I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, dear reader, but the year 2020 has been a bit of a shitshow.
It’s some consolation, however minor, that times of woe at least inspire kick-ass pissed-off punk rock.
This third full-length is Dropdead’s first since their 1998 album — like that one, and like their 1993 album before it, this one’s either untitled or eponymous, depending on how you want to refer to it. It’s not so much important how you choose to refer to it, so long as you do refer to it, often and loudly, for it’s a beast of a record from a beast of a band.
Back then, twenty-plus years ago, Dropdead was a young and incredibly pissed-off batch of Rhode Island punks, railing hard against a broken system on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized, both human and animal. Today, Dropdead is an older, wiser, and incredibly pissed-off batch of Rhode Island punks (not entirely the same batch, mind you, but almost), railing hard against a broken system on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized, both human and animal.
Some things never change.
From the opening tandem of “Prelude” and “Torches,” two things are immediately clear: First and foremost, Dropdead didn’t come to screw around; they came loaded and ready to fight. They’re still as formidable a fast-and-furious hardcore band as they have ever been, although anyone who’s kept up with them through the small slew of splits and short-form releases they’ve spit out in that twenty-one year layoff should already know that.
Musically, Dropdead 2020 presents no real surprises: It’s a stellar hardcore record, from a band that’s released only stellar hardcore across three decades now. These songs are short sharp shocks, twenty-three of them in twenty-four minutes, all of it filled with righteous anger and seemingly boundless energy. Bob Otis’ bark is biting, snarling, feral, while Ben Barnett rips through classic-styled punk riffs in the vein of classics like Siege, Larm, Anti-Cimex, et al. The rhythm section of Brian Mastrobuono and George Radford propels the entire affair with a finely-tuned chaotic control. Dropdead is raw and primal, but they are not sloppy, whether operating at a relatively contained crossover charge or at near-grindcore aggression. Produced by Converge guitarist and hardcore go-to-guy Kurt Ballou, Dropdead 2020 sounds perfectly powerful and powerfully perfect, stout and furious without being overly polished, its fury palpable in its sonics. These tracks may fly by in a whirlwind of speeding and screaming, but they leave bruises as they go, evident in the hooky groove of “Torches,” the repeated “You’re on your knees / get off your knees!” of “God Illusion,” the call-to-action of “the time is now” in “Will You Fight,” and dozens more places that reveal themselves to you when you listen often and loudly.
The second immediately evident truth of Dropdead 2020 is this: These terrible times of Trump are a primary inspiration behind that palpable fury, though they aren’t the sole inspiration. Titles like “Torches,” “Hail To The Emperor,” “Warfare State,” “Corrupt,” and “The United States Of Corruption,” certainly point to a serious, oh, shall we say “dissatisfaction” with the crop of fools in Washington, both current and former. There’s little subtlety in lines like “Torches of bigotry lighting the street / igniting the hatred of men” and “Behold the church of bigotry, where the fools in power reign / blood runs red within the streets where the activists were slain / Nazi propaganda disguised as country pride / divided rule this populace, your hatred glorified.” But the current administration of idiots isn’t the only target, as the equally obvious “God Illusion” and “Book Of Hate” illustrate. And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Dropdead album without a pro-vegan treatise or two. (Here, that role is filled by “Abattoir Of Pain” and “The Black Mask.”) Dropdead is a band that has always worn its heart on its sleeve when it comes to their beliefs, and 2020 is no exception. Maybe you agree with them, maybe you don’t — I tend to — but their message has been consistent for three decades, and there’s no doubting their conviction.
Times of strife fuel the fires. From this burning hellscape of a time, we’ve been #blessed with some great angry records, from the recent Napalm Death rager to this absolute barnstormer of a pissed-off punk rock record. Dropdead 2020 is a definite year-end-list contender, no question, so put it on, turn it up, and get pissed off. The future is yours. The time is now… will you fight?
Not only is Dropdead back to making the big wax with 23 killer new songs, they’re also blessing us with a massive catalog reissue effort, revisiting the past as they’re stating clearly that they’re nowhere near finished yet. Their 1991 demos, both their 1993 and 1998 full-lengths, and the two discography LPs that compile all the stray tracks from splits and comps have been remastered and are being re-released through the band’s own Armageddon Records.
Between the five, there are some overlaps in the track listings, as you’d imagine, particularly between Demos 1991 and the earliest full-length and the earlier of the two discography releases, but nevertheless, all Dropdead is good Dropdead, and at least four of these albums are essential listening for any fan of hardcore. Those demos are probably the least necessary of the pack, just by the nature of a demo compilation, but they’re also an interesting snapshot of the earliest stages of a young band that would grow into a hardcore juggernaut in a very short time. Whether the earlier, rawer-edged records or the later, more controlled attacks, it doesn’t matter which one you choose to spin, only that you choose to spin them, often and loudly.
(Hopefully, for my turntable’s sake, they’ll nix the needle-wrecking prank of having Side A of the 1998 record play from the inside out, but I guess we’ll find out. Those wacky punks…)
Note: Due to COVID-related delays, the physical versions of these releases have been held up until late November, but pre-orders are live, and the digital version of Dropdead 2020 releases on September 25. However you choose to listen — via stream or on vinyl — it’s more important that you do listen.