It’s easy to overlook the fact that Stray From The Path have been releasing music for nearly two decades. Their Long Island hardcore roots might seem a million miles away from their globally-approved, for the most part, rapped metal attack, but they’ve honestly never ahem strayed too far from their original path. The dissonant mathcore elements might have taken a sizeable step back to showcase their appreciation of lyrical and groove-based acts, but the angry young men behind “Negative and Violent” and “Damian” are still just as pissed. On Internal Atomics, the spite and bite of their youth have returned; without their attitude and growth regressing. Far from it.
Now five records into their collaboration with Will Putney (Fit For An Autopsy, Vein, Thy Art Is Murder, the list goes on), Stray’s signature mix of machine-gun breakdowns, flexible-yet-butthole-tight grooves, and driving choruses has never sounded so full. This time out, the guitar and bass have a slew of different tones, textures, and even tunings. The lower-than-low chords in the chorus and refrain of “Kickback” are detuned to the point you can imagine the bass strings flopping in slow motion like a suspension bridge not surviving a storm. The technique comes back in the pummeling final moments of the record, almost reaching levels akin to The Acacia Strain. Just without quite so much doom’n’gloom. “Something In The Water” kicks off in typical SFTP fashion with a Morello-ish riff and the band coming in hot alongside it, but the break halfway through slides off into early Deftones territory, the bass warbling under a drumbeat that is as playful as it is punchy. Musically, the grooves are slicker, the breakdowns are harder, and York’s vocals have never been so vicious. Fans who dropped off over the years should be surprised at how hard Stray hit on this one.
Anyone who has grown up alongside Stray From The Path can probably chart their own life alongside their releases. Serious, technical and candescent at first, they slowed down into almost funkier territory – almost emulating one of their obvious influences who are angry at the industrial complex. More recently their political material has been the most divisive and most talked about; like many in their late 20s and early 30s, the state of the world became their number one priority. You don’t write a track like “Goodnight Alt-Right” without a snarling grin at the incoming fallout. Some thought it was too much, others (I) thought it was perfectly natural for a band who had a two-part track over two records about police brutality in their home nation. The band have never shied from hot topics, but Internal Atomics really lives up to its name. The fiercest, most memorable tracks are the ones that see the band shine their spotlight back onto themselves.
From a band who write their lyrics collectively, there are always going to be one or two tracks that fit everyone’s opinion but maybe lack real weight because of the collaborative element. Internal Atomics has one or two in the middle, but that’s not what we’re talking about. “Holding Cells For The Living Hell” has Drew York spitting out some seriously gut-wrenching lyrics about the mental health of a loved one, laying his heart out for the world to see over one of the most manic Stray tracks in the last ten years. The combination of the manic punk beat behind York’s words seems like it’s the only way that he feels comfortable going into a subject so close to home. it stands high in their discography alongside “Second Death”, an all-out verbal attack on the Catholic church and it’s perennial and neverending ability to cover up the atrocities of its members, yet it’s one of the more unassuming tracks on the record that has the most poignant line of the lot. “Beneath The Surface” tells a story of two lives, both separate, both lives happening to people all around us, but its main hook says so much without being wordy or masturbatory in delivery. It’s one that’s genuinely stuck with me, in all of its simplicity:
“Turn the page before you burn the book”
It’s an extension of “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but at a time where we’re all so quick to light the match and toss it on the person without even a second thought, York and co ask the listener to spare even a second to think about the lives of the ostracised, even if at every level they appear to be coping or surviving. Along with their rapturous closer in “Actions Not Words” – written about the band’s experiences in Africa working with several charities and organisations – the simple message is one the band continue to use their time on stage to convey. Write them off for releasing that one track a few years ago, call them SJW’s or any name under the sun, it doesn’t change the fact that Stray From The Path are using their platform and their time on stage and in their listener’s ears to try and help however they can. And they’re pretty fucking wild again.
Internal Atomics is available Nov. 1 via UNFD.