Rival Schools – United By Fate

Rival Schools
United By Fate

Let’s be honest, biographical information regarding a band can often be tedious and boring. However, with Rival Schools, that information is quite extensive and tells a great deal about the band’s sound. Singer and guitarist Walter Schreifels was an integral part of Gorilla Biscuits, the highly influential late 80’s hardcore band that sold well over 100,000 copies of their debut indie release, Start Today. Schreifels also contributed guitar and bass tracks to the work of bands from the same New York scene, such as Youth of Today. He moved away from the hardcore scene in the early 90’s to form Quicksand and released two albums (Slip and Manic Compression and one self-titled) before turning to produce CIV’s debut release, Set Your Goals, which spawned the MTV “Buzz Bin” single, “Can’t Wait One Minute More.”

As far as producing, he also took the reigns on an album from Hot Water Music, released on his own record label, Some Records. After assorted demos and side projects, Schreifels gave birth to Rival Schools while simultaneously playing in a band called Pearl Harbor, which records for his own label. Rival Schools’ bass duties are handled by Cache Tolman, who has spent time with the bands Iceburn and CIV, as well as releasing a solo project or two. Drummer Sam Siegler, who, along with another friend, is Schreifels’ partner in Some Records, worked with Schreifels in Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today. He has also played with the bands Judge, Shelter, and was another piece of the CIV puzzle, as well as playing on the most recent album from friends Glassjaw. Guitarist Ian Love spent some time on the New York hardcore scene as well, playing in bands like Burn and Die 116. Rival Schools, originally called Rival Schools United By Fate (inspired by a video game and later changed for legal reasons), toured Europe and the United States before ever actually releasing anything. In July, they released a split EP with Jonah, previously of Far, currently of Onelinedrawing. And that pretty much brings us up to date.

So, now that you know all of that, we have Rival Schools’ new album, United By Fate. Despite the list of heavy and aggressive bands these guys have previously been a part of, United By Fate is a turn in a more melodic direction. There’s big chunks of post-hardcore aggression, mixed with touches of emo, pop, and alt-rock. There is definitely an “emo-core” sound here but in a far from bland and predictable fashion that even the strongest anti-emo kids won’t find objectionable. It isn’t quite as obscure or avant-garde as most of your favorite indie rock, but it is far from manufactured or conventional. There is a certain uniqueness to the combination of stripped-down, raw power with the more layered effects and beautiful harmonies. Schreifels’ raspy vocals demand attention as usual, showing off songwriting skills that have only gotten better with age, managing to be both emotive and aggressive without succumbing to the nauseating pretty-boy vocals so often found in music that tries to be anything like this.

Perhaps the best part about the album is the way it will get you bouncing along one minute and promptly knock you on your ass the next. Songs like “High Acetate,” “Undercovers On,” “Good Things,” and “World Invitational” are slower, more hook-laden, and spastically melodic, while others like “My Echo” and “So Down On” will make it hard for you to keep from bobbing your head and rocking out on your air guitar. In between come heavier tracks like “Travel By Telephone,” “The Switch,” and “Holding Sand,” which force you to take a step back for breath. “Used For Glue,” which is the first single from the album, sounds the most like anything Quicksand ever did, showcasing the dissonant riffs and grooves Schreifels’ previous project was known for.

Only time will tell if Rival Schools turns out to be just another come-and-go project from Schreifels and company, but for now, I am more than willing to not worry about it, opting instead to enjoy what the band has already accomplished. Even if they were to disappear tomorrow, United By Fate would be reason enough to remain a fan.