Santa Cruz is a convoluted place. It feels like the rest of the country erroneously thinks Santa Cruz is just like Santa Monica. It’s much more of a town than a city, and in a lot of ways it’s a microcosm of everything in California: conflicted and nuanced, beauty found at a high price with an oft-ignored grimy underbelly. Is it a sleepy surf town, a forested hippie enclave, or a sketchy rotting boardwalk lying underneath coastal veneers as the residents aggressively fight off development? All of those designations are accurate to some extent, but none of them capture the whole picture. There is a unique type of inner conflict that’s hard to articulate to non-Californians, a fluctuation between love and hate, wondering if it’s worth the sacrifices you make just to stay in that locale. The punk and hardcore scene in the area is undoutedly resilient, at times contributing significantly to the greater Northern California scene, and boasts its fair share of origin credits (see BL’AST, whose Santa Cruz Skateboards magazine photoshoot Drain recently recreated). Santa Cruz has plenty of flaws and drawbacks, but as lead singer Sam Ciaramitaro put it in a recent interview: “I’m stuck here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s the California Curse.”
Drain got snapped up by legendary hardcore label Revelation Records after their fun-filled boogie board mayhem at Sound and Fury 2019 sealed the deal for their label rep. With this many guitar solos and double bass drums, I wouldn’t call this “straightforward ’80s hardcore” as I’ve seen it described -- I don’t mean to split hairs and take away from how much I enjoy Drain, I’d just prefer to define it from my own perspective. They immediately reminded me of Municipal Waste, but with more of a hardcore lean. As a close friend put it, they sound like Entombed if they were a hardcore band, even if plenty of other bands have also been offered as solutions to that equation. Drain’s earlier records have more of that straightforward modern approach, but there is still an undeniable metal element that’s omnipresent. On first listens, I described California Cursed as powerful thrash metal played in a hardcore setting; this isn’t a perfect analogy, but Animosity was a hardcore band in the Bay Area, even though they happened to play metal.
California Cursed may have just been released, but Drain has been playing these songs live and building hype for over a year. This is more of the culmination of all their efforts rather than a one-off debut, and insiders likely already knew what was coming. Soft shore sounds give way to someone diving into the water and slowly drowning on the opening track “Feel the Pressure.” Bands rarely sound this clean and heavy without coming off as overproduced, with details standing out like that signature NYHC echo on the snare hits. They’re also as technically proficient as any metal band with no wasted energy; I love it when bassists use power chords.
It’s legitimately surprising that “Army of One” isn’t a Slayer cover, a song where they might have mastered the two-stepping circle pit. “White Coat Syndrome” might just encapsulate everything I want in a hardcore song in 2020, and it even reminds me of my favorite record of 2009, Mother of Mercy’s III. Acoustic interlude “Hollister Daydreamer” is such a perfect local 831 reference -- Hollister is kind of the Fresno of the area, and is mostly known for motorcycle rallies, dirt bikes, and marking the onset of the Central Valley sprawl -- and it echoes all those Integrity interludes and their homages throughout the years. Apologies if one of the band members is actually from Hollister.
Bouncy frontman Sam often dons mid-thigh boardshorts and old school Vans with high socks, both showing off his true NorCal colors and presenting a stark contrast to their music, but it truly suits the energetic, inclusive nature of this group. He reminds me of the surf-influenced style of Final Fight, another hardcore band with coastal roots, although Sam brings a completely different maniacal energy to the table. Those familiar defiant lyrics are found throughout the record, with lines like the opening “I feel the pressure of a thousand eyes staring at me / they want to see me fall.” Other times, he plumbs the depths of shared anguish: “I’m human like you, imperfect like you / I hold onto pain, I’m fragmented and cruel.” At live shows, Sam will shout out every band on the bill and the bookers involved, letting you know that it’s ‘hella tight’ to be playing that particular show. And that’s always a genuine statement; take a look at this show they played at a classically tiny venue and tell me they don’t have hardcore sensibilities.
A lot of bands have crossover ambition, but it’s easy to miss the mark, and Drain threads that needle impeccably. They appear to bring together fans from across the spectrum of hardcore, metal, and punk, which is an immense undertaking on paper. It’s reassuring that the punk spirit lives on as scenes continue to tackle or cycle into other heavy subgenres. I’m not as intrigued by the beatdown metalcore revival, although Knocked Loose seems pretty adept at channeling Disembodied. I’m on the lookout for more bands like Drain, because I’m out of touch and I really needed this record. I would relish the opportunity to get punched in the face while stagediving to “California Cursed,” which perfectly closes the album, ending with a fade-out of crashing waves and a warped sample of the surf rock classic “California Sun,” a song long co-opted for local ads for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I’m willing to be shown otherwise, but this is an instant classic for me.
9.0 / 10
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