When did hardcore stop being fun? Not to start this review with a sweeping generalization, but it feels like the mainstream music press has been fawning over a wave of “edgy, “unique” hardcore for the sake of celebrating something different. I’m all about infusing adventurous songwriting into the hardcore and punk formulas; I love Iceage‘s raw, artsy take on these genres and related styles, or how Kvelertak have mastered their signature brand of raucous black ‘n’ roll. Yet, many of the poster children for hardcore’s current cultural moment (whose names I’m sure you can guess) comes across as experimenting for the sake of it, while simultaneously straying from or watering down what’s made the foundation of the genre so successful.
Due as much to the context of its release as Drain‘s excellent songwriting, California Cursed offers a breathe of fresh air while also recalling the early appeal of crossover thrash. Not since Power Trip burst onto the scene has a band caught my admittedly limited attention span for this brand of hardcore. Drain delivers the stylings of bands like Anthrax, Black Flag, and Suicidal Tendencies with a distinct Cali vibe and the energy of a young band hell-bent on inspiring as many mosh pits as possible.
California Cursed is as immediate as it is infectious. With a 23-minute runtime spread across just 10 tracks, Drain certainly ran the risk of offering little more than a quick dose of aggression. There are certainly moments on the record that serve this explicit purpose: “Sick One” is a minute-long mosh pit anthem that I’m sure induces violence at all their shows. But unlike some of their peers, Drain develop each song around distinct, enticing hooks, whether from a vocal refrain or catchy riff. While California Cursed never stops hitting hard, it also remains a genuinely fun listen throughout.
Drain stick true to their roots and album title with a beach-themed opening on “Feel the Pressure.” The track erupts into a mid-paced, crossover thrash anthem driven by Sam Ciaramitaro’s brash, youthful vocal delivery; think along the lines of Andrew Dijorio from Stray From the Path, with the hip-hop and nu-metal flair dialed back. Both the opener and “Hyper Vigilance” feature distinctly thrash-influenced breakdowns as heavy as they are integral to the flow of the overall songs. “Hyper Vigilance” in particular has an awesome mid-section that weaves together Among the Living era thrash riffs with bludgeoning double kick rolls and deeper, more aggressive hardcore growls.
After “Sick One” kicks up the tempo, Drain incorporates the newfound pace a bit more frequently across the rest of the album. “Army of One” boasts a variety of moods and ideas, all of which are supremely pissed off. Seriously, it’s impossible not to be hyped up after Ciaramitaro shouts “If you don’t walk the walk, then talk is cheap” over a syncopated drum/riff combo. “Character Fraud” and “White Coat Syndrome” also revolve around massive thrash grooves, especially the latter track. I’m not sure if a mosh pit can sustain peak energy for two straight minutes, but that’s exactly what “White Coat Syndrome” demands.
The album’s final three tracks more or less flesh out these stated ideas, concluding with an obscured surf rock sample befitting the band’s roots. Instead of singing further praises to the band’s songwriting, I’d like to spend a little time focusing on the guitar solos Cody Chaves drops throughout the album. Historically, hardcore and thrash have had diametric views on the importance of solos, with crossover ultimately splitting the difference in a balanced way. Chaves captures this beautifully across California Cursed, writing Greg Ginn-esque solos that highlight tracks without fully demanding the spotlight or disrupting the flow of his bandmates’ contributions. He helps add more color to the band’s songwriting while providing contrast to bolster the heaviness of their riffs and breakdowns.
People will sometimes describe an album as “fun” in an attempt to downplay its lack of substance. With California Cursed, Darin sacrifice neither enjoyment nor quality songwriting to produce an excellent collection of crossover thrash bangers. What the band lack in the trend-setting tendencies of their peers they more than make up for with unquenchable energy and an invigorated perspective on a classic hardcore subgenre.
California Cursed is available April 10 via Revelation Records.