Reviews

Backtrack, Bad to My World (Bridge Nine Records, 2017)

Staying power. It’s one of those icky euphemistic industry terms. A less direct, less confident way of saying someone or something is resilient and resolved and steadfast. So let me be clear. Backtrack don’t just have staying power. Backtrack are truly resilient, resolved, and steadfast. They are one of hardcore music’s most consistent and dependable bands in both recording and live shows. They’re approaching their tenth year as a band, no easy feat in the hardcore world. And with their newest full-length, Bad to My World, they don’t simply offer us that dependability. They offer us a more mature, creative, and insightful sound.

This maturation wasn’t happenstance either. Vocalist James Vitalo explains, “We all put a lot of work into the record. The guys were working on these songs for years before they really saw any vocal work. So they did a lot of fine tuning to bring something different out in the songs without compromising the goal of what we were trying to do.” Remember, it’s been three years since Lost in Life, their second LP and first for Bridge Nine Records, was released. The time to write and the “fine tuning” that Vitalo addresses is plainly felt throughout Bad to My World.

The record’s fourth track, “The Deep is Calling,” pounds with the thrashy NYHC sound that Backtrack have made their foundation. However, it also bounces with head-bopping melody in the verses. And the choppy mid-tempo breakdown closes the song perfectly.

The songwriting here is not only structurally sound but it’s also utilitarian. The band as a unit shines without any single aspect being overshadowed. Maturation indeed.

And yet Bad to My World has also been a catharsis of sorts. “I can’t remember a time in my life where I’ve been more pissed off than during the gap between Lost in Life and Bad to My World. Between personal relationships that meant a lot to me disintegrating in my hands to social issues within hardcore that really opened my eyes, I had a lot to write about,” admits Vitalo. “Cold-Blooded” manages to reflect this angst both lyrically and musically. The menace of the opening bass line and thudding drum beats pace the song to start, and the track’s power picks up as Vitalo candidly screams, “I’ve had a bad year.” But it’s the song’s conclusion that brings everything together. A perfectly placed guitar lead plays just behind the song’s final lyrical offering, “So many just roll over and die. Fuck their world. Follow my dark side.” The convergence of the lyrics and the music here is impressive. 

Photo courtesy of Bridge Nine Records

Introspection and musical nuances aside, Bad to My World is also just a great hardcore record. Maybe ‘just’ isn’t quite right either though. Frankly, it’s difficult to write a full-length hardcore record that is sustainably compelling from start to finish. Somehow Backtrack has now managed to do that three times over. “I feel like right now, and there are exceptions for sure but as a whole it seems like traditional hardcore isn’t ‘cool.’ You need to be doing something different or need an angle and being ‘just a hardcore band’ is not ok anymore. Fuck that, hardcore is the coolest and I wanted to do a record that was just straight up pissed off and to the point,” Vitalo reflects.

The new LP certainly echoes that sentiment. Tracks like “Gutted” and “One With You” punch with the Breakdown and Outburst-inspired thrash hardcore sound Backtrack is best known for.  And it’s these very songs that give Bad to My World a strong footing. Both songs clobber at the listener with anger and mosh-heavy riffs that will satisfy the most rigid of hardcore purists.

Backtrack at Chain Reaction, Anaheim, CA, 2017. (Photo: Dan Rawe)

The record’s ninth track, “Never Ending Web,” might be the strongest on the LP. After a mid-tempo opening, the song revs into hyper-fast frenzied verses that speed into similarly frantic choruses. And then, led by a thumping drum fill, the song slows into a thrash-laden breakdown. The guitar work is also really well executed, with impressive layers of both rhythm and lead tracks that give the song a bigger and more dynamic sound. All the while, Vitalo paces the song with genuinely delivered vocal antagonisms. As he says, “I just think there was a new level of anger for me going into this one. I had more of a statement that I wanted to be heard than in the past.” Well that statement is conveyed with clarity and purpose on “Never Ending Web” and throughout the entire LP.

What we’re getting on Bad to My World is introspection, self-evaluation, and evolution. Backtrack are no longer a young precocious band of hardcore kids paying homage to their forebears. And that’s fine. Because what Backtrack have become on Bad to My World is a band with steady confidence and quiet self-assurance. Their new LP rips with all the anger and mosh-laden hardcore we’ve come to expect, but it also moves with the maturity of musicians who know what they’re about. They know what they do, and they do it well. Vitalo admits, “I’m sure some people will just listen for the mosh parts, but hopefully people can read the lyrics and pick up on the things I wanted to address on this one.” Let’s hope so anyway.

Backtrack at Alladin Jr, Pomona, CA, 2012. (Photo: Dan Rawe)

Bad to My World will certainly satiate those looking for the mosh. But it offers much more. It’s a reminder that hardcore music is indeed insightful and perceptive. It’s an affirmation that hardcore music doesn’t need reinventing. And maybe most important of all, Bad to My World is a declaration that hardcore music is what it’s always been: angry and honest.

Bad to My World is available now via Bridge Nine Records. The record release show is on Dec. 22. Tickets are available here.

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