For Fans Of
On their solid new EP ‘With Regard To‘, Taken sound exactly like how they used to 14 years ago when they were defining lives with releases like 2004’s career-highlight, ‘Between Two Unseens‘. However, the actual lives of the five people that make-up this fabled American melodic hardcore outfit is now very different in 2018. They’re all older and wiser, they’re all geographically spread out across the U.S., and they each have their own families and commitments outside of the music spectrum. Though for their frontman, the always genuine Ray Harkins, his personal life was completely turned upside down when his wife was diagnosed with a rare form cancer in late 2016. (Insert obligatory “fuck cancer” line here).
This heartbreaking news not only put things into perspective for the vocalist and his wife, but one that also changed the thematic direction of the new music Taken were working hard away at. For just as this EP’s third song ‘Realign‘ lyrically states regarding his creative focus after his partner’s diagnosis, “everything was background noise“. And so Taken’s yet-to-be-released new material became Harkins‘ key emotional output; a release that sees himself open up to all about the doubt and heartache he endured following his wife’s diagnosis, seeing her go through such difficult times, her scars from it, their journey together through this harrowing time, and him having to plan and possibly think about his life without her in it. I think it really goes without saying that this EP is incredibly heavy listening – which is to be expected from a Taken release, sure – but ‘With Regard To‘ is on a whole new level of weighty emotional content than what we’ve previously seen from these Californian legends.
Stepping outside of my own selfish love for ‘With Regard To‘ and the excitement of having Taken release new material – something I never ever thought would happen – but having it also be a great release, it’s indeed saddening to know that such powerful music came from such a stressful and dire time for Harkins, his wife, his bandmates and his family overall. Then again, often the music that’s truly worth a damn is born from some form of tragedy, and ‘With Regard To‘ is definitely no different.
‘With Regard To‘ is an EP steeped in the threat of death, the horror of change, and a very real uncertainty of loss; one that’s spliced with love and hope for a happier future free from the anxiety and pain of the now. Via the five wondrous and beautifully exposed melodic hardcore songs housed in ‘With Regard To‘ seems to loosely mirror the five stages of grief. From the pain and sheer defeat in opener ‘Regret‘; the inner reflection about such life-changing events and realising that you’re not in control during ‘Reflect‘; the fear of loneliness and the forward-planning of ‘Realign‘; the hope and lifestyle/emotional readjustments found within ‘Repose‘; to the equally melancholic yet uplifting sentiments detailed on epic closer ‘Rejoice‘ where peace is more or less made with the harsh reality of the present situation. This structure – both as individual songs and as a wider release – is what makes this EP such a moving listen to experience in full.
Produced once again by Saosin’s Beau Burchell (who has grown just as much in the band in his own craft), the short but still palpable ‘With Regard To‘ definitely isn’t lacking any of Taken’s much-loved dynamic songwriting or their potent and explosive melodic hardcore sound; the kind that later acts like Modern Life Is War, Verse, Defeater, and so forth would all thrive heavily upon. Style-wise, ‘With Regard To’ also ain’t that far off from where the quintet left the world 14 years ago. Yes, it doesn’t break new ground for the genre or for Taken’s sound, but it never needed to; it just needed to tell a vulnerable and honest human story. And that’s what it beautifully excels at throughout.
Much like Taken did pre-hiatus, they grab the thoughts, feelings and experiences of their everyday lives and sow it right into the fabric of their musical existence. Such is this EP’s approach and sound, marking not only a powerful melodic hardcore release in general from Taken but also a moving love letter to their frontman’s wife and her strength in the face of such adversity. Speaking of, Harkins may be older now than when he was penning classics like ‘Arrested Impulse‘ or ‘Eternity Was On Our Lips‘, but the guy hasn’t lost even a slither of his vocal strength, his honest delivery nor his touch for brutally open-hearted lyricism; lyrics that drive this record forward at a rapid pace.
Musically, there’s no shortage of solid syncopation, impassioned vocals and lyrics pull out your heart-strings, loads of faster and weightier hardcore sections fire off, and calmer widescreen melodic moments of instrumentals lulls and clean guitar melodies lift you away. Whether it’s those phasey opening guitars that start off ‘Regret‘; the subdued and wonderfully restrained instrumental middle passage during ‘Reflect‘; the instant eruption of breakneck rhythms and heavier guitars early on in ‘Realign‘; or those circa 2000’s mid-range filtered spoken vocals that sit over melodic guitar leads and calmer drum grooves on ‘Repose‘, this EP really is Taken doing what they once did best and what they still do best. Time hasn’t changed that fact at all. To use a severely overdone music reviewer analogy right now, these guys really have aged nicely like the finest of wines.
‘With Regard To’ isn’t some overblown full-length, it isn’t affected by an overwhelming hype train like other comeback releases, and it’s not a once-loved melodic hardcore band chasing new trends in the hope of “being cool”. No, this solid new EP from Taken comes from a deep and genuine place of love and pain; a beautiful new release from a veteran band of the genre taking what made them so influential and inspiring back in the day and delivering it freshly again with even more compelling emotion, solid production, great instrumentals, touchingly personal sentiments and more heartfelt lyricism than ever before. ‘With Regard To’ is raw, it’s real, and most importantly, it’s Taken. Welcome back, guys!
‘With Regard To’ is out now via Other People Records. Read my interview with Ray Harkins here.