One lone guitar chord. Resonating for about 3 seconds.
That’s all the time you’ll have to take a deep breath before the plunge into this spectacular roller coaster constructed by Chicago, Illinois’ punk rock group Counterpunch.
Dying To Exonerate The World, also known as Heroes And Ghosts in other parts of the world, is a more meticulous version of their self-titled debut from 2007. You will find no sophomore slump here. Just pure energy for 50 minutes. Now, the first thing one would think after viewing a running time of 50 minutes is, “filler.” But I find Dying… has a sort of three-act structure, without being a pretentious concept album.
The first third includes some of the most high-energy punk rock songs one would find on any 90’s Epi-Fat album. The album starts off with “Heroes And Ghosts,” which has got to be one of the most perfectly-crafted songs I have ever heard. Hook-laden, we are told of heroes today, gone tomorrow. Although being one of the album’s longest songs, it is over too quickly, leaving you wanting more until the pickslides of “High Tide For Eternal Strife” kick in and take you accelerating down the roller coaster track again. This first act concludes with the mid-tempo “The Great Regression”, and with the last song you’ll ever need to sing to that jerk high school jock: “And Everybody’s Right.” Who knew that calling someone an asshole could be so fun?
Act two turns up the octane levels, hammering the listener with the heaviest cuts on the album. This is where the roller coaster climbs up steep inclines, only to careen down toward a series of loops. Drop-tuned guitars, thick tones, and sludgy riffs splatter in tracks like “When The Curtains Close” and “March Of The Paper Tiger.” This is where the listener will find the songs that are 50% gravity-inducing, 50% rubber-burning, and 100% exhilarating. I believe the real substance of this album is found in this middle section, and as “We Believe” states, you–the listener–“can’t fall asleep while stuck behind the wheel” of this musical roller coaster.
The album concludes with the third act, starting off with an acoustic intro to the song “Sweet And Sour,” which marks another shift in the musical direction. Here, the songs become more personal. “Parasites/Scenester Kids” follows, and could be about the struggle of watching and being a part of a dying scene and wanting to revitalize the characteristic passion that has been lost in a lot of punk rock. The energy kicks up again with “A Raven’s Curse,” but the lyrics stay as personal as its surrounding tracks, spitting hopelessness in saving the world “a million times, but get credit for the fall”, but never turning back “no matter what’s been said.” The album later closes with the aptly-titled “So Long,” which begins like the cheesy emo-punk ballad we have all grown accustomed to, but soon bypasses all of that, leaving the listener with a sincere ending to a grand adventure. “So long, goodbye, my friend.” After these 50 minutes of energy, one feels like they are part of the journey with Counterpunch at the helm; a part of this company.
In short, Dying To Exonerate The World is a good album. It is surely not for everyone, but definitely worth a shot.
I critique albums partially based on lyrics, and the words penned for this album are up there with some of Rise Against’s best songs, in my opinion. Reading along with the songs unlocks a deeper understanding of each song, and the album as a whole. Both album titles, Dying… and Heroes And Ghosts, imply sacrifice, a kind of sacrifice that appears to be overlooked. Coming back to my earlier statement of never turning back even in a hopeless situation, this album is about standing up for what you believe in, and never allowing anyone else to tear you down.
Mix in some sound barrier-breaking drumming, the seismic charge that is the rhythm section, some arthritis-in-the-making lead guitars, harmonies that many rock bands could only dream of, and one of the better voices of modern punk rock, and you’ve got Counterpunch’s Dying To Exonerate The World.
My only complaints–and they are few–are in terms of mixing. Sometimes the instrumentals get too muddy or bassy and tend to drown out the vocals, detracting from the genuinely vivid lyrics that fill up the album. But when you take into consideration that the band is not on a major label, this album is very well produced. And we don’t like all the bells and whistles of modern rock, do we?
This album may be running on a roller coaster track that is wooden and rickety, but it has no chance of derailing anytime soon.