I can hem and haw for hours about the stagnation of punk rock due to its skate punk fueled commercial heights. It’s hard to love a genre that seems hellbent on oversaturating itself every seven years. For every NOFX, Strung Out, or Lagwagon there’s an army of abandoned Facebook pages for local bands that could play the chords but not write the songs. There’s exceptions, and when new blood comes with new ideas in tow, it can be thrilling.
I approached Dedication with some reluctance, but the tragic backstory pulled me into a first listen. The album is a tribute to founding member Brian Peters who lost his battle with cancer in October of 2013. It’s heavy stuff and After the Fall don’t shy away from the subject matter. They don’t treat it as marketing fodder to bring in new listeners, inevitably excited about a chance to wallow perversely in another’s grief; they never disengage from their theme and they examine it thoroughly through every angle. Dedication sounds like an album written in a dark time and its focused nature quells cynical concerns that it’s anything but a labor of love.
After the Fall craft Dedication as a punk rock jog through the stages of grief. “Reflection” makes good on its name with plain spoken reflection that comes across as painfully sincere. After the Fall is a melodic hardcore band, and where flowery metaphors fail, a loud and heartfelt “we’ll miss you so fucking much” does just fine.
Dedication really comes through as a meta-meditation of punk rock as an expressive medium. Hearing how After the Fall use punk as a method of coping with tragedy, along with how they use the genre’s hallmarks as a color pallette to put their feelings to canvas is pretty fascinating. Half minute songs are structural to hardcore, and here they use it on “Condolences,” as a simple shout out to the suffering felt by Brian Peters’ parents. The song is short, but feels necessary. It’s one of the ten, but it gives the impression of a mind shattered by grief acknowledging that Peters’ passing was felt beyond the voices on the album.
“Twenty Nine” is a poignant and angry song. Lyrics like, “it’s so fucked up this is the end for you, I’m still in denial of the truth” juxtapose to the jarringly unsentimental: “close your eyes and go to sleep forever, you will never wake up again.” It illustrates perfectly the rage that becomes intertwined with sadness, becoming so twisted that it can’t help but be aimed at the ones you love, no matter the intentions. The line is also an interesting usage of the irreverence that pumps the blood through punk rock’s veins (as previously stated, the two layers of appreciation on Dedication are fascinating). There’s a war being fought in those words, between the artform and the very real pain of loss.
Dedication sits heavy on the chest no matter how many times you’ve listened to it. For a lot of us, punk rock is all we know, and we know it inside and out. We know the bands, the chords, and the words may as well be tattooed on our tongues. But, we forget that it’s a tool as much as an art. It empowers us with a way to react. Dedication is ten songs of beautiful reaction.