Strung Out is a good, if generic, SoCal punk rock band further influenced by hardcore, metal and, at times, nu-metal. They’ve been on the Warped Tour twice, opened for Bad Religion, and have been around for about a dozen years. They’re on the label Fat Wreck Chords, and their new album is titled Exile in Oblivion. And when you listen to it, you’ll hear numerous similarities to most of their pop/punk, punk/metal brethren, so much so that you’ll swear you already own this CD. Either that, or you heard something like it over the weekend ... on ESPN, during a televised skateboarding championship.
“Analog” starts off with a rather dull-metallic riff but turns in a number of melodic shifts (think Bad Brains meets Creator-era Lemonheads), opening things nicely before dovetailing into the jarring “Blueprint Of The Fall.” “Blueprint” is probably the best thing on Exile, fusing both speed and aggression into a nice pop/punk/metal nugget. “Katatonia” is another standout track, as is “Her Name In Blood” (love that kick drum!), but things slide slowly downhill from there, as song after song you’re reminded just how much leader singer Jason Cruz sounds like Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. The middle portion of the record loosens the reins on the more hardcore aspects of the band’s sound, but it also comes across as incredibly sterile. As muted guitar tones filter through one song and then another, the band crafts some understated pop hooks (the MxPx-like “Anna Lee”), but Cruz’s vocals are at times both flat and melodramatic. Strung Out begins to sound like all those insufferable punk bands from the Vagrant Records label.
Strung Out then proceeds to wipe the slate clean with the effervescent “Never Speak Again”, which sparkles, thanks to unique sonic progressions and a deftness of touch lacking from most of the record. Cruz is in total cohesion with the music here as he sings, “When all the words of the poets lie meaningless / When all the trivial delusions all lose their place / In the arms of those who wonder why / Nothing really matters.” Nice. But it’s chutes and ladders again, as Strung Out fall right down with the forgettable “Skeletondanse.” “Scarlet” opens with a miraculous opening riff before hitting another boring pedestrian stride, and the riff never reprises, much to the chagrin of the listener.
Exile does contain its share of highlights, is ripe for radio airplay and certainly improves on 2002’s American Paradox. Fans of this genre, and Strung Out in particular, should probably seek it out. But be forewarned: the production on this record stinks. Matt Hyde, who did some great production work for Slayer, Porno for Pyros, No Doubt, Sublime and Sum 41, and is credited with producing, engineering and mixing here, makes the majority of this record almost sound anachronistic, in that it sounds so threadbare and dull (compare Exile to NOFX’s War On Errorism and let me know what you think). The dynamics here are ham-fisted, lacking some of the vibrancy and space that may have added additional sonic depth to these songs, and entertained more repeated listening.
This record will not restore your faith in any punk rock idiom, but it is a good-to-satisfactory addition to the stable of punk/metal records. Beyond any existing anti-revisionist stance that leads good punk rock bands to be continually dismissed outright in favor of those that came before them, I might listen to this record a few more times before discarding this tired genre of punk entirely for the safety and sanctity of the Ramones.