Those of you who are regulars at this particular Interweb’s establishment—and I’m assuming that’s none of you reading right now—should not be stoked to gargantuan surprise when confronted to witness the non-vulgar display of near-adoring infatuation for Inglewood, CA-native singer/songwriter Jason Aalon Butler on the part of this outlet’s editorial line. Said requited love has been widely fed and documented over the years and spread under the sun, as evidently exhibited by this, this, and this coverage piece (among other ones). Thusly, the writing was quite literally pretty much on the wall, when one of Mr Butler’s more obscure and understated musical side-projects—SoCal hardcore punk outfit Pressure Cracks—saw fit to drop their sophomore EP This Is Called Survival to little fanfare on 10th January, following up their cold-blooded and uncompromising inaugural self-titled statement from last year (don’t judge the book by its cover—there’s an Easter egg in there). A relatively newly assembled bona fide hardcore punk quintet, composed of a group of old OGs from the breeding 90s Cali scene, the band’s line-up is completed by guitarists Dan Bieranowski and Kevin Fifield, bassist Ryan Doria, and Bill Galvin on drums.
Right out of the fieriest gate, this 4-track, twelve minutes and change thunderous sonic tempest leaves no stone unturned. Not one to shy away from uncomfortable and insurrectionary socio-political sermons, Jason doesn’t waste one second and mightily doubles down on his activist line with the foreboding inaugural cut “Like Father Like None“, following in on the relentlessly sowed fruitful seeds of his socially-conscious credo in past and present projects, such as letlive., FEVER 333, as well as his community-based artists collective 333 Wreckords Crew. The EP’s opener kicks off with a meaty and manic distorted wall of sound, enveloping a handful spoken word lines menacingly outed by Jason, spanning a few harrowing metrics surrounding systemic institutionalised incarceration in the USA and its doctored inherent downward spirals as they pertain to recidivist citizens. Soon enough, this gets taken over by the catapulting of the lead singer’s vocal cords into emptying out every inch of oxygen in his chest as he slaughters the following ominous lines: “I’d rather hurt myself / I’d rather burn in hell / I’d rather bid this world farewell / Before I die up in a cell / If I’m my father’s son must I pay for what he’s done? / A statistical rerun; I knew this day would come“.
This Is Called Survival’s curtain opener carries on as unforgiving as they come for its whole running time, eloquently sound-bedding anecdotal denunciations of prison-system racism all the while an incendiary machinery of shredding brutality cradles another moment highlighting a few soundbite-d analytics reinforcing the injustices decried. It is towards the last sung stanza that Jason superbly ties it all back together, virtually stretching out thematic implications of generational carriage from pillar to post when it comes to tampering such a forlorn system, by resorting to salvation through one’s offspring. No time to recover from “Like Father Like None”‘s pitiless earth-shattering is offered to any unsuspecting listener, as the project’s lead single “Ready for You” begins to whirl-wind its brutal spine-chilling energy in spades. Re-activating some of the same self-questioning existentialism as a person of color having to funnel their life in a similar rotten and prejudiced societal texture by way of assonant merciless guitar work—assisted by stone cold drumming from Bill Galvin—the track proudly stands as this body of work’s poisonous cardinal centrepiece, best illustrated by the outro’s hauntingly chilling vocal strides, annihilating the verse “I want / All I want is you / I need / All I need is you / I got / All I got is you / I’m not / I’m not ready for you“.
Manufactured and distributed by newly minted Southern California DYI label War Against Records, this collection of ragers bites forward with the blast beats-filled punk thunderstorm of “Shhh“, a song that makes one feel like jumping head-first into a tight, rusty, and propelled meat grinder only to come out empowered and better-equipped—albeit bleeding out to death—the other way. This is perhaps best exemplified by one of the track’s pinnacle verses: “Cuz we are more than the sum of your fucking parts“. There is so much in the way of sheer sound density and texture on this thing that its come-and-go explosive sound-wave momentum has one longing for so much more every single time its two and a half-playback time suddenly wears out. Privy to the self-sustaining urge of those born and raised in disaffected and underprivileged social milieus subjugated by a survival of the fittest mentality from cradle to grave, Mr Butler is trialled by fire on the mic as he makes sure to publicise his resentment and discontent as loud and manically as he can in the face of the societal powers that be—from the police apparatus to the wider government: “After the fall is when we learned to stand up / We took our shot when the gun was jammed up / Another martyr, another me / Another problem that they covered up nice and neat“.
Before one knows it, the EP’s closer “Big T Youth” rushes through and picks up the beating to death of one’s earlobes right where the merciless “Shhh” left off. By throwing yet another cascading sonic tantrum in the shape of discordant angular gained guitars and hammering sets of percussions, this song slaps cold as hell, quite literally. Case in point, the lead singer’s eerie and threatening closing verse, heightened by a blazing shouting choir screaming out its final iterations: “Heaven is suitable / But hell on earth is beautiful“. Unsurprisingly, the solace and rejoice that comes with the acceptance of one’s place on this mean old planet—however painful and distressed it might have to be endured—triumphs by a landslide across the underground violence of all four cuts on this thing. Not one moment is wasted, nor is any superfluous, for these compositions are packed up with lyrical substance, animalistic delivery, and emotional urgency. Southern Californian meat and potatoes hardcore punk can proudly add another string to its enduring bow. This time it’s done thanks to a formation in which usual insatiable do-it-all mastermind Jason Aalon Butler relinquishes control by his own admission and allows for the quintet’s instrumental/rhythm section to architect the nuts and bolts of this sound of discontent, while he simply resorts to what he’s actually best at: fanning its flames by shrieking truths at the top of his lungs.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
“THIS IS CALLED SURVIVAL”
2020, War Against Records