PopMatters home | short takes home | archivesPopMatters Music Short Takes
The Fire Still Burns, Keeping Hope Alive (Blackout!) Rating: 5
"Insert Motivation Here," the opening track on the Fire Still Burns' EP, so precisely replicates the melodic hardcore sound of Lifetime that it comes as little shock when the group's publicity sheets takes only three lines to cite that pivotal New Jersey band, mentioning that the Fire Still Burns consists of former and current members from Lifetime, Ensign, the Scarlet Letter, and a few other groups from the days before punk was dominated by the Warped Tour, Hot Topic, and vapid teen pop-punkers whose idea of paying dues is setting up a MySpace account. Track two confirms that the fire still burning in these five musicians is that of early-to-mid-'90s punk: "Good as New" is a dead ringer for Pummel-era All, with hardcore verses and a catchy-as-hell chorus over an arpeggiated guitar. After the exuberance of the first two songs, though, a certain sameness sets in; hooks diminish in sharpness, until by the end of the six-track EP the Embers Still Smolder seems a more accurate name. Maudlin lyrics about "empty hands and empty hearts" don't help, and the big ballad "November Days" falls a bit flat. Still, anyone who misses those archaic pre-Internet days when bands had no choice but to tour in cramped vans while building fanbases one show at a time (I can't possibly be the only person out there who still sings "Hey Catrine" in the shower once per month or so) will take a nostalgic warmth from the Fire Still Burns. The band's passion outruns its ability; hope may or may not remain alive for its future, but the group earns credit for at least a few sparks.
Various Artists, Masters of Horror (Immortal) Rating: 6
A companion piece to the ambitious, mildly enjoyable Showtime series of the same name, in which noted horror directors direct separate episodes based on stories by noted horror authors, Masters of Horror has its sights set on the same demographic whom the horror genre caters to, that being teenage boys, and for what it's worth, does a good job of it. Focusing on metal, hardcore, emo, screamo, and everything in between, this nicely-designed double CD serves not only as a tie-in to the TV series, but as an examination of the state of heavy music in America today (with a couple of UK/European acts tossed in for good measure). More melodic-sounding bands like It Dies Today, Alkaline Trio, Thursday, Armor For Sleep, and Andrew WK (dude, where you been?!) deliver decent, inoffensive tunes (which, quite frankly, seems to clash with the dark theme of the series), but it's the metal acts who really make the compilation fun. Young bands like Funeral For a Friend, Norma Jean, Every Time I Die, and the wonderfully goofy Avenged Sevenfold provide the energy, while Swedish veterans In Flames, Shadows Fall, an interesting collaboration between Buckethead and Serj Tankian of System of a Down, and the mighty Mastodon (whose live version of "Megalodon" steals the show) provide the muscle. While it might not be the best metal soundtrack of 2005 (that honor goes to Alone in the Dark…trust me), this set is still good fun.
Abdel Wright, Abdel Wright (Interscope) Rating: 3
Jamaican singer-songwriter Abdel Wright's debut comes with celebrity endorsements ranging from the ubiquitous Bono and executive producer / ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart, which still isn't enough to cut through the gloss of Wright's overdressed roots reggae. The singer's righteous lyrical aim tackles a host of admirable social justice issues, but it's difficult to feel his passion when the record's production has about as much soul as Classics in the Key of G. A touch of dancehall on "My Decision" -- courtesy of Dru Lord -- and the a cappella "Issues" offer some welcome variety, but otherwise the bland musical backing does little to promote the strength of Wright's message. Until someone can hook him up with a better-matched producer, Wright's sound is too pop to carry weight with his countrymen and too slick to appeal to like-minded Babylonians -- well, except for Bono, that is.
Bang Sugar Bang, Thwak Thwak Go Crazy!! (SOS)
What can a punk band do nowadays to peak the kids' interest? If you've already penned a debut under the title Greatest Hits, not much else to do but jot down a few tepid songs and call it Thwak Thwak Go Crazy!! Yes, unfortunately tepid is right: on "The Machine Gun Song", a weak, Warning-era Green Day melody; on "Major Label Interest", a celebratory fist-pump underlined by quiet outro "fuck you" (for Bang Sugar Bang to be convincing, the whole song needs to scream "fuck you"); on "Sunday Night", a one-note harmony from female vocalist Cooper with a half-formed chorus, cut off too soon. Girl/Guy alternating vocal tracks is a fine idea, in theory. Trouble is, here's what we want, that we don't get: from girls, sass a la the Donnas; from guys, now, rage like new Green Day, or old Pennywise. Lo-fi punk relies on raw emotion. Live, Bang Sugar Bang may indeed go crazy, but this lackluster release isn't making me.