Sound — 7
As one of the many bands responsible for cultivating the New York Hardcore scene and making it infamous, Sick Of It All has been a particularly integral force as one of the longest-lasting bands of that scene, being actively consistent for nearly three decades. And though the heart of the band will always be in New York, the business side of Sick Of It All's career has been notably nomadic: with the band moving up from the then-independent Relativity Records to the Warner Music Group-owned subsidiary, East West Records; then moving to Fat Wreck Chords; then moving to Abacus Records; then being absorbed into Century Media after Abacus went out of business. Despite this ongoing inconsistency, however, Sick Of It All has lived a very solid career, with zero hiatuses and keeping a solid lineup since 1992.
As Sick Of It All progressed into recent years, the music that they've made was more a mixture of hardcore and metal elements rather than strict hardcore. The dominant flavor of "Death to Tyrants" had a first-wave metalcore/modern punk feel to it - which is really just the nuances of hardcore punk homogenizing with these now-popular subgenres that birthed from hardcore decades ago - and even the more hardcore-anthem-oriented "Based on a True Story" still had a noticeable amount of metalcore parts in it. But now, with the band's tenth studio album, "The Last Act of Defiance," Sick Of It All bring back the spirit and wild style of the band's hardcore roots, all but digging up the '80s-style distortion to make it. With cuts like "Sound the Alarm," "2061," "Part of History," "Never Back Down," "Act Your Rage," "Facing the Abyss," "Beltway Getaway," "Sidelined" and "Outgunned" dashing with utmost ferocity, and "Road Less Traveled," "Get Bronx," "Losing War," "Disconnect Your Flesh," and "DNC" being the designated groove-worthy jams, there's only two gears of hardcore here: fleeting thrash and hardcore-dance-inducing halftimes & breakdowns. There are no trace amounts of metalcore, nor does any track fail to reach the bar of hardcore intensity.
The return to such an exclusively stark style, however, is a double-edged sword, with the clear drawback being that "The Last Act of Defiance" moves very predictably. With no song reaching three minutes, the perennial hardcore song formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-breakdown is nothing new or remarkably challenging at this point. Like clockwork for the most part, listeners will know exactly when to skank, when to chant, and when to mosh accordingly, but Sick Of It All have made sure not to make every track the exact same song and dance (pun intended): "Part of History" channels a crossover thrash spirit that pairs tame slams with whirlwind-like bursts of strumming and drumrolls; "Outgunned" also bears a crossover thrash flavor to it, playing call-and-response with the guitars and chanting at the chorus; "Sidelined" shows a fickle and bipolar nature, constantly switching between thrashy riffs and grooving halftimes; and "DNC" touts the vintage and infamous "Oi!" chants. Musically, it's not reinventing the wheel in the slightest, but Sick Of It All's return to no-bullshit hardcore doesn't need much else added to it.
Lyrics — 8
Though the subject matter in Sick Of It All's music (or any hardcore band, really) is confined to a usual set of topics, they've been keeping things interesting in their later years by setting themes with their albums. As "Death to Tyrants" wielded a caustic sedition throughout, and "Based on a True Story" reminisces fondly on the importance of the NYHC scene, "The Last Act of Defiance" shows numerous narratives relative to finality, and, with the exception of "Losing War," which contains the real talk of "sometimes it can't always be won," those messages of finality are paired with refusing to take it lying down. "Sound the Alarm" and "Sidelined" franticly shout about taking action before the government fully establishes a police state (which, evidently, is more relevant than ever, now); "2061" and "Part of History" hammer the importance of pursuing the full story of historic events, as opposed to accepting what the "official" story is; and "Never Back Down" and "Outgunned" are classic motivational hardcore songs about standing up for your beliefs in the face of whatever opposition (though it's left to a judgment call to decide whether to follow that message or the message in the previously-mentioned "Losing War").
Aside from the expected serving of politically-charged material, Sick Of It All spend some time further looking back on the scene and their career: "Road Less Traveled" echoes the theme of "Based on a True Story" and can be a sequel to the narrative of the song "A Month of Sundays" - instead of looking back at being hardcore fans, this time they look fondly back at when they first became a hardcore band and how they acknowledge that it was meant to be; and "Act Your Rage" is a calling-out of the young poseurs falsely representing the NYHC scene, but in general, the message of "don't be the one stuck in the past" is universal to everyone, Sick Of It All included.
Overall Impression — 8
It's all too easy to point out how several aspects of "The Last Act of Defiance" scream that this may be the last album Sick Of It All intend to record, but there's more to the album than just possibly being the band's swan song. As Sick Of It All near their 30-year anniversary, they've withstood the many years of ever-changing trends and the rising and falling of different scenes in the music realm, and while the band has moved their sound in different directions from where it began, "The Last Act of Defiance" is their love letter to hardcore punk that, while the genre's heyday has long passed, displays that their adoration for hardcore is just as strong today as it was decades ago. And it's that ethos that makes the genre preservation of "The Last Act of Defiance" feel fresh instead of barren, and Sick Of It All feel like a proud artery of hardcore that still pumps with strength after all these years.