I’m convinced that everyone wants melody in their hardcore. When we raise our fists and complain about a band losing their edge, we’re not complaining about melody. We’re complaining about how much. The trick to good hardcore (and its more friendly and likable cousin, melodic hardcore), is to find that delectable sweet spot of raw, thrashing energy and hummable chaos. It can be a tasteful riff, or even a howled chorus, but there’s no denying– melody is as much a part of hardcore as rhythm.
For me, the best of hardcore was always the stuff that sprung out as soon as the seal was broken. It was the second and third-wavers that made their mark on me; the experimenters. I love me some Minor Threat (and while we’re at it, hum “In My Eyes,” whydoncha? See? Melody), but Dag Nasty was always the one that churned up true and honest passion. Can I Say is one of those albums that melt through your skin and become a part of you. And, throughout it, whether through vocals shouted at the edge of hoarseness, or through Brian Baker’s aggressively tuneful fretwork– there was melody.
I bring up the venerable Dag Nasty, because on my first listen to Dragged In’s EP I, I found unmistakable similarities. They had the same call and response vocal style, the same sense of strained melody, and of course, the same driven hardcore backbone. It’s not skate punk, nor is it overt Epifat worship (but strains of it are unavoidable to some extent), it hearkens back to when hardcore bands just started to stretch their musical muscles and find new ways to be loud and fast.
Toronto’s Dragged In tout members from lots of other hardcore outfits, most notable of course is vocalist Patty from Brutal Youth. At first glance, there are a lot of similarities here between the two band’s sounds, but if you look between the machine-gun rhythm and rushed melodies, there are things going on here. It seems to me that Dragged In aren’t aiming to be a typical melodic hardcore band, and it comes across in the small ways they dress their songs. The album opens with “August,” that begins with sludgy bass before launching into the old familiar attack. The song itself reminds me of a mix between Dag Nasty’s “Values Here” and anything on Bad Religion’s Suffer. But before the song ends, it returns to the sludginess and everything becomes a lot more intense. The bass propels the rest of the song as melodic leads and shouted lyrics fill in the mind and flesh of its deliciously shambling corpse.
As with all classic hardcore bands, Dragged In have a song named after themselves. “Dragged In” is filled with fast riffs and gang vocals that lend itself to the stage. Much like “Breathe,” it’s a fun song with a lot of aggression and mosh-worthy speed, but, for me, it doesn’t fulfill the potential that “August” lays out. The final song though, does. “Empty Glasses” is of course fast, melodic, and has plenty of shout-along elements, but it also uses a personal lyrical perspective to give a fresh and authentic look at straight edge rhetoric. It’s vivid from the opening lines, “Your hands marked her face/ Your life smudged her history/ Trying to drown your hate/ Fueled a torrent of misery,” and then is brought home with the refrain: “I know I’ll never find strength in the bottom of empty glasses.” Musically, the song also excels with its bridge, which features a gang vocaled chant of “Predisposed to violence, predisposed to pain, predisposed to anger, predisposed of rage,” as an ascending melody chimes in the background. The music and lyrics work together to create a meaning all its own, and from here on out the song is charged with positivity and a sense of triumph. “Empty Glasses” is a rallying cry to know our dispositions and fight their hold over us with all the fight we’ve got, and here, knowing is half the battle.
EP I is a lean and introspective piece of modern hardcore that hints at more influences than the usual associations. This is where Dag Nasty and early-Bad Religion meet a new and exciting era of hardcore where stoner, sludge, thrash, and crust aren’t dirty words. And while I would’ve loved a little more experimentation, I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a new lexicon.