, both as an identifier for when you are listening years later, and also as a callout for the conditions present in 2017 that inspired the song.
"So It Goes" is a strong opener, setting the tone musically and lyrically for the rest of the album - "the human condition is looking bleak, and so it goes." Impending doom is a dominant lyrical theme here, especially about how human overconsumption and disregard for the environment can result in catastrophic consequences. This is particularly urgent for a Florida band and I like when songs address local issues. The ecological concerns (and changes to the local dynamic) resurface in “The Lobster Wears a Top Hat” and “Consuming Satisfaction.” “Concrete structures, nature disrupters, errors we can't undo” is today’s “environmental overkill, toxic waste, overflowing landfills.” Later in the album, “Power Core” hints at how many in hardcore are stuck covering the same old themes rather than relevant concerns. Unified Right follows their own advice by penning lyrics injected with contemporaneous urgency.
During my first few listens, some individual tracks on Side A stood out less than their counterparts on Side B, almost the same way that Side A of “Climate Of Fear” bled together on my first few listens. But there are a variety of standouts on the second half, though I wouldn’t go as far as to classify it as a “second half album” since side A is also highly enjoyable, if not as distinct. The 10 songs were definitely arranged with vinyl listeners in mind, as “M.A.D.” is a fitting opener to side B. Probably an unintentional nod to Stigmata – “Do Unto Others” opening side B with “MAD World” but I’ll take it.
Anyway, side B contains one hit after another, particularly “Power Core” and “Consuming Satisfaction,” my two favorite tracks on the album at numbers 8 and 9. “Power Core” reminds me the most of Rest in Pieces due to the vocals during the chorus, or at least the spoken style from the chorus of “Toys R Us.” We transition from the tambourine in “Power Core” to other interesting percussion in “Consuming Satisfaction,” which details overconsumption and its consequences, environmental as well as financial. "Consuming satisfaction, we need direct action. When is man's imagination satisfied?” “Cashin' That Check” is the up-tempo final tune and ends in a Unified Right name check.
Even if you are unfamiliar with the history of Unified Right or the Triple B Records catalog, there are a variety of reasons to check these guys out, from the riffs to the lyrics. And if you share my fascination with second generation hardcore bands, I read in the Droid Rage interview with Oli that he was originally introduced to hardcore through his mom, who had attended shows in the 80’s in DC. And their appeal is relatively universal – still traditional hardcore, somewhat heavy but not too heavy, and subtly influenced by some less obvious greats (at least to my ears.) For fans of True Blue, Rest in Pieces, Inside Out NY and Striking Distance. Click HERE to check it out on the Triple B Bandcamp.
KILLING TIME, OUTBURST, KING 9, KRIMEWATCH, ICE COLD KILLERS @ Brooklyn Bazaar, Brooklyn, NY
November 24, 2017. Review by: Dan Piro, Photos by: JC Photo Media, Rich Zoeller
30 years of Killing Time. An iconic night to celebrate an iconic band. Anyone involved in this thing of ours who knows shit from shinola knows that “Brightside” is THE album that set the bar for hardcore songwriting, so much so that its impact carries to this day 3 decades later. Luckily I got in early, because about 20 minutes after doors the line to get in stretched all the way down the stairs and through the lobby of the venue, which was a sight to behold.
ICE COLD KILLERS. PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
The night was kicked off with ICE COLD KILLERS out of Long Island. Personally I thought this band was a perfect start to the night as they had more of a reigns pulled back street rock sound. Sometimes with shows like these it can be a bit overwhelming when every band is cut from the same cloth and you’re just getting pounded with mosh calls all night. ICK wasted no time digging right into their first song. In between songs their vocalist kept dropping Thanksgiving metaphors, referring to himself as the appetizer with Killing Time being the turkey. They rounded out their set with a token Cocksparrer cover, and before they ended the drummer got on the mic to thank KT vocalist Anthony Comunale (his cousin) for getting him into hardcore; a beautiful family moment if there ever was one.
KRIMEWATCH. PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
Next up was KRIMEWATCH; while Ice Cold Killers had the crowd engaged, the room was still sparse, but I did notice by the time Krimewatch went up the room had pretty much filled to capacity. As ripping and as intense KW is (whom I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing and sharing the stage with in the past) the crowd seemed mostly un-enthused. The pit would only open up for a few seconds at a time and it was only during mid-tempo mosh parts. It’s a bit disheartening to see a band pour everything into their set, just to see people (especially a full crowd of people) stand still because they don’t know what to do during fast parts. Sub-observation: At the risk of sounding old and making a grandpa complaint, I just want to say there are consistently too many photographers on stage at any given point. What are we doing people? What are we documenting exactly? Why are there so many flashbulbs going off? Why are there more photographers crowded up towards the front than there are kids singing along and stage diving? Ok, just needed to get that off of my chest.
KING 9. PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
The 3rd band of the evening was Long Island heavy hitters KING 9. This was probably the most well-presented band of the night thus far. Good mix, tight set, and devastating crowd reaction. Seeing King 9 at this point is on par with a rare bird sighting, as I remember seeing them like once a month between 2012-2013. Their vocalist had remarked they’re finally going to drop that 2nd LP next year, the one he’s been talking about since 2015. Maybe a new record will make their appearances less of a rarity. K9 got the crowd good and warmed up and left the stage simmering for the penultimate band of the evening:
OUTBURST. PHOTO BY: JC PHOTO MEDIA
So right out of the gate I want to apologize for injecting bias into this, and I’m not meaning to detract from the Killing Time celebration, but OUTBURST was the band that I most wanted to see as was the case with a lot of the crowd. If my sources are correct, they haven’t played with their original singer (Brian) since ’06, the summer where CB’s was closing and every band was coming out of the woodwork. They played Black ‘N Blue Bowl in 2012, but with Vitalo of Backtrack filling in as Brian had work/family obligations. So this set was basically a pipebomb with a slow burning wick, and with 4/5’s of the original lineup and the legendary Mike Dijan brought in to round it out, it was finally ready to explode. After what felt like a lifetime for them to setup up, they finally opened with “Misunderstood” (This is track 7… trying the untitled song. No wrong one…wrong one). The crowd was a sweaty warzone for the entire set, screaming every single word, with bodies getting jumbled and mashed left and right. There’s something to be said about a band that puts out one of the best 7 inches from their respective era, and then disappears only to rear their head every decade or so, it turns people into animals. I lost a shoe during the mayhem of “No Choice” so I had to step aside and watch the latter half of the set from the wings, and it’s also the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt at a show. It’s funny how I can feel on top of the world all night, moshing people’s balls off, but all it takes is for me to lose 1 shoe, and my whole world comes unraveled (I found it under the stage after they finished). Given their limited output they basically played every song they put out from “Miles To Go” and their demo, and for good measure threw in the ever popular Kraut cover “All Twisted”. Their set was closed out with “The Hardway”, with probably the most iconic drum intro in NYHC history, Ezec of Crown of Thornz/Skarhead fame was brought up to split vocal duties on this one. I can’t wait to see them again in another 10 years!
KILLING TIME. PHOTO BY: JC PHOTO MEDIA
On to the juggernaut headliners of the evening…KILLING TIME… who are a band that needs no introduction or explanation, they are one of those bands that never fails with staunch tight delivery, so much so that it sounds like you’re listening to the record in some parts of their set. I was surprised to see they played a good handful of deep cuts from their 2nd record “The Method” on top of all of the crowd favorites from “Brightside”. I find it amazing that this insular underground scene has such a strong storied history that has been revered for so many years, and undoubtedly the reason that it’s managed to persist for so long is because of a band like Killing Time. –Dan Piro