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I’ve been following Texas’s BackWordz since their debut singles ‘Elitist’ and ‘Grindstone’, as well as their wicked good cover of Eminem’s ‘Till I Collapse’. After drip-feeding a handful of songs for the better half of a year now, their debut crowd-funded full-length record is finally here in the form of ‘Veracity’. Fronted by the “anti-statist” and Being Libertarian member, Eric July, there’s been some decent buzz about BackWordz over in The Land Of Trump, and their debut album should hopefully continue that buzz – both in their native US and abroad.
Now, full disclosure here, I put money towards this record’s GoFundMe campaign last year. I dropped a measly $10 towards the record’s funding as I wanted “All real, no fake” band to drop a first full-length, so I put my very small amount of money where my very loud mouth by helping this group create such a release, in some tiny way. Despite not really agreeing with their politics, but more on that later. I also coincidentally received ‘Veracity’ via email on my birthday the other week – pure coincidence, really, as the album officially dropped March 31st – and again in full disclosure, I received no bonuses or any other perks for supporting BackWordz via crowd-funding. [Saying all this may be unnecessary to some, but I’d prefer to declare such things, as transparency is best.]
Great! Now that’s out of the way, I must say that while this is indeed a good record both in terms of metalcore and hip-hop, it sadly hasn’t reached the heights that I’d initially hoped for. While I’m not suffering from buyer’s remorse or any such deep regret (I mean, come on, I only fronted the band $10), ‘Veracity’ isn’t quite the record I wanted it to be. It came quite close, sure – it’s still a good solid hip-hop/rap-influenced metalcore release – but that fabled cigar remains just out of this quintet’s collective reach.
So yes, there are definitely a few caveats I have with ‘Veracity‘, and I’ll start with one small complaint first off.
Right away, they inform you of their umbrage at the genres and labels that have been placed upon them over the past two years with hip-hop styled opener ‘Pop It Off’ having Eric July rap, “Nu-Metal, rapcore, we are none of that so stop acting stupid/I got an idea: shut the hell up, sit back, and enjoy the music“. I’ve seen a handful of reviews stating that BackWordz isn’t just a nu-metal band and that they’re a “fresh” band for this scene. Which would indeed be the case here… but only if this band was the first ever nu-metal-metalcore act those writers had ever heard! Look, you’re well within your right to complain about being labelled nu-metal or “rapcore” or whatever, but when you write music that fits within those established sounds and conventions, don’t complain when people label you accordingly. Sorry BackWordz, while you’re far from the most egregious nu-metal sounding act around today, you don’t get to control how people view your music in the wider context of heavy music and music genres in general. You can try, but that’ll do little good.
Secondly, and in what I feel is a much larger issue, this album’s length is overblown.
For sweet merciful Christ, ‘Veracity’ is a long fucking listen when it just didn’t need to be. It’s got 18 songs all up, only really needed 12 or 13 of them at the most, and it wraps up just under the 70-minute mark; which is just overkill. It really seems that this pro-libertarian quintet (I’ll get to that soon) went to put all of their eggs in the basket – no matter how ready or fitting those eggs actually were – in the hope of making their debut record as big and as grand as possible. To the detriment of said album no less. It seems they’ve also taken a leaf from the pop/mainstream records of late – such as The Weekend’s ‘Starboy‘, the new Gorillaz album, Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo‘, among others – by including more songs than what was arguably necessary. With this album’s release, BackWordz proudly stated that they “poured their souls” into this album, and maybe, just maybe, too much was poured in.
However! In saying all of this, quality always trumps quantity, and BackWordz did indeed supply some solid, wholesome quality with their debut to match the high quantity levels.
So, let’s get to the real good shit on offer here song-wise.
The aggressive, pissed-off standout ‘Snap‘ shows the band’s snapback-wearing rapper/screamer taking no prisoners and loudly voicing his “abolish the government” political stance (don’t rush me, it’s coming) But what makes ‘Snap‘ work better than many of its album peers is that it doesn’t feature the generic “catchy chorus” clean singing of bassist Alex James; who instead opts for a more restrained lead in the song’s dynamically softer bridge. Getting this particular criticism out of the way right now, James’s cleans aren’t bad, no, but they’re very cliché for this band’s sound in terms of delivery and timbre. Also, occasionally, the need for their inclusion and the choruses that are instrumentally built around Jame’s vocals really get in the way of the tighter, angrier, and just straight up heavier moments that BackWordz flow so strongly within. Lesser potent songs like ‘Demon Rat‘, ‘Stathiest‘ and ‘You, Are You‘ are prime examples of these “interruptions”, for lack of a better description.
