If Comeback Kid’s career was an analogy of a man drowning, with each subsequent album representing one step closer to eternity, ‘Die Knowing’ would represent total asphyxiation. Certainly it’s their most crushing album. Crushing in the anvil-like heaviness of its music, and crushing in its lyrical content, with the themes of betrayal and brazen invincibility running through it like a rusted, weather beaten train track running through a flat prairie land. Land like the kind you’d find in Manitoba, Canada.
I’ve been to Winnipeg a few times and, as well as having the dubious distinction of being the coldest city in an already uncomfortably cold country, it’s kind of a depressing place. It also, like its skinny brother to the west, Saskatchewan, sits in a province without a lot going for it. It doesn’t have the Texas tea or the Rocky Mountains you’ll find in Alberta, it doesn’t have the beaches and oceans you’ll find on the east and west coasts. It doesn’t have the charm or excitement of southern Ontario or the culture and beauty of Quebec. What it does have though, is one hell of a burgeoning and impressive music scene.
It’s on the back of accomplished Winnipeg scenesters like Personality Crisis in the 80’s and Propagandhi in the 90’s (and today) that Comeback Kid add their own local stamp of ever growing infamy. And they are loved in their hometown. In fact, one of the best punk shows I ever attended was Kid in Winnipeg at the record release for ‘Broadcasting…’ their first record with former guitarist Andrew Neufeld on vocals duties.
The trickiest thing a band will ever have to do is replace a lead singer. It doesn’t matter whether the original singer was good or bad, wrote the music and lyrics or just showed up and belted them out. Once a band gathers a following of any kind and establishes a sound, that sound is recognizable to a large degree on the vocal styles of their singer. ‘All or Nothing’ was a good record in its own right, but without Jim Lindberg, it just wasn’t Pennywise, any way you slice it. Comeback Kid was faced with a decision when Scott Wade left the group following their breakout album ‘Wake the Dead’ in 2005: fold the band or charge ahead. Stepping up to the mic, at first temporarily and then permanently, Neufeld took on vocal shredding duties which gave birth to a new era for the band.
I don’t know how different the music on ‘Broadcasting…’ and ‘Symptoms and Cures’ would’ve sounded, if at all, if Wade was still in the band, but I do know that Neufeld is one hell of a talented singer and his more melodic vocal style brings an exciting element to the band’s hardcore makeup. He’s also a singer who’s audibly evolving and refining. Like watching those two whack job Olson twins grow up before your very eyes on Full House, you can hear Neufeld’s ability to rock a mic growing with each record. And on ‘Die Knowing’ he’s never sounded more confident or sure of himself.
‘Do Yourself A Favor’ from ‘Symptoms and Cures’ is one of the best album kick off tracks I’ve ever heard. You get about three seconds of Matt Keil’s mountain climbing bass boogie before a prison thick wall of hardcore that would make Madball blush hits you in the eardrums and continues to kick your ass with little respite for the next eleven songs.
‘Die Knowing’s eponymous lead track takes a slightly different approach. A creeping, chugging, moaning dystopian rhythm that doesn’t sound too many worlds away from something you’d find on Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Broken’ EP, eases the listener in. It actually sounds like the breakdown of another fully formed song than a kick off track. But as other elements are added; the multiple guitar tracks; the gang vocals; Neufeld’s assurances that at least you can die happy knowing you couldn’t do anything about it; the songs becomes its own beast fairly quick.
No sooner does it get going though than ‘Lower the Line’ rips into the speakers featuring the speed and insane riffage that ‘Kill ‘Em All’ era Metallica would give their shoulder length, billowing blond locks for. ‘Lower the Line’ is a good example of the heavier nature of this album compared to the last couple. It’s a crusher and the breakdown will have fans of the genre salivating.
If hardcore punk was around in the mid to late 1800’s, ‘Wasted Arrows’ is what warring native American tribes would listen to to pump themselves up before a battle. Enough said.
‘Losing Sleep’ starts off with Kyle Profeta providing some nail gun drum talent before the song settles into a nice warm foot stomping push-pull verse rhythm followed closely by a runaway train chorus. It’s kind of amazing to hear a song grow exponentially heavier as it unravels, to the point where by the end you actually feel as though someone just punched you in the face. It’s pretty fun, you should try it.
‘Should Know Better’ was the first song the band released to wet appetites for the record. It’s a good choice as it’s not only one of the best songs on ‘Die Knowing’ but a perfect representation of the full soundscape of the band as of this album: catchy, heavy, highlighting the talent of the musicians in the band and of Neufeld’s vocals.
‘Somewhere in This Miserable…’ is an absolute monster. Jeremy Hiebert and Stu Ross lay down some of the fattest, chewiest riffs in the band’s career and the song as a whole just feels huge in every way. One of my favourite songs on the record.
‘Unconditional’ is a power ballad Comeback Kid-style. A slower, more deliberately paced examination of the realities and struggles of life and the courage to face them head on. The amusing thing about this song is that even a slow song on a Comeback Kid album can’t help itself and speeds up towards the end. What are you gonna do. Pit bulls don’t like to be caged.
‘Didn’t Even Mind’ is one of the catchier songs on ‘Die Knowing.’ It’s a good example of the new direction the band have taken since their first couple records, that I personally love. These more melodically conscious tunes compliment the heavier aspects of the band’s sound nicely.
‘Beyond’ is a blistering barnstormer. The fastest track on the record, it also features some super catchy gang vocals that have been stuck in my head for two days.
‘Full Swing’ for its part is notable not only for being a great song that sounds like something off of ‘Turn It Around’ or ‘Wake the Dead’ but to add to that nostalgia, Scott Wade himself provides some guest vocal duties. Wade and Neufeld compliment each other nicely and it’s a lot of fun to hear him with the band again.
The album closer ‘Sink In’ starts the same way ‘Die Knowing’ does, just half a step faster. It quickly jumps that parallel track and veers into it’s own impossibly catchy territory though. Probably my favourite track on the whole record. It’s a hell of a way to cap things off, leaving an aftertaste in the mouth somewhere between butterscotch ice cream and chocolate chip cookie dough.
For a band that originally started as a side project for a couple members of hardcore act Figure Four, Comeback Kid have eclipsed that band and then some. Not just in their following and the respect of their peers, but by producing a body of music which is, at this point at least, one of the best among currently active hardcore bands. I know there are those who would disagree, but for my money, every new Comeback Kid album has been better than the last. And ‘Die Knowing’ is their best group of songs yet. Their total asphyxiation, if you will.