The return of Strike Anywhere seems to be met with mixed emotions by a lot of people, and that's tough for me to understand. While I enjoyed their last proper effort, 2003's Exit English, I know it wasn't their strongest release, but I never expected to hear people claiming this band was past their prime. Past their prime? Already? Yes, I know a lot of bands that play this style of music often fizzle out after only a few releases, some because they seemed to run out of ideas due to the limitations of the genre, and others decide to hang it up because they've said what they've wanted to say and wanted to leave it at that. Many people seemed to be of the opinion that Strike Anywhere couldn't possibly have more to say after two full-lengths and an EP. They were wrong.
The truth is, Strike Anywhere still have plenty to say. I still believe this band writes better political lyrics than most any other playing punk music today, mostly because they don't waste time by calling President Bush a moron. Yes, we know the way in which Bush conducts himself implies that he's clueless, and I think Strike Anywhere are aware that the people who agree already agree, and there will be no changing of minds at this point.
In the opening track, "Sedition," vocalist Thomas Barnett sings of a surprisingly personal (yet still political) topic about his grandfather working on the Manhattan Project in Tennessee. His grandfather was not told beforehand what it was he was working on or about the potential side-effects of being exposed to radioactive materials, and the song deals with Barnett expressing his frustration with what the government exposed his family to. This is just one of the many excellent lyrical endeavors contained within Dead FM, and it's writing such as this that gives so much character to the songs.
There are more than a few people who would agree that Fat Wreck is known for releasing over-produced albums, and that once a band ends up signed to the label they tend to sound a certain way. There are cases in which I would agree, and bands like Love Equals Death don't really help Fat Wreck shed the accusations, but I doubt they care. So it's important that I point out that this does not sound any different than Strike Anywhere's previous material. Brian McTernan captured the gritty feel of the songs while keeping the sound loud and clear, making it sound excellent without the sacrifice of cleaning it up too much, which is what part of the problem was with Exit English. In many respects this feels like a better produced Change is a Sound, and seems like this should have followed that record.
So with what I've stated about this album, you're probably thinking you know exactly what to expect (assuming you've listened to Strike Anywhere's previous records), and I would agree that this offers few surprises. However, there are some differences. The most noticeable is the amount of singing that is harmonized, and how much more the rest of the band is heard vocally. It really adds a lot to the songs and when I listened to their older albums afterwards, I realized that maybe it was a missing element that would have added so much more to some of their already classic numbers.
Dead FM should, in theory, silence anyone who complained about the band being past their prime, because it proves that a hardcore band can have more than two or three albums and still have something to say while writing fresh-sounding songs. Exit English was a slight misstep (I wouldn't even consider it one, myself), but Dead FM should spell nothing but redemption. It's hard when it wants to be, fast when it wants to be, catchy when it wants to be, but always filled with heart.
By now, you probably know exactly what to expect with a Strike Anywhere record, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Unlike Pennywise, still churning out the same tired anthems against "society" and "the government", Strike Anywhere have managed to maintain a furious consistency throughout their surprisingly short career (only seven years), and Dead FM is a good return to form. Similarly, unlike their musical peers Rise Against, they've never felt the need to slow down and write acoustic songs, instead staying true to their brand of melodic hardcore punk rock throughout their releases.
Dead FM shows a return to the sound formerly showcased on their older material rather than 2003's Exit English. As the band acknowledge in the record's one sheet, Exit English took 3 months to write, whereas Dead FM took 3 years. The longer production time shows, with songs that feel more developed both musically and lyrically, and also a passionate urgency that was slightly lacking in Exit English.
The record kicks off with "Sedition", a song about singer Thomas Barnett's grandfather and his unknowing role in the production of the nuclear weapons used on Hiroshima. A furious yell from Thomas opens the song and sets the tone for the rest of the record. A nice addition to the liner notes are often-lengthy paragraphs explaining the origins of some of the songs, and inspiring the reader onto further action outside of the lyrics, which (as anyone familiar with Strike Anywhere's music will know) are already laden with rabble-rousing calls to arms.
Political ideas are always present in Strike Anywhere's music, and Dead FM is no exception. This time around, the subjects include corrupt religious figures in "How to Pray" and "Speak to Our Empty Pockets", Native American solidarity in "The Promise", and bands more focused on image than their music in "Two Thousand Voices". "Iron Trees" is a standout, with trademark triple-speed drumming and a melodic breakdown, encompassing a Joe Strummer quote of "know your rights" as a powerful closer.
This time around, the band feel much more energetic, due to the production that captures their live power much more than Exit English. Of course, the band's sing along choruses and fist-in-the-air gang vocals give the record a great feeling of unity, particularly the heartening chorus of "Prisoner Echoes" with a slight hint of group vocals in the chorus making it a hopeful-feeling track. The record closes with the band's ubiquitous shout-out to Richmond, Virginia, their hometown and often-namechecked lyrical subject.
The liner notes for Dead FM feature a credit to Paul Leavitt for help with the infamous Pro-Tools, but the high quality production just adds to the band's musical punch rather than weakens it with horrible harmonized vocals and overly-crisp guitars. Strike Anywhere manages to maintain their raw edge and powerful sound through the production, an asset that other bands would kill for.
Overall, anyone coming to this record as a fan of Strike Anywhere's previous material won't be disappointed, as they probably would expect. Even a single spin of this record would inspire any listener to think a little more about some of the issues the band raise, and even if they were ignorant of the lyrical topics, the band's high octane output is more than enough to interest a typical punk rock kid. As long as they keep putting this stuff out, I'll keep listening to it.
8.4 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
Posted May 16, 2020, 10:22 a.m.
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