Never in a million years did we think 20 years ago we’d still be talking about (hed)p.e. after gushing over their year 2000 seminal album “Broke” when it dropped via Jive Records at the height of the Nu-Metal revolution. Following their musical journey through numerous line up changes and style shifts over the that time has been a roller coaster ride of an adventure with only 2019’s 11th studio record “Stampede” not living up to our lofty expectations of a band who have delivered the goods over that time. As a live experience the band are phenomenal and having seen them four times in total, including a sold out show at Camden Underworld, we can honestly say they get better each time we’ve seen them. Vocalist Jared Gomes has been the only ever present member of the band since their 1994 formation while the rest of the current band now consists of Jeremiah “Major Trauma” Stratton on drums, who has been in the band since 2009 and is also a member of American Head Charge these days with Kurt “Kid Bass” Blankenship on bass since 2015 and D.J. Blackard on guitars. This record marks the second outing with him, having replaced Will Von Arx in 2018 and “Class of 2020” has landed the day before the 20th Anniversary of “Broke“, featuring guest appearances from then members of the group in DJ Product and guitarist Chad “Chizad” Benekos that OG fans can get excited about. Both have taken part in recent reminiscing live streams and the hype has been something everyone can enjoy.
“First Blood” is an interesting choice as an opening cut from this collection of tracks, balancing off the raw DIY Punk Rock recording quality of “New World Orphans” with a good time vibe that you might associate with the likes of Sugar Ray or Sublime which continues into “Watch It Burn“. Throwing in some more hip-hop lines and some reggae moments and a sing-a-long chorus gives everything more intricacy and makes the initial pairing a step up from the bands previous album straight out of the gate. Gomes has always used multiple voices in his vocals to project different characters, moods or emotions and in “No Days Off” he does this to perfection. A track that contrasts some aggression with a nice melody in the second half, this is the material of the band in their element and very much the sound that you would expect from a band on Suburban Noize Records, Blackard even bringing a short and sweet Latin inspired solo to the back end. The second single pre-release was “Death Awaits“, which throws back to the sound of 2010’s “Truth Rising” with some programmed drum moments, a menacing guitar tone and a classic gang chant part that is going to go down well live. Part Hip-Hop, part Punk Rock and all (hed)p.e..
The first guest appearance is from DJ Product, who adds some turntable drops to “Last Call“, a song which takes the vibe of the bands live show and encapsulates it in a single cut, blending all the styles at the bands disposal, including a healthy does of reggae, in a melting pot which just keeps giving. Lyrically referencing the pandemic during which the album was written, but not directly enough pin a year on the album makes for a nice touch and Gomes is at his insightful best. The second half of the record opens up with “Ole Time Sake“, a Ska Punk Rock track that has elements of bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones it’s sound while throwing back to 2007’s “Insomnia” and “Tienanman Squared“. The quality of the musicianship is second to none but the call of “It looks like it’s all over now” in the chorus makes you wonder if Gomes believes that the band may struggle to being a full time touring entity with the current state of World address. Now that would be a real shame. Chad “Chizad” Benekos is the second guest on the record, adding a guitar solo to “Greedy Girl“, a ode to a first date and perhaps Gomes wife. This one also cuts through sub-genres in a single death defying leap with some Punk, some Rock, some Latin guitars, some reggae, horns and even a piano building a wonderful crescendo of sound. The atmosphere is melancholic and the funky bass gives that end of the night party vibe that the close of their live show has, all that’s missing is the break outs into a chorus and verse of an older track before cutting back.
The influence of American Celtic Punk bands like Dropkick Murphys on the sound of “Nothing Lasts 4ever (The Ballad of C19)” is an interesting move but works really well in the context of the album as it’s not too far adrift of the some of the earlier cuts and is also something that we heard on the likes of “Back 2 Base X” but without the level of aggression. Instead this cut is all about raising up the cup and celebrating the end of the War against the Virus, something we’d all appreciate a this point in the pandemic. “We The People” takes the political speech samples and blends them up “New World Order” style as a rallying call with a politically aware vibe that calls for the smashing of the illusions of freedom with the real thing. Intelligent lyrics cross reference with bands like Rage Against The Machine while keeping the vibe of the track in keeping with the album with some dark edged riffs. That darkness bleeds into “Overdue” which uses a little bit of auto-tuning and has a deeply anguished pain to it and closes the album on a somber note. As a whole piece of work, “Class Of 2020” flips the script on the 2019’s “Stampede“, heading back to the raw essentials that make the band what they are, taking elements from prior albums and building on their live show ethos to create an album that comes full circle on the majority of their career and all that’s missing is a little bit of volume in the guitars from the mix [7/10]
Watch It Burn
No Days Off
Last Call (ft. DJ Product)
Ole Time Sake
Greedy Girl (ft. Chad “Chizad” Benekos)
Nothing Lasts 4ever (The Ballad of C19)
We The People
“Class Of 2020” by (hed)p.e. is out now via Suburban Noize Records