Smash the state.
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 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 U.S., and their debut album should hopefully continue that buzz.
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 this “All real, no fake” band to drop said 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 overly agreeing with their politics. I also coincidentally received ‘Veracity’ via email on my birthday the other week, a coincidence as the album officially dropped March 31st - and in full disclosure, I received no bonuses or any other perks for supporting BackWordz via crowd-funding. (I prefer to declare such things, as transparency is best.)
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, ‘Veracity’ isn’t quite the record that I wanted it to be. It came close, sure – it’s still a 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 other 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, but only if this band was the first ever nu-metal-metalcore act those writers had ever heard. Your well within your right to complain about being merely labelled as nu-metal or “rapcore” or whatever, but when you write music that fits within those established conventions, don’t complain when people label you accordingly. Sorry BackWordz, while you're far from the most egregious nu-metal act of today, you don’t get to control how people view your music in the wider context of heavy music. You can try, but that'll do little good.
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Secondly, and in what I feel is a much larger issue, this album’s length is overblown. (Just like this review.) Sweet Christ, ‘Veracity’ is a long fucking listen when it didn’t need to be. It’s 18 songs only really needed to be 12 or 13 at most, and it wraps up just under the 70-minute mark. Which is overkill. It seems that this pro-libertarian quintet went to put all of their eggs in the basket - no matter how ready those eggs actually were - in the hope of making their debut as big and as grand as possible. To the detriment of said album no less. It seems they've taken a leaf from the current mainstream - such as The Weekend's 'Starboy', new Gorillaz , 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, but just maybe, a little too much was poured in.
However! In saying all of this, quality always trumps quantity, and BackWordz did indeed supply some real quality with their debut to match the sheer amount of quantity.
[caption id="attachment_1091292" align="aligncenter" width="760"] BackWordz.[/caption]
Let's get to the real good shit on offer song-wise. The aggressive, pissed-off standout 'Snap' shows the band's snapback-wearing rapper/screamer Eric July taking no prisoners and loudly voicing his "abolish the government" political stance. 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 that works quite nicely. Getting this criticism out of the way, James's cleans aren't at all bad, but they're very cliché for this genre's sound in delivery and timbre. Also, occasionally, the need for their inclusion and the choruses that are instrumentally built around Jame's vocals get in the way of the tighter, angrier, and straight up better moments that BackWordz flow so strongly with. Lesser potent songs like 'Demon Rat', 'Stathiest' and 'You, Are You' are prime examples of these "interruptions."
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 than 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. I could make a gag here about this particular metalcore tune being educational, but I wasn’t all that familiar with that philosophy and I read 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 the early game entry of '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. Similarly, ‘The Professional Protester’ is a no-holds-barred critique of those who protest police brutality of blacks (which is a fair thing to rally against, let's not get it twisted), but who also don't protest the black-on-black violence that occurs every single day in the US. (Also a fair thing to discuss and protest, but there's also many other factors that play into these issues.) This song sees Eric asking the larger black community to take a look at itself and take accountability for their problems. Less proactively, the song is also about individuals who use political activism as a virtue signalling "ego boost", as the song's lyrical buzzwords detail. A darker, almost-Korn-like vibe gets unleashed with 'Democracy Sucks,' providing a slight but solid change of pace for the record’s heavier musical moments, also maintaining the political tone by calling out not only Obama but ALL political parties who use sensitive, hotbed issues to emotionally manipulate their voters.
Much like Gift Giver's 'White Devil' album, BackWordz nails their mix of light and heavy, between hip-hop tunes and hardcore/metalcore punishers. The one true hip-hop banger of the album is 'Tell Me', a driving yet minimal track that has a deadlier vocal flow than Kendrick Lamar, taking a killer aim at any “fake” rappers littering the game. I admit that I'm not big on rap and hip-hop music cause a lot of it is just hot trash, but damn, 'Tell Me' is 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 great if it was just the mid-song hip-hop part or if it was just metalcore a la Rise Records circa 2010.
Sadly, despite the very solid stuff present on 'Veracity', we now come to the not-so-good stuff. These songs are not awful or terrible, but they're not particularly that great either. You’ve got the glitchy electronics, drum machine patterns and distant metal riffs of the frankly unnecessary interlude, 'So To Speak.' Transitioning straight from 'Be Great' in to 'Praxeology' without this pointless track would've much 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. 'Addicted' is a win for the album's sonic diversity, sure, but it's a strike against its flow and consistency and would've maybe 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 Eric actually sing - and doing it well - were nice touches, but due to the overdone length of 'Veracity', I was so ready for things to end by this point. (Which is how you probably feel about this review.)
When it comes to guest features, there are three on offer here.
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. On that note, we finally - fucking finally - arrive at one of biggest talking points and the biggest contention surrounding BackWordz; their politics.
[caption id="attachment_1091291" align="aligncenter" width="760"] "Roses are red, violets are blue, never forget, taxation is theft."[/caption]
Those that are familiar with BackWordz message may find this next part moot, but their politics is inescapable when talking about them. For as Eric once put it, “...the music is so message-driven, they [the media] have to cover libertarianism."
So yes, the political compass spinning behind BackWordz is facing that of libertarianism and at times, AnCap (Anarcho-capitalism.) Throughout 'Veracity', BackWordz stands in stark opposition to the right wing and left wing political (especially left) 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 economics. I think it's safe to say that this cuss-word-free, libertarian-themed LP will definitely put some off. For things do get very preachy across this 18-track release, and with a record that's so embedded within the political message of its creators, some might switch off, by seeing the music as just the rant-heavy vehicle for which Eric and co. channel their political messages. To be fair, 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 a "libertarian hip-hop/metal band" is a rare yet eye-catching gimmick to have. For there isn't another artist in this realm of hardcore and nu-metal fitting the libertarian paradigm to this extent that I could even name right now. ( I'm sure some might suppose that BackWordz is "a breath of fresh air", but not necessarily for their music.) Although, I myself lean left-wing politically and do disagree with most of this 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 adult enough to respect their opinions and enjoy their music despite said differences.
I do commend BackWordz for bravely sticking so closely to their guns when many other bands may instead 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. Even if you don't agree with the message BackWordz so loudly espouse, 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, create genuine hype, ensure logistics were sound, solidify the business, and not blindly rush into this more often than insane industry and tour for the sake of touring or ink the very first deal that was presented to them. Speaking of labels, 'Veracity' is actually 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, seeing solid numbers for the first week too.
Sweet Laissez-faire capitalism, these reviews of mine aren't getting any shorter. I think it's fitting that a long album gets a lengthy review. 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 still 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.