Having formed at the tail end of hardcore’s first wave, New York’s Sick of It All is one of the few HC bands — possibly the only one — that not only still exists, but continues to make powerful, relevant music. Decades after most of their contemporaries have imploded in a cloud of drama and/or poor judgment (oh hi, Cro-Mags), SOIA is still at it. They’ve never gone soft, never staged a “comeback,” and haven’t had a lineup change since Clinton’s first term. Better still, recent albums like Death to Traitors and Based on a True Story are just as heavy and angry as their classic ’90s records, if not more so.
Last Act of Defiance is SOIA‘s first new album in four years, and the lag time suggests that these guys might finally be slowing down a bit. But if there are any doubts that these guys still bring the fury, witness the 1 minute and 48 seconds of utter fury that is the opening cut “Sound The Alarm.” The message conveyed is simple: they’re back, and they’re pissed.
Perhaps the obvious standout here is the infectious “Get Bronx” (the first time I’ve heard the word “Bronx” used as an adjective). The song’s general message is “hey, let’s go kick ass,” and while that may seem like a hardcore cliché, it’s also the type of thing that Sick of It All does extremely well. I suspect that this one’s gonna sound fucking huge live.
“Sidelined” approaches SoIA‘s personal politics through the eyes of a character who realizes, too late, how his circumstances are the result of his own ignorance and blind trust. Besides being a cool concept for a song, this one also has the best chorus on the record, as well as a “Scratch The Surface”-esque stomp riff in the middle. “Road Less Travelled” is a hardcore song about being hardcore, a subject Sick of It All could write a fucking thesis on by now. The album’s sole misstep, if you can even call it that, is closing track “DNC,” which is a little goofy lyrically. Otherwise, you’ve got 14 tracks of good-to-awesome metallic hardcore, none of which break the three-minute mark.
One crucial ingredient in SoIA‘s recent output has been a massive, nearly-metal sounding mix courtesy of Tue Madsen (The Haunted). Defiance continues that trend, and not surprisingly, it sounds pretty crushing. Personally, I’ve been over this style of production for a few years now, and would be curious to hear SoIA in a less produced environment, but it’s hard to argue with results.
The band itself is in top form, a rare feat considering their age and the physical nature of their music. Drummer Armand Majidi and bassist Craig Setari remain one of the tightest, most locked-in rhythm sections in hardcore. Vocalist Lou Koller’s voice is still a lethal weapon, if more on the metallic/screamy side these days, while his brother Pete Koller supplies the guitar crunch as usual.
Bottom line: If you like Sick of It All, you’ll probably like Last Act of Defiance. It meets the standards of songwriting these guys are known for, delivered with the urgency of a group half their age. This band has been preaching more or less the same message for the past quarter-century, and it’s pretty clear that they will continue to preach it until the world stands up and takes notice.