(NCS writer Andy Synn checks in with his latest edition of the SYNN REPORT, and it includes his review of the band’s 2011 album, See How You Are.)
The last edition of THE SYNN REPORT was a real mental workout for me; listening to that much horrific, hellish noise, over and over again for such an extended period left me completely and utterly drained. So, for this edition I sought out something more positive and uplifting that, without sacrificing aggression or integrity, would provide me with the perfect antidote to the toxic poisons I had ingested, something which would actually give me more energy rather than leave me a broken shell of a man.
After all that, after eleven issues/editions/chapters (?) of THE SYNN REPORT, I finally feel it’s time to look across the water to The Great Satan™ and pick a US band to cover. Seeing as how the USA is considered (perhaps rightly so) the birthplace of “hardcore”, and how the genre is in many ways quintessentially American, this iteration of THE SYNN REPORT is going to cover edgy metallic-hardcore quintet The Warriors.
This Californian 5-piece have to date produced 4 albums (the latest See How You Are having only recently been released this year) of hardcore bite and vicious metallic chuggery, blended with funky, elastic grooves and delivered with a rolling, rock n’ roll swagger. The harsh, intense vocals of Marshall Lichtenwaldt are perhaps the thing which most people will pay attention to, his distinctive, throat-rending snarls and rapid-fire delivery providing an obvious talking point to any lovers of the genre. Yet the musical abilities of the rest of the band are just as important, the guitars heavy yet far from primitive, the drums taut and punchy, and the bass agile and flowing.
Though the band’s transition into ever more metallic territories has alienated some of their earlier fan-base, the talents of the group as a whole remain undeniable, capable of both terrific power and admirable restraint. On each album they display a new side to what can be achieved by stretching the limits of the harshly prescribed hardcore formula, confidently strutting their funky stuff without preening, flexing their metallic muscle without egotistical posing and screaming their frustrations loudly and clearly without any inkling of self-pity or self-doubt. (more after the jump . . .)
War Is Hell – 2003 (reissued in 2005 as War Is Hell: Redux)
The debut record by The Warriors is a strong offering in many respects, certainly strong enough to make them stand out as a rather more individualistic entity than many of their peers, despite several large flaws in its make-up.
The album immediately demands your attention with the blistering introduction of “Slings And Arrows”, Lichtenwaldt’s Minor Threat-esque shout mixing perfectly with the band’s cutting guitar tone and deep, full-bodied gang vocals. The crippling breakdown near the end provides an opportunity for some vocal variation, before the album skips sharply into “Cure”, a mid-paced stomper of staccato, biting guitars and prowling groove.
A punchy, street smart sound is captured by the hip-hop inflected antagonism of “Red, Black And Blue”, every pugnacious drum fill and hot-tempered vocal line expressing the group’s deep-seated dissatisfaction with the world around them, while Lichtenwaldt’s strained, impassioned vocals piss lightning and crap thunder on the unfettered hostility of “Set The Stage”, the man ignoring his own (at this time) limited range, pushing past it to achieve a believable, vivid expository catharsis.
Even at this early stage in their career, the band demonstrated their desire to produce more than simple by-the-numbers hardcore fare; the scrappy and confrontational “Ripped To Bone” indulges in some welcome genre-stretching experimentation that equally gives props to the funky, punky influence of Refused and the punishing metallic assault of Anthrax. “Tightrope” is as legitimately punk rock as any song the band has ever, or will ever produce, while the record’s title track showcases the introduction of some welcome flash and flair via the winding, audacious guitar lines which lead smoothly into the song’s climactic, bellowed refrain of “war is hell”.
The album closes with a triumvirate of striking compositions: “Scene Celebrity” marries raging riff fury to screeching leads in an uncharacteristically metallic display of ostentatious guitar work, whereas the crackling, melodic energy of “Lightning Strikes” is the spawn of classic punk rock insubordination and class-war dissatisfaction.
Final track “More Than A Metaphor” sees the album off on a high note, a more furious number than either of the two preceding tracks, showcasing a greater variety of vocal techniques (high, hardcore yells of rage, harsher gravelly screams of frustration, deeper, guttural belches of hate) and a more diverse range of guitar playing, embracing all the elements the band have previously experimented with, from jagged metallic riffs and punchy hardcore chugs, to bluesy leads and groovy chord progressions.
For a debut record, the album definitely manages to punch well above its weight, gathering a number of influences into one tightly welded package. Although the greatest focus remains on simpler, energetic hardcore numbers, these more diverse threads of inspiration still occasionally make their presence felt and would come to provide the seeds for the band’s future shift in musical style and direction. Despite their relative youth and naivety at the time, and despite the obvious limitations in both production and delivery (Lictenwaldt’s cacophonous yelping was to show the most obvious improvement as the years progressed) the band laid the groundwork here for a strong and distinctive future.
