If you’re like me, you grew up buying compilations from punk rock labels. It was like opening up a treasure box and finding jewels of new music to marvel at. As Fat Wreck Chords was putting out comps such as Survival of the Fattest and Physical Fatness, Strung Out always stood out to me as doing something unique, having a slightly harder edge than lame bands like Lagwagon. After eight albums, they are still carving their niche and putting a flag in the soil with a distinct sound that blends 90’s California pop-punk with hard-hitting metal. And Blackhawks Over Los Angeles accomplishes this feat without resorting to Avenged Sevenfold-like tactics.
Experiencing a bit of a rebirth with 2004’s Exile in Oblivion, Strung Out continue in the same vein as that album, though maybe a little less harsh. A lot of the songs on the previous album had dark themes that dealt with death and violent imagery, a little out of the ordinary for the band. Though Blackhawks Over Los Angeles has a foreboding title, the themes found here offer a little more hope than usual. Jason Cruz seems to have a slightly brighter view on life, if “All the Nations” and “Mission Statement’ are any indicator. “Letter Home” finds Cruz taking on the point of view of an Iraqi soldier confused about his purpose in this war. It’s an idea that has been done, but it still carries a lot of weight here.
There isn’t a whole lot on Blackhawks Over Los Angeles that’s terribly different from Exile in Oblivion, musically speaking. Aside from the slower “Dirty Little Secret,” they’re pretty much mining the same territory. But that’s no problem when the music is this catchy and expertly played. Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos are guitarists who are smart enough to not show off at all times, choosing to play harmonized solos only in a few songs. They mostly just excel at putting together huge choruses with instantly catchy lead lines.
Not a single song on here lags in energy or melody. The only drawback for me is that it’s just barely weaker than Exile in Oblivion, but that shouldn’t really be a judgment point for reviewing. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles shows that Strung Out is not on a downward slide, something that many other bands who’ve lasted for over a decade can’t say. Strung Out can keep on rockin’ for as long as they want. And it doesn’t appear that they’re ever going to start sucking, so barring a strange turn for the worse, it should be smooth sailing in Strung Out world from here until the end.
8.0 / 10
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