The highly anticipated return of the highly influential Orange County California Hardcore Punk quintet Stick To Your Guns with their first new album in five years is also one that carries with it a little bit of trepidation. For this reviewer as a long time fan of the band, 2010’s “The Hope Division” has remained their finest hour with every record since judged against that high benchmark, something compounded in a way by the love of Jacksonville Hardcore Punks Evergreen Terrace, from whom guitarist Josh James departed to join Stick To Your Guns in 2012. Put simply, the last three albums by the band which have all had the line up of vocalist Jesse Barnett, bassist Andrew Rose, drummer George Schmitz, guitarist Chris Rawson and of course James haven’t quite lived up to the predecessors with their last offering “True View” lacking consistency despite being a personal record with overly repetitive choruses…
This time around the band entered the studio with producer Drew Fulk (Motionless In White, Ice Nine Kills, A Day To Remember) for a twelve track affair that runs to thirty five minutes while sharing the title of a James Bond movie to mean “something widely feared as a possible unpleasant or dangerous occurrence” which probably explains the rabid dogs baring their teeth on the cover art. Rising from 38 seconds of acoustic strumming and growing drum fills, it seems unnecessary to split “(My Heart is a…)” and “Weapon” but none the less the pair make for the most powerful introduction to a Stick To Your Guns record for a good few years, the latter being a melodic hardcore anthem with huge chorus in a style that is classic for the band having done so previously with cuts like “Against Them All“. The momentum is lost slightly by a quote from Utah Phillips that introduces “Who Dares Wins“, which while amusing sucks the momentum out of the album for its duration. Fortunately when the track does hit after 15 seconds it’s an absolute thunderbolt, a with some seriously unclean vocals from Barnett during the verses, delivered with the kind of intensity that we haven’t heard from him in a while while also having a tasteful crushing breakdown in the back end. That style is repeated for “Hush” which sees the band dive into Metalcore with plethora of hard hitting riffs and an interesting change up for the chorus that offers something fresh.
It’s then that things start to spiral because while “A World to Win” has a chant along vibe it over does the ‘whoas’ and sounds like a paint by numbers track which the band have done better at before. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have somethings going for it, it’s just that after such a powerful start it feels tame in comparison. Then there is a tempo change for the middle of the road 90’s Alternative Grunge cut “Open Up My Head” that is at best stagnant. While it might have worked at the end of the record, instead it destroys the momentum completely in the middle of it as it has none of the pace or energy of the earlier tracks and no transition into it. Yes it has a deeper lyrical meaning about politics, media and corporate corruption but Stick To Your Guns have done so much better with less raw material in the past. “Liberate” gets things back on track bringing back the aggression of the earlier cuts while at the same time being a little safe before the darkness of “The Shine” becomes a much needed shot of adrenaline to bring the album back to life. The mosh heavy, two step driving “Instrumentals of the End” is odd because there is hardly any mention of the title, instead having the repeating line “society is hell” written all over it but it is sonically the third mosh pit threatening, carnage inducing cut in a row so you can at least switch your brain off and enjoy it for that aspect.
Dedicated to guitarist Chris Rawson’s father who tragically passed away in 2019, “Father” is a shining example of modern Melodic Hardcore, emotionally raw and captivating while at the same timing being the albums most dynamic and compelling piece. Going back to the comment about transition, “More of Us Than Them” has the perfect introduction to lift it from the melodies of “Father” into this darker toned piece with Rose’s funky bass lines allowed to bleed out before the punchy heavy choruses, the solid breakdown in the final third bringing home the lyrical message in style. The cut also has a sentimental value with the breakdown cut being written by the dearly departed and much missed Architects guitarist Tom Searle from a time when then bands toured together, something that makes perfect sense with both bands sharing the same ethics and values. That brings us to the grand finale of “No Way To Live” which is a wonderful acoustic piece done in the best possible way, a calling for the band to write a fully acoustic album following their brushes with the style following 2021’s “The Meaning Remains” acoustic EP. Stick To Your Guns remain a band who after nearly 20 years are delivering the message and while “Spectre” has a soft underbelly with a trio of cuts that don’t feel like they they are on par with the rest this is still a solid and very listenable album [7/10]
(My Heart is a…)
A World to Win
Open Up My Head
Instruments of the End
More of Us Than Them
No Way To Live
“Spectre” by Stick To Your Guns is out now via Pure Noise Records