It’s hard to find good punk music in 2018. Or at least punk music that resembles and carries the flame of its roots. The genre is slapped on anything that doesn’t quite fit into the metal scene and is too aggressive for the rock scene. But there’s certain characteristics that need to be ticked off first for me to consider it true punk. One such characteristic is energy. The great punk bands had energy in spades; enough to fuel an army, or at least a one-man army in Henry Rollins’ opinion. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to As A Rival’s latest album, Griefers. While the Melbourne punkers drift more into the pop-punk stratosphere rather than the hardcore punk, Griefers certainly packs enough energy in its forty-minutes to fuel the Duracell Bunny in a circle pit.
While not without its flaws, Griefers begins with rolling drum rhythms against distorted guitars, like a demonic introduction for what’s to come. Instrumentally dynamic, the opening track Broken Compass fuses polyrhythmic guitars against a snare and hi-hat combo. The production is full, the drum sound is particularly crisp thanks to smart production by Shihad’s Tom Larkin. It’s almost progressive punk. Vocalist Pete Cerni delivers a powerfully catchy chorus hook that’s engraved in my brain whenever I listen to the track.
Cerni shows dynamic vocal range on another catchy hook in following track, Orbital. Maintaining the energy from the opener, Orbital has me sweating. I can’t imagine how drummer Nathan Wheatley would be feeling as he delivers one of the fastest rhythms on the album. But not without switching to a heart punching double kick interlude between the chorus and verse. The backing vocals in the chorus elevate Orbital to one of the catchiest songs on the album.
Atom Bomb and Cope de Main once again provide stellar choruses that have me holding back an aggressive fist pump. But I can’t help but feel that Cerni’s vocals, though they provide memorable and powerful choruses, become tiresome throughout the verses on the album. The vocal melodies in the verses begin to sound the same melodically. I’d love to hear him occasionally transition into a more devilish groan to mimic the over driven guitars throughout the album or switch up his vocal tone for more diversity.
Thankfully, the instrumentation keeps me on my toes. Whenever I start to predict where the track is going, As A Rival throw a different rhythm into the mix. It’s smart, and the band play with the expectations of pop-punk balladry. Especially on Atmosphere and Head in the Clouds.
Bring out the Dead and Standing Still continue the infectious energy. The tracks sound more metal in tone, thanks to heavily over driven guitars and crashing drum cymbals. The punk energy doesn’t slow down until lead single What We Got, which sees As A Rival deliver a much more mature approach to their punk rock. Anthemic guitars boost Cerni’s chorus as he blasts, “We’re holding onto what we’ve got.” What We Got shows a maturity, and a change in pace, that would have been good to see sprinkled more throughout the album. If anything, it would have helped me catch my breath earlier.
Closing track Divide Us once again shows As A Rival are experts at writing a catchy punk hook. Wheatley again holds the band together with crisp snare hits and booming double kicks. Griefers finishes with one final echo from Cerni as the guitars ring out.
As A Rival’s second album ticks most of my boxes for a solid punk album. And because most of my boxes are ticked, I’m being particularly critical. At first, Cerni’s vocal tone seems out of place against the metal tinged guitars. But as the album progresses, Cerni’s anthemic choruses find comfort against the punky/metal instrumentation.
Griefers is one of the most instrumentally dynamic punk rock albums I’ve listened to in a long time. The band fuse elements of punk, prog rock, and even nu-metal into their sound, while providing catchy choruses showcasing a knack for hook writing that is hard to compare to in modern Aus-Punk. While there’s still room for improvement, Griefers is an album worthy of its punk title.
Griefers is available on streaming platforms on November 2.
This review is based upon a copy of Griefers made available before release.