But I digress. Let me get back to the good stuff! The Austrian economic/political ranting of mid-album rager ‘Praxeology’ – the notion that humans engage in purposeful behaviour (working towards an end goal) rather reflexive behaviour (sneezing, coughing, etc.) and how this band seemingly wants such ideas to be implemented into global economics and morals – is a noticeable highpoint. Now, I could make a gag here about this metalcore tune being almost educational but legit, I wasn’t all that familiar with this philosophy and I read a bit more into because of this song. So yeah, I did learn something, and I can’t say that about most other bands of this genre and scene. The very same goes for early game entry, ‘Individualism‘.
Moving on, the punchy hit of ‘Utopias Don’t Exist’ would make Body Count deeply proud, what with its strong focus on racial issues and the abundance of politician-hating the track provides. Similarly, ‘The Professional Protester’ is a no-holds-barred critique of those who protest police brutality of blacks but don’t protest the black-on-black violence that occurs every single day in the US and shows July asking the black community to take a look at itself and take accountability for their problems. Less proactively, the song is also about individuals who distastefully use their political activism as a virtue signalling “ego boost”, as this song’s lyrics also detail. A darker, almost-Korn-like vibe gets delivered with ‘Democracy Sucks‘ providing a slight but solid change of pace for the record’s heavier musical moments but also maintaining the political tone by calling out not only Obama but all political parties who use sensitive, hotbed issues to emotionally manipulate voters.
I mean, come on, the song’s called ‘Democracy Sucks’, for fuck’s sake, what else would you expect?!
Much like Gift Giver’s ‘White Devil‘ album, BackWordz nails their mix of light and heavy, between hip-hop tunes and hardcore/metalcore punishers. And the one real hip-hop banger of the album is ‘Tell Me‘, a driving yet minimal track that has a deadlier vocal flow than Lamar, takes a killer aim at “fake” rappers littering the game, and would’ve fit perfectly alongside ‘The Life Of Pablo‘ tracks sonically speaking. I admit that I’m not big on rap and hip-hop music cause a lot of it is just hot trash, but goddamnit, ‘Tell Me‘ is an undeniably strong!
However, meeting somewhere in the middle of their light and heavy sounds is easily the album’s greatest moment, the empowering ‘Be Great‘. What starts as a soaring yet groovy, hard-hitting metalcore track soon becomes a minimal yet wonderfully flowing autobiographical hip-hop jam. This standout section sees July spitting fire about his childhood, his journey as a musician from being YG Rippa to fronting Fire From The Gods to his current position in BackWordz, and throws some harsh but truthful shade at his previous band. He details why he left, their less than amicable history, his vision for his current band, and the business standards and musical conviction that BackWordz strives for. Now, some may argue that ‘Be Great‘ feels like two different songs haphazardly slapped together but I think that the overall variation and the actual transition between genres are done very well and it holds your attention from the start until the very finish in a vice-like grip (hopefully like this review.) ‘Be Great‘ also wouldn’t be as, well, great, if it was just the mid-song hip-hop section or if it was just metalcore parts a la the Rise Records roster circa 2010.
But sadly, despite the very solid stuff present on ‘Veracity‘, we now come to the not-so-good shit available here. These songs are not awful nor are they terrible, but they’re not particularly that great either.
First, you’ve got the glitchy electronics, drum machine patterns and quiet, distant metal riffs of the frankly unnecessary interlude, ‘So To Speak‘, as transitioning straight from ‘Be Great‘ to ‘Praxeology‘ without this pointless track would’ve been smoother. ‘Addicted’ is the phoned-in hip-hop/club track of the record, vocally led by Alex James, and it seems to be a product born of the record’s overreaching length. (Remember what I said earlier about eggs and putting them all in your basket?) ‘Addicted‘ is a win for the album’s sonic diversity, sure, but it’s a strike against its flow and consistency and would’ve been better served as a B-side. Further still, the melodically inclined album closer ‘Set Us Free’ has one of the corniest introduction’s of the whole damn album and in general, one of the cheesiest introduction’s I’ve heard in a long time. Besides the highly questionable start, the cleaner guitar tones and having July actually sing (and doing it well, mind you) were nice touches but due to the overdone length of ‘Veracity‘, I was just ready for this record to end by this point.
Now, when it comes to guest features, there are three on offer here.
