For Fans Of
Stick To Your Guns’ sixth studio album ‘True View’ begins with a segment of a recording from a phone conversation with frontman Jesse Barnett’s mother. “You just figure it out your way” – he appears to be embattled with some unknown quandary while she tenderly offers him her advice. Apparently, this is just a fragment of one of the countless conversations Barnett had with his mother that informed the inward, self-reflective nature of the mission statement underpinning ‘True View‘. But the use of it here just makes me wonder how artists always just happen to be recording their phone conversations with their loved ones when they start offering them profound guidance like this. It kind of feels as if Barnett has deliberately sought out the wisdom of his mother with the intention of working it into the concept of his album, like her testimony will authenticate his lyrics as genuine. I think this could be why I’ve never really gelled with Stick To Your Guns’ music because they’re so often lauded for this air of sincerity that comes off as something sort of… affected and superficial to me.
I should qualify that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Stick To Your Guns as a band. They embody the spirit of hardcore and carry themselves humbly in everything that they do. They have used their platform to provide opportunities and imparted their wealth of experience on younger bands on the rise (Knocked Loose immediately comes to mind). In a live setting, the band has this infectious energy; an unstoppable inertia akin to the most commanding presences in hardcore. The widespread appeal of Stick To Your Guns is obviously not lost on me – the band routinely performs to mammoth crowds across the globe year after year, and serve as a crucial link for heavy music fans to cross to a more underground, almost obscure hardcore community. But for a decade and a half now, Stick To Your Guns have been beating us over the head with their skin-deep quasi-inspirational rhetoric set to a paint-by-numbers melodic hardcore soundtrack.
No, it’s not that ‘True View‘ is lacking in excitement – album opener ‘3 Feet From Peace‘ explodes out of the gate with cacophonous gang vocals and a succinct, punchy breakdown. Track two, ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Truth: ‘Penance of Self’‘ immediately returns fire with some bouncy, tom-heavy riffing reminiscent of purist hardcore acts a la Backtrack. As the song builds, Barnett’s scornful vocals are accented with a subtle layer of reverb-drenched clean singing before inevitably splitting wide open into what is quite frankly another really fucking hard breakdown. Before you have a chance to catch your breath, ‘Married to the Noise‘ comes in with all the makings of yet another arse beater, but soon shows its true “singalong-hook-to-end-all-hooks” colours… and herein lies one of my biggest issues with this album.
Stick To Your Guns are qualified to write good, even great melodies, and they demonstrate it on this album with their softer departures on ‘56‘ and album closer ‘The Reach for Me: ‘Forgiveness of Self’‘. But unfortunately, the heavy-handed choruses of ‘Married to the Noise‘, ‘Delinelle‘ and ‘Cave Canem‘ just feel disappointingly sterile. The band’s use of melody and clean vocals, in particular, has it’s merit when applied measuredly, but when it feels entirely shoehorned into a sonically contrasting song as bait for sentimental listeners the effect is somewhat blunted. I have to wonder if these tracks would have been more interesting if the record were sequenced differently because as they currently stand in sequence of one another, it feels as if each song is competing for the “catchiest chorus of the album” award.
For all of my criticisms, I don’t believe that ‘True View’ is a step backwards for Stick To Your Guns. Instrumentally, the songs are tightly written and the performances are precisely executed with the drumming and the vocals standing out in particular. Production-wise, ‘True View’ is a home run – the drums are thunderous, the guitar tones are crunchy with crystal clarity, and the clean guitars are beautifully warm. But in the grand scheme of the band’s six-album strong legacy, this record’s vague and pretentious concept makes little of an impression. In spite of this, I’m sure the new material will be received with enthusiasm at Stick To Your Guns’ live shows, if not purely because of the strength of the band’s dominating live presence. The overt and deliberate catchiness of the album’s hooks will surely appeal to fans of the band’s Pure Noise label mates, which makes me wonder if there is some strategy behind the inclusion of the softer songs on the record. But ultimately, I can’t see ‘Cave Canem’ being covered three times in one night by different moshcore bands at an all-ages PCYC show in Western Sydney like the classic ‘This Is More’ used to be.
1. 3 Feet From Peace
2. The Sun, The Moon, The Truth: “Penance of Self”
3. Married to the Noise
5. Cave Canem
7. The Inner Authority: “Realization of Self”
8. You Are Free
9. Doomed By You
10. The Better Days Before Me
11. Owed Nothing
12. Through the Chain Link
13. The Reach for Me: “Forgiveness of Self”
‘True View’ is out now.