‘Crowd Control’ perfectly exemplifies why Johnny Booth are one of the best contemporary hardcore & metalcore acts around; really great songwriting, awesome videos, and all with something to say.
It’s a universal truth that if a song starts with a hair-raising riff paired with the drummer keeping time by using the rims of their drum shells, you’re likely in for an insane track. Such is the case with ‘Crowd Control,’ the latest single from one of hardcore and metalcore’s finest yet criminally underrated bands, Johnny Booth. This is a group that deserves so much more recognition and love than what they currently get. Riffs, breakdowns, aggression, dynamics, hooks, lyrics – these guys have it all. Their 2019 comeback record, ‘Firsthand Accounts‘ is exceptional stuff, and this new cut is an easy favourite song of mine for 2021. Because it’s the full package: songwriting, performance, lyricism, and visuals.
Outside of that killer, attention-grabbing intro, the rest of the song goes ridiculously hard. ‘Crowd Control‘ shows off Johnny Booth’s skill at near-relentless energy, the kind of songwriting and performances that rarely release their choke-hold grip. The tough-as-nails ‘Theif‘ was a fantastic example of this, and ‘Crowd Control‘ wields its own destructive tempest just as well. The tempo is fast and vicious, and the rhythms are precise and bouncy but also discordant when called for. It keeps on building, continually one-upping itself, and it puts a big dumb smile on my face every time. It’s a song like this that really makes me remember why I love this kind of music in the first place. And I adore that little “skit” in the middle where we hear the band’s producer asking, “Yo Herm, you ready?”, before a quick “yep” confirmation from vocalist Andrew Herman, and then all hell breaks loose in the chaotic bridge section.
Speaking of, Andrew’s incendiary vocal performance matches the fiery instrumentals wrapped around his voice. So when he lets out these genuine voice-breaking screams of frustration, like at 3:11, it’s exciting stuff. You believe every word that escapes his larynx and he has such a commanding presence. The songs anthemic gang-vocal refrain of “take me under” is delivered like a resounding yet lamenting war cry. Likewise, melodies and vocal technique used for these choruses never feel forced, like they were included because that’s what every other band is doing. Rather, it lends an added pitch and layer to this Long Island band’s already gnarly sound and ‘Crowd Control‘ is seriously better off for it.
Elsewhere, with the headless bass smashing of Nick Martell, Scott Owens‘ busy-as-hell drum patterns across the toms, double kicks and snare, to Ryan Strong and Adam Helpern’s sick flattened riffs that slide between dissonant and harmonic, the instrumental is dope from start-to-end. It gels together wonderfully so. Of course, like any band in these genres, Johnny Booth are suckers for a good breakdown. Except their ones don’t needlessly clog up the track or overstay their welcome, but rather add true weight and impact to what’s being said and what’s come before them in the song. So when they break shit right down and chug hard in that brutal climax, it feels necessary. It feels earned.
Then there’s the lyrical content. Upon release, the band stated that ‘Crowd Control‘ is about “…the growth of delusional thought and warping of reality which is rising in the shared consciousness of the USA. We all saw our own family members, friends and co-workers fall victim to false ideologies over the past few years.” This theme of unfounded beliefs rising through the American and international political landscape is timely and poignant. For these movements are a threat, but not because they’re speaking truth to power, but because they distract people from other pressing issues, causing far more harm than good. Whether it’s a fixation on culture-war bullshit, misinformation about immigration, the bonkers rhetoric of QAnon, or the deluded “Stop The Steal” Trumpers. It’s what the band state in the double-kick-laden, riffy and downright mental middle-eight section at 1:53: “You’ve been sold a new threat. It’s a guess. An idea to control.” These people think they’re going against the grain, but are actually being lead down a dangerous hole that’s very difficult to climb out of.
And now we have the music video. Filmed and edited by Gulab Singh, who the band have worked with before, the visuals for ‘Crowd Control‘ work on multiple levels. The empty deadpan stares from Andrew amongst the green foliage is arresting, reminding me of this Shakewell video clip. The tracking shots of him being violently dragged, bloodied and screaming, captures the song’s message of ordinary people being dragged deep into something sinister. Then there’s the loaded imagery of anonymous masked individuals eerily draped in American flags, shown sitting or standing within normal environments (schools, gyms, train stations) and it’s quite unsettling. But it’s effective; speaking to the ever-growing nature of dangerous fringe beliefs becoming mainstream and infecting the minds of the average citizen that’s just going about their day, no matter who they are or where they are. Gulab’s visual metaphors and JB’s songwriting and lyricism are perfectly in-synch here, and it’s a great end result.
Expect to hear more from these guys in 2021.