One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about my musical tastes as I go through life is that everything tends to have its own niche often attached to specific feelings and moments. Sometimes those moments, in hindsight, prove acutely painful yet still reveal things I have learned from. One band who has been that for me is Strung Out and they’re back again with a now month-old new album. Songs of Armor and Devotion is another master class in their amped up, hyperspeed technical melodic hardcore punk. Ain’t that a mouthful? Realistically, though, to give a good description of this band you always have needed a LOT of qualifiers and adjectives.
They are one of the most technically gifted bands in punk rock of those that are melodically inclined though Propagandhi might have something to say about that. On this album the band are back with their guitars that bear more resemblance to Iron Maiden than Bad Religion and relentless drumming, by new guy RJ Shankle, that rivals anything out there in any genre. Throughout all of it, though, the vocals and lyrics of Jason Cruz bring the whole thing together. The malice and the melody is molded together by what he brings to the show.
It would be easy to divide up the songs on this latest album by technical punks, Strung Out, into three main categories: those with a political bent, cynical nihilism, and emotional pleas about surviving. In a way, all three viewpoints could be thought to represent the general resting state of singer and artist, Jason Cruz’s mind at any given moment. This would likely be a good time to yield to Occam’s razor for once.
One thing I’ve come to appreciate about the lyricist-in-chief of Strung Out is that his words have always had a way of resonating with me. I know I’m not alone in this what with the band’s popularity. However, I find myself in a place where I have been shedding many thoughts, beliefs, and affinities that I once held sacrosanct. Some of the things that used to bring me the most joy now hold none at all. There is hardly any interest when I revisit those things but that is largely because, for two years now, I have been whittling down my own life to the barest of bones to better understand what really matters most to me.
And that’s where this album comes in on the personal level. I came to this album expecting to feel the same old feelings of exhilaration in those same exact ways as I did when I would listen to any of their previous material but what happened was much more powerful than that. It was more like a punch to the solar plexus particularly on the tracks “Rebels and Saints” and “Bloody Knuckles”. It was as if all that time spent between their last album and mine spent in reflection and reconstruction arrived at the same moment where what those songs sought to communicate was exactly what I didn’t know I still needed to hear. This is all a long winded way of saying I am certain that there is content here that will connect with the anxious and alienated of you out in the world.
More than anything else this is an excellent example of a band who are still coming out swinging on the verge of year 30 in action. The fireworks still show through on “Under the Western Sky”, “Daggers”, “Monuments”, “Politics of Sleep”, and “Strange Notes”. This isn’t so much an innovation in the band’s approach as it is an unleashing of their powers. Overall, Songs of Armor and Devotion feels much more intensely organic in the way that earlier albums like Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues and Twisted By Design felt. It’s those albums with a whole lot more life underneath them and it’s always that growth that has kept the band relevant. What’s kept them vital is their undeniable musical talent and execution with the kind of earnest beating heart that other acts never found.
Songs of Armor and Devotion is available now via Fat Wreck Chords.