If you’re a fan of punk rock—particularly that school of SoCal pop-punk that reigned in the mid-90’s—you’ve got to get excited about a band like the Flatliners. These guys can be gruff and loud without sacrificing melody or big, arena-sized choruses. And on Cavalcade, their second record for Fat Wreck Chords, they continue to churn out songs with big guitars and bigger drums and vocals screaming defiantly over the fray. There’s something more lasting about their sound than many of their contemporaries. These guys don’t sound like some fifth-generation, Hot Topic poster boys. They sound instead like they remember good ska bands, like they wore out their Rancid records, and like they care very much how they match up to their predecessors. They also stretch out a bit, with bracing rockers like “Carry the Banner” blaring alongside the reggae-touched thump of “He Was a Jazzman”, the moody grind of “Count Your Bruises”, and the chaotic, menacing speed of “Shithawks”. It’s all more than enough to get your fist pumping the way you did back in the day.
Yet, despite its energy, the tone of the record is a balancing act the Flatliners don’t quite win. They seem to aim for hopeful—there is a call to arms to be found somewhere in nearly all these songs—but in between those sentiments of hope, the guys not only focus on the negative, they seem to revel in it a little too much to always sell the positive that follows. “It don’t mean anything to me”, vocalist Chris Croswell screams in “He Was a Jazzman”, and while we know it’s a set-up for a brighter moment coming, you might find yourself listening to Cavalcade and wishing he’d worked out one or two of those moments of doubt before he penned the songs.