Forensics – You Don’t Have To Win, But You Have To Fight

You Don't Have To Win, But You Have To Fight

Ever run into an old friend while grocery shopping or grabbing a bite to eat? About 15 minutes into the conversation, after the initial nervous excitement of reconnection starts to waver, chances are you begin to realize that they’ve grown into someone who’s lost all of the unique and supernormal idiosyncrasies that made them so self-assured and charming years ago. Maybe it’s the time apart or just plain growing up, but it’s always a major blow to nostalgia to see those few unique individuals that always unflinchingly did things their way – and patently, always seemed to get away with it – transformed into neutered workaday everymen. Such is the case with Forensics’ latest, You Don’t Have To Win, But You Have To Fight, an EP that unfortunately leaves the same impression as so much idle chatter over coffee in an attempt to catch up.

Though marking a welcome reappearance, You Don’t Have To Win, But You Have To Fight showcases a decidedly different band than the one heard on Forensics’ last proper outing (2004’s Things To Do When You Should Be Dead Anyway). With Graham Scala of Souvenir’s Young America and Ventoux filling in frets for the much-missed George Crum and Brad Perry taking over Santos Montano’s spot behind the kit, this revamped lineup aims for concentrated song structures while abandoning the transgressions into improvisation’s droning depths that characterized Hogback Mountain Sessions Vol. 1 and recent detour-release Deathscream by Forensics: Sonic Victimization Unit. But as anyone who took a U.S History course can tell you, the strategy of dividing the house against itself ain’t always the best idea: stripped of those signature forays into murkier sonic territory, the cut-to-the brief current iteration of Forensics amounts to little more than a coarse hardcore punk band that knows its way around the anthemic three-minute barnburner.

Opening track “Swallowing” is most successful here, living up to its title with guitars swirling around frontman Brent Eyestone’s dogged bellows, before finally plunging into a slowed-down deluge. It works mainly because it’s the song least concerned with being concise; the small dose of dynamic space provides some much-needed depth to what is a relatively short, dense, and single-minded release. To that end, “Crashing” and “Shouldering” hone in on such well-tread formulas that the two-song stretch blurs into a driving heavy-slab hodgepodge of alternative rock touchstones. They’re listenable but ultimately forgettable approximations of songs we’ve heard before – just not by Forensics. Wrapping things up, “Failed Master” falls flat, disappointingly invoking the height of late-90s screamo cliche: the distractingly out-of-place vocals of Ringfinger’s Tracy Wilson overpower what otherwise should have been the EP’s strongest cut (finally, a dirty southern-tinged solo!). It’s a shame that a band so indebted to its creative divergences would leverage one so unsatisfying to be this disc’s last-minute save.

For some – those that were still anticipating new material from Forensics, anyway – the change in sound cultivated by the outfit may seem more as an artistic backslide than evolution. After all, on previous releases the band deftly blended the disparate sounds of its members’ other projects (Pageninetynine, Corn On Macabre, and Burning Airlines among them) to belt out some seriously heavy jams with gritty intensity. Yet despite still claiming a portion of the same pedigree, the side of Forensics presented on You Don’t Have To Win, But You Have To Fight unfortunately isn’t the one that plays to that strength. As a result, the songs here sound less like the demonic heralds of some approaching sinister swarm the unit once produced, and more like beacons of familiarity that futilely reach back to the brightest spots of yesteryear.

Magic Bullet Records