Sample Song:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/05-Ripped-to-Bone.mp3|titles=The Warriors – Ripped to Bone]
Beyond The Noise – 2006
The evolution shown from “War Is Hell” on this record is pretty staggering, and not only in the ways one might have expected; musically the band have definitely stepped up their game, each member really letting loose on their chosen instrument, unafraid to express themselves with renewed confidence and impressive intensity, but it is in the composition of the band’s songs (now showcasing a whole plethora of extra influences and stylistic deviations) and the sheer power and conviction of their performance that we can see the most striking improvements.
“Dice Game” begins things with forceful riffing and tight drumming, lithe syncopated rhythms and free-wheeling, bluesy guitar licks. Lictenwaldt’s vocals have improved ten-fold from their debut, stamping more of their own particular identity and authority on each track – although at this point they have not yet acquired the gravelly, throat-tearing tone which lends such stunning power and conviction to their subsequent albums.
The striking guitar distortion that commences “I Won’t” is an early sign of the band exploring their more diverse influences more fully on this release, the stop-start riffing and jack-hammer drums providing a perfect basis for the band to play about with more prominent lead parts and funky, harmonic guitar lines.
This experimental predilection continues throughout the dark, punky overtones of “Downbeat”, all scathing snarls and bouncy, hyperactive rhythms, on into the pulsing, electronica-fest of “Interlude 1” and through the layers of scintillating guitar and harsh, bellowed vocals that make up “Shadows Of Birth”, a short, sharp shock to the system of fret-scraping guitar work which climaxes in a squealing cacophony of noise.
“Habitual” has a gang-land, straight-edge hardcore vibe, ducking and weaving nimbly as it alters its attack from sharp-edged, two-step punk riffs to groaning, down-tuned assaults of metallic chords, whereas “Awakened” is a less aggressive, but no less energetic, cut of prime melodic hardcore, expressing its frustrations at the endless unanswered questions of life through the medium of gleaming, powerhouse riffage.
After a second interlude of warped noise, the song “Re-Vital-Eyes” pummels the listener with up-tempo, thrashy rhythms and angular, grinding guitars which disguise a plethora of distinctive melodies. The barking vocals strongly recall those of Kurt Bachman of progressive thrashers Believer, an apt comparison considering how far, in hindsight, The Warriors have come over the course of their four-album career.
The incessantly ascending guitars and ever-questioning, ever-questing vocals of “Holding Sand” act as a perfect primer for strong closer “And Yet They Say…”. It mixes up a layered, gang-like chorus of gritty, yet deftly melodic, hardcore vocals with an array of spiky guitar work and ingenious bass lines to provide a shrewdly accomplished send-off. This is an uncompromising, ambitious record that attempts, and succeeds, at pushing the band out of their comfort zone, taking several risks – some successful some less so – in an attempt to rise above, and go beyond, the noise.
Sample Song:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/10-Re-Vital-Eyes.mp3|titles=The Warriors – Re-Vital-Eyes]
Genuine Sense Of Outrage – 2007
The shining jewel in the canon of The Warriors is Genuine Sense Of Outrage, a perfect distillation of human anguish and frustration that shines with genuine, believable integrity and an honest, true-blooded passion for musical catharsis and the expression of strongly held values. Look no further than a song like “Life Grows Cold”, which mixes burly, belligerent riffs with a funky, stop-start dynamic and a venomous vocal performance, maxing out the metre when it comes to aggressive dynamism, yet displaying admirable restraint in its delivery of pure, unfiltered yet articulate rage.
The familial vibe of hardcore is evoked by the guest appearance of Andrew Neufeld (of Comeback Kid fame) on the song “The Stone Grinds”, trading vituperative lines with Lichtenwaldt over a series of fast, buzzing riffs and pummelling, insistent beats. Continuing this theme of familial musical ties, the track “Price Of Punishment” features a surprise appearance by the revered Mr Lemmy Kilmister, adding his gravelly, whiskey-soaked vocals to the song’s irresistible chorus. The band even find time to include some winding, bluesy leads, adding character and verve to the speedy riffs and bouncing bass-lines and giving the track a more classic feel, like a good-natured bar fight between friends.
The skittering, machine-gun fills of drummer Kyle Garcia characterise the early, stop-start dynamics of the record’s title track, before it accelerates sharply in a more contentious, metallic fashion. Criminally infectious lead work winds in and out of the punky, broken riffage throughout, while the finale of the song rides off on a huge, hook-filled ending – a caustic vocal refrain blazing over a juggernaut express of pounding guitars that stomp and crush everything in their path.
