Sometimes, it’s so hard to excuse punk rock proper. Ruled by convention, it’s a genre that ironically refuses to break its own rules; stretch a little beyond the gerrymandered line and a band has abandoned the genre, or so its devoted congregation will claim. Even with the best punk rock records, then, it’s hard to shake that feeling you’ve heard this one before.
Maybe that’s why Caskitt’s second full-length, Old Fires New Frontier, feels so refreshing in its first few listens: Here’s that rare punk rock record that works creatively within its genre’s limitations to challenge it.
It’s there the frenetic guitars on “Someone Somewhere,” riled by drumming wild in its precision; by the first verse, the power chords devolve into harmonics that squeal like an alarm, complementing the low, thudding toms and dynamic bass. It’s there on the layers of harmonies on “Short Shorts,” where drummer and vocalist Matt Caskitt’s bright, crisp voice is matched note-for-note by Jacque Mendez from New Way On, and on “Hang My Head” where the gang vocals float in the open air between Caskitt’s millennial blues. It’s there on “Niemöler’s Regret,” where singer Caskitt incorporates Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came …” into his clever narrative, and on “Devil In The Moonlight” where he evokes the Joker’s enigmatic proposal from Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.
Ironically, it’s during the fourth or fifth listen of Old Fires New Frontier that Caskitt’s influences become suddenly obvious, including Fat Wreck bands like Strung Out and Rise Against and Good Riddance, whose substantive lyrics match their ferocious melodies, and particularly Propagandhi; songs like “Villians” approach the spirit and control and hostile virtuosity for which the Canadian foursome have become famous. And, like “You’re Fired” from Strike Anywhere’s Jade Tree debut, “Blinders” is an urgent call to action strategically positioned at the album’s opening; “Take those blinders off!” the band chants before whipping into the album’s title track, a song whose initial energy stems from a drumbeat that somersaults beneath the searing guitars—yet another challenge to their genre.
Though they unapologetically honor these influences on Old Fires New Frontier (one might wonder why Fat Mike isn’t banging on Caskitt’s door), these songs never seem derivative or trite; in every case, their take on this sound offers fresh perspective—a sharper voice or more poetic approach—occasionally besting the band that seemed to inspire them. Of course, this what makes punk rock so intoxicating; though it’s a genre that’s more about intensity and energy than innovation, sometimes a band will release a record that tilts the landscape just enough in a new direction to make you question everything.
‘Old Fires New Frontier’ is out now and can be purchased through Bandcamp.