As good or exciting as it might be, most of the hardcore punk made in the twenty-first century misses the original spirit of the music really cleanly. When it started, there was precisely nothing thought out or “calculated” about hardcore; it was very urgent and reactionary music recorded in a hurry (in part, so it could be cost effective and also) to try and capture that energy. More recently, artists like Fucked Up have attempted to include a little more “artistry” and “craft” into the music but, when OFF! started in 2010, the plan was to get back to hardcore’s reactionary beginnings, and singer Keith Morris, guitarist Dimitri Coats, bassist Steven McDonald and drummer Mario Rubalcaba did find some of the energy they were looking for – but it was still a little calculated. It was great, but it wasn’t perfect.
Four years, hundreds of miles travelled across four continents, several more seven-inch releases, one other full-length album and a tremendous number of critical and popular accolades later, OFF! has finally managed to tap into and typify the uncalculated, raw, urgent and visceral sound of hardcore on their new album, Wasted Years.
The process for recording Wasted Years was the epitome of the ‘Keep It Simple’ principle at work. No producer was hired to make this record; each song on the album was self-recorded live on an 8-track recorder in the band’s practice space immediately after it was written. A minimum of overdubs were employed and every performance is an unedited take. Simply said, OFF! left themselves nowhere to hide; the results of making a record this way might have been good or they might have been poor, but it would be a depiction of who the band was RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT. It doesn’t get more raw or urgent than that, and listeners are confronted by the band with that fact the moment the record starts.
After McDonald’s bass slides up and opens “Void You Out,” Dimitri Coats puts everyone listening squarely on their collective ass with a lean, caustic and unrelenting guitar tone which sets an all-new standard for this band; those who thought OFF! played like hardcore’s second coming before will find they need to readjust their viewpoints, and they have to do it quick because “Void You Out” is only one minute and fourteen seconds long. They’ll find themselves running to catch the band and, after “Void You Out” ends, they’ll run headlong into “Red White and Black” and find themselves hooked.
“Red White and Black” is a hardcore song the likes of which NO ONE has heard or made in decades. From the beginning, the song speeds out lean and with teeth bared – clearly running with the fact that it was just finished moments prior to being recorded and some of the paint on it is still wet (couplets like “You’re a living punchline/ And the joke’s on you” are a little damp) – but it’s impossible to ignore or deny. Here, Morris arrives already incensed and ready to go; he’s nearly foaming at the mouth and hits the ground swinging, and the anti-production of the song (Rubalcaba’s drums could be called arid they’re so dry, and Coats’ guitar already sounds a little frayed around the edges) adds more fire to that fervor.
In listening, there’s no question that “Red White and Black” was written and recorded in about ten minutes but it’s awesome because of (not in spite of) that fact; the song charges hard, is totally focused and doesn’t even dream of pulling a single punch. Had it sat unrecorded for a greater period of time, it may have lost something because one band member or another may have thought twice about their performance but that didn’t have time to happen; this take has all the raw power and force of an involuntary muscular reflex.
After “Red, White and Black” gets listeners’ adrenaline up, OFF! manages to never let the corrosive energy levels that the song has set lapse and they also make sure to include a few surprising turns along the album’s run-time too. Before burning their way through the minute-and-a-half rollercoaster ride which is “Legion Of Evil,” for example, OFF! lumbers its way through a stomping, Sabbath-esque intro guaranteed to get a few sets of horns thrown in the air when they play the song live, while “Over Our Heads” plays really well with some political commentary (the “No free lunch for a jackass” shot at the Democrats is pretty great) before Morris recalls some bad old days in “It Didn’t Matter To Me” and then begins inciting riots in “Exorcised.”
In each of those cases (and there are more too), the lyrics and vocal performance are are far more topically focused, forthright, and incendiary than OFF! has been previously, and that presence of a more definable personality proves to be more refreshing than the other slightly augmented forms present in the songs (for example, Wasted Years features the longest song OFF! has ever written – “Hypnotized” breaks the two-minute mark).
After Wasted Years‘ title track slams the doors shut on the album, there will be at least a few listeners who won’t know what to think, not exactly. They won’t know if they should feel totally drained by the experience of this album (sixteen tracks in less than twenty-five minutes? That’s a hell of a pace) or totally energized by it (in part for the same reason as well as the songs being the best the band has written to date) – but they’ll keep listening over and over again because it’s just that good. Wasted Years is REAL hardcore: it’s frenetic, raw as a skinned knee and very, very habit-forming. This one seems destined to make fans for life.