The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past

As much as the likes of Bad Religion and Brand New continue to create essential punk sounds and offer insightful thoughts and incisive with their releases there seems to be a reached pinnacle. Their new material always engages and pleases but the element of surprise or boundary stretching has diminished, they are not predictable but you know pretty much what you are going to get. With Philadelphia-based punk rock band The Menzingers, though they bring a blend and attitude that incorporates elements of both bands they infuse it into their own heart spawn sensibility and fresh energy to give a variable and distinct engagement to light up the senses, something their influences used to do but now seem less able to.

The Philadelphia based quartet of Tom May, Joe Godino, Eric Keen, and Greg Barnett release their third album and their debut on Epitaph Records, in the expressive shape of On The Impossible Past on February 20th. Their previous two albums, released via small indie labels, gathered strong acclaim as did their dynamic lives shows and supports for the likes of Anti Flag and Against Me! All this led them to the attention of Epitaph founder and President Brett Gurewitz who has commented about The Menzingers that “These guys play the kind of pure punk rock that I grew up with. They are seriously talented songwriters and I’m happy to welcome them to the Epitaph family. “He is not far wrong about the band being talented songwriters as the songs that bristle and grab attention within On The Impossible Past are insightful, emotive and easily register on a formidable personal level.

The album does not attach itself with easy to digest hooks and obvious simple melodies but eases its way deeper through personal, reflective and emotive understanding that one can relate to instantly. The album saunters in on the opening subdued mix of guitar and voice at the beginning of  ‘Good Things’ before bursting into a strident clash of guitar and raised emotive vocal delivery from May. As the whole album proves to be, the song hits home without thrills and spills, a direct and compact piece of good punk rock that lets its energy and attitude give all the impressive enjoyment. It carries a combined Bad Religion and Stiff Little Fingers mix that is far more satisfying than the pop influenced flavours that come as part and parcel of most contemporary punk sounds.

This is not to say The Menzingers neglect or ignore melodies and pop accessibility as tracks like the inspiring ‘Burn After Writing’ and the brilliant ‘Gates ‘show. These songs swing upon the ear with ease and instantaneous appeal but are well crafted with defined skill and creativity a strong feature of the band’s music. The latter of the two is a wonderfully written and crafted song, a track that relates on many layers and lingers emotionally and aurally after its departure, helped not only by the emotive melodies and lyrical intent but also the vocals from Barnett. It is a song that epitomizes the bands passion and ability to touch the listener far deeper than the ear.

It is impossible to point out a weak song upon the album, and whether their music or release works for you or not there is no denying the skilful and cultured song writing on show. The album is also one of those rarities that is not only has an immediate attraction and lure but evolves into a stronger and more inspired release the more one shares  time with it. For all its high consistency though some tracks really stand out. ‘The Obituaries’ is a raucous anthemic track with scorched melodies, driven riffs, and an emotion that all can relate to. It is one of those tracks that you cannot resist joining in with no matter how much you try but the difference here it is not just a chant song, its passion to the fore throughout making it a special treat.

Songs like the stunning ‘Sun Hotel’ that carries a Midnight Oil feel at their bitter best and the irresistible ‘I Can’t Seem To Tell’ are of equal quality and take the album into essential listening territory all on their own. The second of these two is an amazing concoction of discordant acidic riffs and melodies, eager rhythms, and a moody bassline to drool over, a classic.

On The Impossible Past is one of the best punk albums heard in a long time and a refreshing and satisfying alternative to the easy and at times heartless pop punk that fills the genre currently. That is what The Menzingers have to their music, heart and that makes for a release that should have your attention.

Ringmaster 03/02/2012

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