First Four EPs

Written by: PP on 26/12/2010 01:33:37

This one almost passed me by unnoticed, and that would've been a crime against all of you who like hardcore (and even some of you who don't). Quick history lesson though for the latter group: Black Flag more or less single-handedly created hardcore back in the 70s. They were briefly fronted by the enigmatic vocalist Keith Morris, before he went on to form Circle Jerks with Bad Religion's future guitarist Greg Hetson. Then a whole bunch of stuff happened in between that's not really relevant for this review, like Bad Religion forming, Black Flag releasing "Damaged" and so forth, but basically it all somehow lead into OFF! and their debut album "First Four EPs". Formed by Keith Morris, Dimitria Coats from Burning Brides, Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald, and Rocket From The Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba, OFF! is marketed with a simple question: "What if Keith Morris had never left Black Flag?"

It's a good question, and one we'll never have an aswer to. There's a real possibility, however, that Black Flag would've sounded like OFF! do now: a 50/50 split between the original hardcore of Black Flag and the revivalist, much celebrated and critically-acclaimed style of Fucked Up. Utilizing a distinct guitar tone that I've only heard used by the latter band in the past, OFF sound melodic, but extremely sharp and relentlessly raw. In places it sounds like Bad Religion's "Suffer", though it makes that legendary record sound polished in comparison. That, however, doesn't mean that the production is messy, unclear or any of that crap usually associated with 80s style hardcore. In fact it's the opposite: crystal clear, with layers of melody dressed in an uncompromising anger and fist-pumping energy. Antibodies take note here: this is your revered old school hardcore sound in brilliant modern production, yet still just as powerful and raw (if not more so) as before, nor lacking in any of the primal rage that fueled those records during that particular era. Essentially, "First Four EPs" defines the often used term "pissed off hardcore" with capital letters, or rather, reminds us of what the original meaning of that word was.

It's as if Black Flag is returning back from the dead to remind us what real hardcore punk is all about. It certainly has nothing to do with the monotone screaming of the European hardcore movement (that includes you, Fredericia). The songs are short and to the point, yet still carry unmatched melody underneath the layer of raw riffs. They are strikingly simple, yet supremely effective punches of raw hardcore energy shoved down your throat forcefully by the roars of Morris and the unique instrumentals of the rest of the band. Though forceful implies a negative impression from the person in the receiving end, in this case it's not, because just as you don't mind being raped by Jessica Alba or Megan Fox, because they are some of the most hottest chicks around, you don't mind OFF! delivering their pissed off hardcore anthems or Morris' distorted, primal vocals because they are one of the best hardcore bands to have come into existence in the last ten years or so.

But the spirit of original hardcore feeling and anger isn't what makes "First Four EPs" exceptional, because as you know, I hate bands who try ro re-create that feeling and end up writing shitty songs just because they think music from that era is somehow supposed to be shitty by definition. Far from it. What nearly all of these bands miss in their sound, OFF! has integrated with ease exactly as you'd expect veterans of this age to do. They've made it sound catchy in the process. Songs like "Poison City" own unforgettable vocal melodies despite the initial shock that results from hearing something so raw and unpolished in 2011. "Jeffrey Lee Pierce" has a groovy, unpredictable feeling to it that attains the same idea as before. "Killing Away" is one of those up-beat hardcore tracks that carries a positive vibe that makes it so memorable. "Black Thoughts" has a riff that would be fitting on any Bad Religion masterpiece. "Darkness" makes Fucked Up's guitar sound pale in comparison with its overload on melodic treble. And this, my friends, is what makes OFF! a real hit, a must own release in 2010, as it assaults everything modern in music of all kinds by displaying the sheer intensity and greatness of the eras of the past, without sounding at all dated or irrelevant. Welcome to what would've been my #2 ranked record this year had I gotten a hold of it prior to writing my end of year article.


Download: Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Poison City, Killing Away, Black Thoughts
For the fans of: Fucked Up, Black Flag, Bad Religion, Nervous Breakdown
Listen: Myspace

Release date 14.12.2010
Vice Records

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