Sound: For the hardcore punk band Modern Life Is War, aggression is key. On the band's latest CD Midnight In America, even the low-key, melodic moments seem to be reaching a boiling point. The 11-track CD never gets manic like some other hardcore bands out there and has an amazing ability to keep it's testosterone-driven energy in tact regardless of the tempo. And when it comes down to it, MLIW may have just created the must-listen punk song of the year: F--k The Sex Pistols.
The Marshalltown, Iowa, band must rarely fail to impress onstage if the latest CD is any indication. From the first track Useless Generation on Midnight In America, you know that this is a band that would possibly sacrifice their safety and a little blood to put on a good show. Passion seems to ooze out of every note sung and played, and they don't necessarily need to play every song at warp speed to get that point across. Plenty of the songs actually have a slower tempo and rely on a combination of intriguing storytelling and vocalist Jeffrey Eaton's passionate delivery.
The band's ability to go beyond the typical hardcore sound is one of it's strengths. Useless Generation feels as much like a hardcore punk song as a thrash metal song at times. The first thing you hear is Eaton's urgent vocals and the high-speed drum work of Tyler Oleson soon follows. And although Eaton screams, it's never the high-pitched screaming of some screamo bands out there. Useless Generation is one of the only tracks that borrows from more of a metal setup, with several musical sections, tempos, and breakdowns, and it makes for the perfect opener.
At the other side of the spectrum is Stagger Lee, which is actually a twist on a 1950's track by Lloyd Price. Eaton takes on the first person role of Stagger Lee rather than Lloyd's 3rd person observatory role. It's a very cool cover that relies more upon the story that is being told than any riff or drum fill. The song starts out with a guitar strumming in a rather basic fashion, and it's not until you hear Eaton scream, My name Is Stagger Lee that it starts taking shape. Eaton's delivery evokes Henry Rollins' style actually, in the fact that he sells the role of Stagger Lee just as well as Rollins sold himself in I'm A Liar back in the day.
The absolute high point on Midnight In America is F--k The Sex Pistols, a short and very sweet, pureblooded punk song that runs all of one minute. Any genre or categorization is tossed aside with this one because you basically just hear raw aggression. The simplicity is exactly what makes it so effective and the anger is palpable in every moment of the fleeting track. // 9
Lyrics: F--k The Sex Pistols is your basic anti-authority song, and given the time limitations, MLIW gets the point across quickly. Eaton sings, We don't care what you do; We don't care what you say and eventually ties the song up with Shut the f--k up. It's exactly what old school punk is all about -- attitude. Not every song on the CD is quite this blunt, and the band does have the capability of writing lyrics that go beyond the traditional punk themes. // 9
Overall Impression: There are a few slow points in the CD, but that's only because they are up against other songs that just blow you away. Big City Dream has the unfortunate placement of going between Stagger Lee and F--k The Sex Pistols, and it just doesn't have enough going on to make it that distinguishable. There is some excellent drum work by Oleson, and the band is reliable in terms of allowing at least one of the musicians to stand out among the other band members during any given song.
MLIW is already making a name for itself in the hardcore punk circuit and deservedly so. The band is not afraid to rein in the punk vibe in at times, which is evident on songs like Humble Streets. That particular song bares little resemblance to punk, but it's still a solid melodic offering. While the album is not perfect, tracks like F--k The Sex Pistols, Stagger Lee, and Midnight In America show that MLIW is still one of the most promising hardcore punk bands out today. // 9