Reviews Rotting Out Ronin

Rotting Out

Ronin

Back in March, I attended a stop on the American Nightmare "reunion" tour, celebrating twenty years since they self-booked their first show at a church in Maine. While I still remain loyal to my wheelhouse of early- to mid-2000s hardcore, I hadn’t been to a show in nearly a decade. What I found there was somewhat expected yet still disheartening -- the crowd was sparse at best, I only saw a handful of familiar faces, and the energy that I reminisced about was largely absent. Even the band looked distinctly aged, understandably subdued in that youthful vitality of years past. Their set was solid and thoroughly satisfying, but the crowd didn’t react accordingly in my estimation -- I couldn’t even stagedive; you call this a hardcore show? Needless to say, while it was nostalgic and both sides of bittersweet, I couldn’t help but feel that those days are well in our rear-view mirror by now; like Wes says, “Recall the memories of yesterdays and better ways / and know the innocence is gone; move on.”

Rotting Out formed in 2007, towards the tail end of that heyday of the hardcore scene, playing a tried and true style in what was then a rather over-saturated slew of Southern California hardcore bands. Two-stepping breakdowns, gang vocal choruses, speedy punk verses -- they had the whole nine yards. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much of what their first EP Vandalized brought to the table, and when I saw them billed on a show flyer, all I could hear was the Descendents song. That’s not to knock their abilities, more to highlight my budding jaded outlook, and a lot of mainstay hardcore bands took time to really coalesce or distinguish themselves. In my opinion, Rotting Out’s turning point was instilling their powerlifting bassist Walter Delgado as lead singer, as he’s brought a refreshing level of intensity and a unique lyrical approach to their sound since Street Prowl came out in 2011. Not to mention that Walter was one of six lead singers of the short-lived straight edge outfit Minority Unit of the early 2010s. And it’s almost disrespectful to put Rotting Out’s overall career arc into a single sentence, when their history involves being constantly misplaced on tours with bands like The Story So Far and The Acacia Strain, breaking up unceremoniously over tour burnout and a myriad of personal issues, and frontman Walter Delgado spending eighteen months in an Ohio prison for marijuana trafficking shortly after said breakup, despite the fact that he’s still straight edge. Hard times coming your way, indeed.

After returning to the stage in triumphant festival fashion at Sound and Fury and This Is Hardcore in 2018, Rotting Out recently released Ronin to a world that may now more largely reflect (and be able to comprehend) the acrimony that hardcore has been living in since its early days. Now what you’ll find here is polished, forceful, mosh-inducing hardcore, served up across a perfectly proportioned 24 minutes. But at its core, Ronin is a brutally honest story of family trauma, constant loss, and bottom-dwelling reflection. The lyrics are heart-on-your-sleeve, laid out sprawling on display, and it’s clear that Walter is still grappling with the well-reasoned pessimism of the truths that he’s facing. He even calls out some the "softer" backgrounds of modern hardcore kids with lines like “Suburban prodigy but you talk about hard knocks / What do you know about long nights in a small box?” While we find a breakdown that would make 2005 Mental blush on “Stones,” what I appreciate most about this record is its insistence on showing off the late '80s NYHC and youth crew influences it carries. When Rotting Out first started, there were too many bands that were redundant copies of their peers, ones that too often lacked appreciation for the roots of the genre, and it’s evident that they’re not one of these cases.

As one might be able to tell from my take on Backlisted’s No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me, I love hardcore that makes you uncomfortable. Ronin’s lyrical content is sincere and exposed, really getting at the heart of the candid anguish and resentments on which this genre was founded. But that’s hiding just beneath the surface of an aggressively heavy hitting record anchored in its punk roots that makes me want to headwalk right this very moment, just like the old days. The sense of the crowd and the tight-knit community that it reflects is integral to the experience of hardcore. It’s catharsis in its most physically raw form; moshing is a performance art, not in an abstract sense of high art on display for a niche audience, but in a purely expressive sense of blowing off steam in defiance of a world that’s betrayed you. It’s truly a shame that we can’t experience Rotting Out in this format at the moment, but it will be even more welcome than ever when that day finally comes.

8.0 / 10Campbell
See also

The Walter Delgado Story: Kerrang Interview
DRK BLU (Frontman Walter Delgado’s current side project)

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