Stretch Arm Strong – Engage

Hardcore/punk is a bruised and beaten genre. It has been done horribly in the past…so much so that untalented, messy hardcore punk seems to be the norm. When a band comes along that does it right, mixing innate melody and throat-destroying screaming with passion and intensity, it makes me shiver. Why? Cause I’ve usually forgotten what good hardcore punk sounds like.
That being said, Stretch Arm Strong is definitely a shiver-inducing band. The first thing that hits you when you pop Engage into your computer is a 14-minute video bearing the moniker “2002 Summer Tour Images.” It gives a great biography of SAS, displaying their crazy live show, humor, passion for skateboarding, and even morals. In one clip they stop a song and address a fight that had broken out in the back, saying that they would not be the ‘soundtrack to someone getting beat up.’ This brings us to the fact that Stretch Arm Strong is positive hardcore, or posi-core (more on that later). Unfortunately, all the music off the feature is from previous releases. While this makes me want to get their past releases, it also doesn’t say anything about their new CD.
So what is the music like on Engage? Based on the recordings held in the movie, it’s a change from their previous releases. The hard riffs are harder and the punk is poppier. They don’t have as many group-yell hooks as they used to, which is a sad thing, as they gave SAS’s music a group-fed intensity. They scream more often, but when they do sing, they cover an actual singing range as opposed to the small scream/sing range they used to possess. The vocals also are assisted by many guests, most notably Thursday’s Geoff Rickly. It’s definite growth. And it’s fantastic that way.
The posi-core lyrics are all about moving on, uniting, and forgetting differences between races. You think that sounds trite? Hardly. “Race, Religion, Sex, and Creed, we’re all the same when we bleed; I want to open your veins to see if your blood is real,” says the opener, “We Bleed.” And yet, it’s a positive message. Only hardcore could pull that off. In fact, “We Bleed” is one of the best songs here, exemplifying the best of everything that hardcore has to offer. Another highlight is the bass-driven “Defect,” which features a spoken-word section taken from the powerful “Civil Disobedience” by Thoreau and a just-as-powerful melody.
Stretch Arm Strong is breathing life into hardcore/punk. To fans of the genre, this will be a great addition to your collection. For newcomers to the genre, this will blow your socks off. All in all, it’s a fantastic collection of songs that will leave you breathless, speechless, and energy-less.