“Punk is dead.” It’s a saying that’s practically as old as the genre itself. It seems that no matter what happens, there’s always a group of prognosticators ready and willing to dig punk its premature grave. Punk was dead after The Ramones, Sex Pistols, and company gave way to new wave. It died after Green Day and The Offspring brought pop punk into every mall in America. Punk expired when it started trotting all over the country with the Vans Warped Tour. But the fact that we’re still talking about the death of punk 40 years later can only mean that it’s still alive on some level, right? The truth is, punk rock and its various sub-strains have always done their best work in the margins. No matter where you are or what year it is, there are always scenes and bands doing the genre their own weird form of justice.
Ironically enough, the latest band to once again disprove the idiotic “punk is dead” fallacy was long thought to be dead itself. Head Wound City came and went with the same kind of scorched speed that defined its music. The San Diego supergroup blessed fans with a manic, seven-song self-titled EP in 2005, only to disband soon afterward. Now the band is back with its first proper full-length a decade after fans stuffed them into the back of their memory banks. But A New Wave of Violence is almost certain to grant a much-deserved and long-hoped-for second wind. Like its predecessor, it’s loud, merciless, perplexingly weird stuff, even by punk and hardcore’s against-the-grain standards.
For the uninitiated, Head Wound City brings together members of The Locust (bassist Justin Pearson and drummer Gabe Serbian), The Blood Brothers (vocalist/guitarist Jordan Billie and guitarist Cody Votolato) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (lead guitarist Nick Zinner) for a light-speed collision course of mutated underground sounds including thrash, powerviolence, screamo, prog rock, grind, and more. But when put together, the music continues to defy categorization. A New Wave of Violence utilizes the best elements of the bands that helped spawn it, from The Blood Brothers’ experimental noise rock to The Locust’s schizophrenic math characteristics and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ arty pop sense. At 10 tracks and barely 25 minutes, it’s on the short side as far as full-lengths go. But don’t confuse the record’s brevity for ineffectiveness. Head Wound City pack a lot in, making every album clocking in at over 30 minutes seem bloated with excess by comparison.
Like most proud records of the punk/hardcore/thrash tradition, A New Wave of Violence is much more a matter of the gut than that of the mind. Its best moments will make your hair stand up on end. The menacing anthem “Old Age Takes Too Long” leads listeners into a quirky, angular, but undoubtably visceral record of musical mayhem. “Born To Burn” follows Serbian’s stomping lead through the hardcore trenches, accented by Billie’s burning scream — and that’s among the record’s more subdued moments. When Head Wound City really want to ratchet thing sup, they go full bore. “I Wanna Be Your Original Sin” is as loud and deliriously technical as anything in The Locust’s cannon, as is “Palace of Love and Hate”. While the band does most of its damage in two minutes or less, they’re just as menacing when they opt to go long. Album closer “Love Is Best” slows down the hardcore charge to let some of the record’s dark atmosphere gestate a bit.
Eleven years is a long layoff, but Head Wound City sound just as peerless and hard to pin down as they did more than a decade ago. Next time someone tries to read punk and hardcore’s last rights, do them a favor and slip this in their earhole for evidence to the contrary.
Essential Tracks: “Born To Burn”, “I Wanna Be Your Original Sin”, and “Palace of Love and Hate”