Firstly, Lauren Babic of Red Handed Denial guests on ‘Democracy Sucks‘, giving the track a really sweet Periphery flavour with her delicious, soaring vocals, but her parts in the intro and middle verse still feel really underused. I get it’s a feature spot and it’s not her band’s music, but letting her brilliant pair of lungs rip away more here would’ve been fantastic. I mean, I even forgot she was even on the song sometimes! The “best” of the trio is a single from last year titled ‘Statism‘, which Escape The Fate’s Craig Mabbit features on in the song’s secondary choruses. It’s not a bad song by any means and while Mabbit’s inclusion does help push the song to further melodic heights… it does just feel like “BackWordz now with hat”. This is also definitely one of the songs that could have been left off the album’s track listing due to its year-old age. We then have the third from the start track, ‘Self Ownership‘ which features Attila’s Chris Fronzak (his short but sweet vocal parts are absolutely sick, no pun intended) in what should have just been a heavy three-minute track that’s instead a five-minute piece. That added length is caused by a more melodic, building, virtual string-driven bridge section where the song probably should have ended. Here, July’s addiction for voicing the many chips on his shoulder about government control comes out by trying to fit in as much of his political vocabulary as his lungs will allow him; which also often comes at the detriment of the larger song and his lyrical flow.
Thus, on that note, we finally – fucking finally – arrive at one of biggest talking points and the biggest contention surrounding BackWordz; their politics. See, I told you we’d get here eventually!
Those reading this that are firmly familiar with BackWordz message may find this next part a moot point but their politics is truly inescapable when talking about them, for as July once put it, “…the music is so message-driven, they [the media] have to cover libertarianism.”
So yes, the political compass spinning behind BackWordz and July is indeed facing that of libertarianism and at times, even AnCap (Anarcho-capitalism.) Throughout ‘Veracity‘, BackWordz stands in stark opposition to the right wing and left wing political (especially this side) and media narratives by aiming to be as libertarian as possible. They do this by lyrically and thematically displaying libertarian stances towards matters of free speech, collectivism, the “monopolised corporation” of government, race, politics and of course, economics. I think it’s safe to say that this cussword-free, libertarian-themed album will definitely put some listeners off. For things do get very preachy across this pro-secession 18-track release, and with a record that’s so embedded within the political message of its creators, many listeners might switch off, by seeing the music as just the rant-heavy vehicle for which July and co. channel their political messages. And they’d be right in that assumption.
Even so, it’s quite easy to see that the message and music of ‘Veracity‘ do indeed come from their collective hearts, despite the cynic in me saying that being a “libertarian hip-hop/metal band” is a rather rare yet very eye-catching gimmick to have. For there isn’t another artist in this genre fitting the libertarian paradigm to this extent that I could even name right now. (Though I’m sure there out there and I do suppose that BackWordz is “a breath of fresh air” as some have put it, but not necessarily for their music.) However, I myself lean left-wing politically and do disagree with most of the band’s politics – except the self-empowerment of the individual stuff, even if that still makes me an “obedient slave” in the band’s eyes – I’m man enough to respect their opinions and enjoy their music despite said differences. I think that my admiration for songs like ‘Individualism‘ and ‘Praxeology‘ are proof of this.
I also highly commend BackWordz for bravely sticking so closely to their guns when many other bands would either cave, take a generalised, non-specific left wing stance or even refuse to merge their politics with their music for fear of criticism. Because god forbid that someone uses their art as a tool to make meaningful statements about our world, right? (That was sarcasm, just so you know.) And even if you don’t agree with the message BackWordz so loudly espouses, I think that many newer and younger bands could learn from them in other areas. Namely how they took time over the past two years to really build their sound, create a fanbase, secure solid mixes and production, creating some level of genuine hype, ensure logistics were sound, solidify the business elements, and not just blindly rush into this insane industry and tour for the sake of touring or ink the very first deal that was presented to them. Oh, and speaking of labels, ‘Veracity‘ is actually being distributed via their “partnership” with Stay Sick Recordings. Yet the band isn’t necessarily signed to that label, they still apparently own their publishing and are still technically independent, and they just saw some really solid numbers from the first week of release too.
But look, when it all comes down to it, the album sales, the business ethics and the convictions behind the music are almost secondary, as it’s the actual music content that matters the most. And by Trump’s smug mug, BackWordz, please trim the fat out and hone in on what makes you truly great. Because you can most definitely be great and then some, as most of this record proves.
Sweet Laissez-faire capitalism, these reviews of mine aren’t getting any shorter, are they!? Well, I think it’s fitting that a long album gets a lengthy review – seems only fair to me. Despite the libertarian message of ‘Veracity’, the album’s overdone runtime, and the somewhat mixed bag of songs on offer, I strongly encourage you to check out ‘Veracity’, find the songs from the many on offer that you dig, playlist that shit and jam ’em till it hurts.
Look, there’s a lot of songs on this album and I can’t be arsed listing them all.
Anyway, ‘Veracity’ is out now and you can buy it here, you Ayn Rand lovers, you.