I’m going to be completely honest. The last thing other music writers and I usually want to write about is a band who formed 30 years ago, who on a whim have decided to drop an album after 20-some odd years of not doing so.
My god, what could a band possibly have to say today that they couldn’t have said, or didn’t say, back in the ’90s? The world hasn’t actually changed that much since the end of the cold war. The United States is still a capitalist hell-carnival. The state still continues to employ inordinately aggressive and underhanded measures in an offensive against people exercising their constitutional guaranteed rights to free speech and political participation.
And corporate profits continue to rise, even as it gets harder every year for your average person to eke out a living and save a time when their body will be too old and broken to work. What does a band who came up during the Bush Sr. administration have to say about the world today that we haven’t heard before? Well, if you’re Rhode Island’s Dropdead, the answer is apparently a lot.
Dropdead was one of the bands that helped lay down the spikes and steal for powerviolence back in the early ’90s. Inspired by second-wave punk, crust, and anarcho-punk bands like Seige, Icons of Filth, and Crass, Dropdead pushed a violent and impassioned form of hardcore into the East Coast punk scene that helped to transition the sounds of bands like SSD into an era where the exploration of extreme music was being thoroughly taken over by acts in the lane of grindcore and death metal.
Vocalist Bob Otis’ shrieking, Seige-esque, aural eviscerations would claw open space for guitarist Ben Barnett’s spin and thrash melee of pitchforking guitar riffs, a stampede-like wave of sonic aggression that was powered by the gnawing, grind of the rhythm section oristrated of beat demon Brian Mastrobuono and his brother-and-then-bassist Lee Mastrobuono, now replaced by George Radford.
Dropdead inspired bands willing to push the levels of intensity in their own music while cementing their hard-left-leaning politics in the praxis of DIY principles. They haven’t released a full length in over 20 years, and somehow it barely sounds like they’ve taken so much as a weekend off in the intervening years when listening to their new, self-titled album, their third overall, produced by recorded by Kurt Ballou and Zach Weeks at God City and mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege.
So, what has changed for Dropdead wince their 1998 untitled LP? Well, for one, they’ve gotten a lot thrashier. They really don’t sound like a powerviolence band anymore. What we’re hearing is more of a fastcore sound. This might be a problem if you were coming into the album looking for a redux of their 1993 self-titled, but it totally makes sense due to the band’s admitted and deep appreciation for groups like Septic Death.
If you were to spread all of the hardcore bands of the late ’80s and ’90s out on a corkboard and wind a string between them, the sound of Dropdead on their latest album could be pinpointed somewhere between the elastic thrash ramping of Septic Death and the crust coated punch of Infest. Fast, potent, and more in control than on previous releases. Dropdead never sound like they’re on the verge of losing their grip on the grooves they unleash, and it’s incredibly impressive to see them in such top shape and performance at this stage in their career.
One thing that I think might throw some long-time listeners is the way Otis has taken to enunciate every syllable with his vocals, sounding like a version of James Hetfield who has abandoned all but the most rudimentary sense of melody in favor of a pure, teeth-baring, lion-like roar of a shout.
What will be familiar, though, is the sense of anger at the state of the world conveyed on these tracks. Literally a quarter-minute of Dropdead’s new album is seething with an indignant rage over the profitability of war machines, the way that hate is used to sew discord, and the way that consent for our degraded living conditions is manufactured by the media and corporate interests at every level.
In the midst of a global pandemic, a complete breakdown of institutions, and the capricious disinterest of those in power to safeguard the public’s interests and health, Dropdead’s critiques hit harder than ever.
The world hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years. It’s just more obvious to more people the way that the system doesn’t, and has never, worked for them. Hopefully, Dropdead’s anger can help push you into joining a mutual-aid group near you or joining a campaign to primary a local politician with a candidate who will actually work for your interest. Something. Anything.
Because if things keep going the way they are, we’re all going to end up dead or incarcerated, and the only things we’ll have to leave to our children will be mass graves and a super-heated, global landfill.