Crime and Punishment, the crushing new album from the West Coast hardcore crew Regional Justice Center – which is a March release from Closed Casket Activities – feels like a musical flamethrower operating at maximum capacity.
The group performs with a familiar hardcore palette, with which they craft searing bursts of sound that seem to reflect crushing mental tension via intricately heaving dynamics. Within the world of Crime and Punishment, there’s really no escape from the billowing stress.
“The main [theme] is kind of an examination of at what level that we accept the lives that we’ve been given,” vocalist and drummer Ian Shelton explains. “And to what degree does your own self believe that you deserve better or that you deserve what you come from, and the conscious rejection of that, or the subconscious embrace of it – things such as the addictions of your parents or class, and just various things that you have no say in. But as you get older, you can choose, if you consciously are aware of it, to reject or change your life, and this [record] is very much structured in the way of what’s given to me and then what I’ve done instead.”
On Crime and Punishment, which is the second full-length album from Regional Justice Center, Shelton lyrically explores the relationship between background, upbringing, and the present day. Escaping one’s background can prove more difficult than expected, and the intensely heavy record seems to reflect a desperate push against constricting boundaries.
“Overall, we do get talked about as a political band a lot, and I think that mainly has to do with the interview process, whereas the songs themselves are less political and more personal, but I use the time when I can – I don’t try to shoehorn things in – to talk about things that maybe people aren’t privy to,” Shelton explains. “My whole goal is to anecdotally highlight things that I’m actually experiencing instead of telling anybody this is right, this is wrong. I’m just saying: this is what’s happening in my life, and a lot of people don’t see it from as good of an angle.”
Although the record features less than 15 minutes of music, Regional Justice Center have packed a ton of blistering dynamic swings into the sonically wide-ranging experience of Crime and Punishment. The album’s opening track, “Taught to Steal,” ends on a mosh-oriented part where the riffing slows a bit and allows for some real fist-shaking energy, and the following track, “Dust Off,” concludes on a similar note. There, the slowed down and meaty riffing takes on a bulkier feel, as if suddenly coated in soot and debris from an overlooked big city alleyway.
“I would say that a main way that a lot of the writing gets done is hearing things that are non-hardcore, such as a lot of classic rock or pop things, and I hear either rhythms or various things I think could translate, and they kind of set me down a path of converting it into something that is sonically abrasive,” Shelton explains. “I mean obviously that’s ran through a filter of the classics that I grew up on, such as Crossed Out and various things. I think this record was very intentionally heavier and even more abrasive than previous records in trying to really bring out a new level of nastiness with the record.”
As of Crime and Punishment, Regional Justice Center includes Shelton, Alex Haller and Che Hise-Gattone on guitar, and Steph Jerkova on bass. Shelton’s personal history with simultaneously handling drums and vocals in a live set-up stretches back to some of his first musical experiences.
“It’s definitely physically taxing, to say the least, and a lot of the time, by the end of the set, I’m thinking – I want out,” he explains, discussing the intensity of the project’s live performances. “It’s definitely very taxing, but I mean with that – when I got a drum set, the reason I asked for a drum set from my parents when I was 14 was to drum and sing in a powerviolence band, because that was just what me and my friend wanted to do and there was only two of us. So it was like – we don’t have a drummer, so I guess I gotta be the drummer. I also want to be the singer – so it kind of was this thing where my first experiences on the drum set were also with singing, and that was just a function of not having people around, and due to that, I think that it definitely took a second once it was the expressed goal of the band, but it just kind of came naturally because it was the way that I learned.”
As for the latest Regional Justice Center effort, that “nastiness” that Shelton was discussing courses through the hard-hitting album from the comparatively slower “Inhuman Joy” to the dizzyingly fast “Solvent” and beyond. Throughout the music, Regional Justice Center maintain a hoarse and abrasive hardcore edge, preserving the genre’s brute force while venturing into fresh rhythmic territory.
“We’ve done a handful of records at this point, and so you almost write from a perspective of: well, what haven’t we done that isn’t sounding like we’re just trying to do something different, you know?” Shelton shares. “With the first song on the record, I wanted it to be instantaneously fast, but I was like, well if we do something straightforward, then it just sounds like a different RJC song, and so it’s about finding those balances.”
Looked at one way, there’s a steadily growing wave of energy underlying the entire record. Although the album is full of intriguing chaos, the energetic punch itself feels relatively unbroken, and the jolt of sonic honesty feels refreshing.
“Ultimately, I would say the cornerstone of this record would be having a little bit more space within the songs to be catchy. I usually step on things really fast, where like if something is the ‘mosh part,’ I tend to go away from that very fast, whereas this record, it was like okay – well, what if we spend a little bit more time and allow the songs to be catchy? And I think just finding every way to add some element of an earworm wherever possible instead of making it just a fast record – trying to find things within the vocals and the instruments to stand out unto themselves.”
Shelton drew from a broad palette of inspiration for his latest efforts.
“I definitely always have things that are kind of grinding or weighing down on me that I feel that I need to get out of my head in some sort of way,” he says. “But on top of that, I mean what really drives the instrumental writing process is just listening to heavy music, listening to any type of music and hearing something that I feel like I could do that I have yet to do, and so it’s kind of that same thing of just like always absorbing everything as much as possible.”
Overall, the energy reflected in Crime and Punishment is carrying Regional Justice Center forward.
“It’s about really just listening to music constantly instead of ever feeling satisfied,” Shelton adds, discussing his creative process. “I never have had the feeling of: ‘oh, I’ve really done everything I can,’ because I just am constantly thinking – I could do so much better. I feel really accomplished with this record. I’m really proud of this record. But at the same time, I’m like well, alright – now I need to find a way to write a better one.”
Overall, Shelton also hopes that listeners can find a connection with the raw energy in the latest Regional Justice Center effort. Crime and Punishment feels very real – there’s a striking level of earnest drive in the relentlessly powerful music.
“Ultimately, I guess I just would hope that people look at the cause and effect of their own lives,” Shelton shares. “I very much structured the record to be: Side A is cause and Side B is effect, and – just look at the way that you’re interpreting the way you grew up on a day-to-day basis. Even recently since I’ve written this record, I’ve really noticed the way that my anger is similar to those in my family and how quick my temper is, and [I’ve been] trying to be like okay, well, this is the start of that, and what do I do with it, and how do I change? Because at the end of the day, I’m just angry, and there’s nowhere to go with that, and it’s not productive, and it’s not anything that needs to be inside me, so how do I work on getting rid of it? And it’s very much an inherited trait, I believe, and so it’s just like: How do you process the way you grew up, on a daily basis?”
Personally, Shelton has been keeping up the pace of his music listening.
“A love that I found since the beginning of quarantine has actually been The Strokes, a band that I never really spent much time with, and now I know the discography front to back since quarantine began,” he shares. “It’s one of those mainstream things. When something’s mainstream, you just assume like, it’s there and I don’t care, and sometimes you take a deeper look and it’s like oh shit, you know? I try to listen to as much new music as possible, as well as deep diving things like Bob Dylan or whatever, just trying to keep informed and develop my musical palette as much as possible.”
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