Many years ago, I was in New York City for a convention and found myself walking through midtown during some down time. It was raining moderately, and as I walked I came upon a smallish gentleman standing at the intersection. He had a slouched demeanor, but one that suggested he wasn’t to be trifled with, a feeling that was confirmed when he started yelling loudly as tourists for jaywalking and littering. In one bony hand he clutched a half-burned cigarette, and a second one was perched behind his ear. His voice rang was an accented broken violin, invectives issuing from his goatee-framed mouth. His armor of choice against the rain, the tourists and indeed the very outside world was a worn, beaten Sick of it All hoodie. I couldn’t help but smile. In that moment, that man represented all of the New York underground and the blue collar ethic that secretly keeps that city moving. He was everything Sick of it All has ever exemplified.
That spirit continues with virile authority for the new offering from the veteran band, “The Last Act of Defiance.” The band’s tenth studio record is very much a continuation of the other nine – direct, adorned by no frills and free of the trappings of stylistic flair.
The gang choruses and short chord phrasing that have for decades characterized the greater punk and hardcore movement remain in evident effect for this new record, Sick of it All never shying away from the style that garnered them such a loyal following years ago. Their songwriting, with some variation here and there, revolves around the simple premise of keeping the bass lines heavy and letting everything move over the top of that. Craig Setari sets the tone with the deep chug of “2061” or “Road Less Traveled,” and the rolling chords of the songs themselves are placed only to bolster the bass spine.
It’s been suggested that the key elements of hardcore music are passion and emotion. Assuming this to be true, Sick of it All continues to carry that flag in the vanguard of the movement. Three decades into their career, the band continues to channel the revolutionary vitriol of the frustrated, downtrodden and oppressed. Just listen to the message of “Get Bronx”: it’s a call to action, a clarion sounding meant to signal the masses that they can stand for themselves.
Keeping true to the directives of hardcore forges decades ago, no single track of “Last Act of Defiance” breaks the three-minute barrier, which means the listener is absorbing short punk bursts of fury and heavily-riffed cadences. That does little to alter the conception of Sick of it All or New York Hardcore, but this record doesn’t need to do that and shouldn’t be asked to. “Last Act of Defiance,” perhaps as is implicated in the title, is a throwback to the most honest roots of the hardcore genre, and anyone looking for something different or more technically complicated has arrived at the wrong party in the first place.
Let’s do the right thing here – Sick of it All needs to get on a split headline bill with the Casualties and do a run of dirty clubs in the Northeast. In the meantime, while you wait for that to happen, go ahead and spin ‘Last Act of Defiance.” It doesn’t rewrite the hardcore manual, but you shouldn’t have to write a new manual when you helped craft the original.