Garcia also shines on the bouncy, hip-hop skewed beats that permeate “Destroying Cenodoxus”, a song whose mid-paced delivery masks the real depths of the unwilling, uncompromising well of fury that runs through its veins. The stuttering, beat-down friendly ending in particular is played with an energy and verve that acts like a series of repeated punches to the face of the listener, leaving them dizzy and disoriented in the process.
“New Sun Rising” develops along much more melodic lines than the preceding tracks, an electric dynamism and up-lifting vibe dominating the proceedings. Thrumming bass lines underpin the razor-sharp riffs and a bruising, high-octane drumming performance which provides the engine to drive this positive, hardcore-punk hymn of hope and perseverance.
The tail end of the album is not without its fair share of highlights, too. To pick only a couple, “Nothing Lasts” is equal parts Sick Of It All spite and Guns N Roses sleaze, drunk on its own testosterone, a bar-room brawl of a song whose clean-sung, punky vocal refrain adds a nice sense of diversity to its otherwise down and dirty style, while last track “Mankind Screams” is a powerful send-off for this record, its tough swaggering gait aided and abetted by the contributions of Lou Koller (Sick Of It All). The infamous hardcore stalwart’s biting vocals blend seamlessly with his younger protégée, the two of them trading barbed screams over the album’s most horrendously heavy riffs, with a believable air of barely suppressed violence and menace permeating this fitting album closer.
Sample Song:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/05-Genuine-Sense-Of-Outrage.mp3|titles=The Warriors – Genuine Sense Of Outrage]
See How You Are – 2011
The latest album from The Warriors does show the continued growth in confidence and (dare I say it) musical progression the band have maintained for 3 albums now, adding a greater emphasis on interweaving a variety of musical moods into the tapestry as a whole, while Lichtenwaldt continues to give voice to the scars on his frustrated, wounded soul.
As well as the expected levels of intensity and aggression, there’s a primal, sexual potency and a brooding darkness now present in the band’s sound. The record shifts naturally between the empowering polemic of Rage Against The Machine, the fiery swagger of Led Zeppelin, the menacing aggression of Slayer and the thrusting funk of James Brown.
The album opens with the melancholy, post-apocalyptic fade-in of “See How You Are”, bleak lead lines and martial drums combining to great effect, before the winding, post-RATM riffage of “The War Unseen” ups the ante, bringing in powerful gang-vocals and nimble, funky drumming. The band’s greater use of lead-y melody lines on the guitar is exposed fully on this song, the bleaker melodies of the lead guitars sitting as an effective counter-point to the vibrant and energetic riffage. The band have also clearly retained their knowledge and skills when applying varied dynamics to their music, altering speed and tempo to build evocative moods and a deeper form of song-writing.
“Pit Of Shame” has an edgy shimmy to it, nubile hips grinding wildly to the militaristic bombastic drumming. The group vocals intoning “hard times in this pit of shame” are sure to make this a live favourite, the song bringing along a righteous fury and booming sound, all low-slung riffs and growling, multi-layered gang vocals.
“Mental Chains” and “Where I Stand” are both up-tempo stormers, the former’s thrashy musical mugging aided by a filthy, twanging bass tone and insistent lead accents which burrow deep into your brain, while the latter is a less overtly metallic song with a maddeningly catchy verse riff and an overwhelmingly positive energy.
The choppy “Here We Go Again” begins with snarling, rabid vocals and a lumbering behemoth of a riff, accented by sharp harmonics and a filthy, bone-grinding bass tone. The crushing, down-tempo bridge and squalling outro solo all add to the sense of violent dissociation, the song as a whole coming across as nothing less than a crushingly slow, hardcore brother to Slayer’s thrash metal assault.
“Panic” and “The Enforcer” play the metal card more heavily. “Panic” is part paranoid collapse, part guerilla warfare. Heaving guitar chugs, nagging leads and dominant, down-tuned chords build an oppressively post-apocalyptic atmosphere, only furthered by the impressively abrasive and brutal vocals of Parkway Drive front-man Winston McCall. “The Enforcer” has more interesting guitar lines and a greater grasp of melody, but maintains a heavy, driving metallic backbone throughout. This more considered approach works well for the band, their restraint and musical panache shining brighter than a more straightforward approach would have allowed.
Overall, this is a very, very good album — possibly equal to their best, give or take personal preference. Although my own tastes have me leaning more toward Genuine Sense Of Outrage, I can’t deny that the record continues the band’s career of almost effortlessly mixing metal, hardcore, punk and funk influences into one tasty concoction and that the more I listen and re-listen to it, the more points of interest I pick out in each and every song.
Sample Song:[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/10-The-Enforcer.mp3|titles=The Warriors – The Enforcer]
Recommended For Fans Of: Earth Crisis, Walls Of Jericho, Sick Of It All