How telling is it that some of the most fun I’d had as a hardcore punk obsessed teenager was spent ripping through Revelation Records catalogs and FLEX! Discography pages bouncing from ex-member to ex-member discovering a hundred bands I’d probably like per week and having to hunt them down either on dial-up or record stores. The zine universe would eventually open that world up a thousand fold and with a million directions to go I found I’d become an ‘old school’ fundamentalist very fast in trying to weed out the raw garbage I’d descend upon between Eugene and Portland area hardcore realities. The rotten age of melodic metalcore had popped up and I’d gone the other way biting into crust punk, crossover, and whatever throwback 80’s nonsense I could find on my own. Well, the gist of it is that knowing a scene past and present creates an odd sense of ownership that is universally impenetrable for most outsiders and that is exactly how I felt looking at the past-and-present resumes of each member involved in Oakland, California hardcore/crust punk raw dogs Isotope. Sure I knew Stormcrow from seeking out Bolt Thrower-assed crust (that goes for Seattle’s Sanctum, too) and that’d be a good enough couple of namedrops to get me fired up for their self-titled debut. It rips about that hard but feels distinctly East Bay hardcore in its wild diversity from start to finish without any ultra-metal presence beyond a fistful of Motörpunk here and there.
Just for the sake of ‘ex-members of’ fetishists and quasi-historians out there I’m gonna give a little context here as best I can gather, jump to the next paragraph if you like. Isotope would more or less spark in the minds of drummer Clint “Clza” Baechle (Owl, Orb of Confusion, Genesis Climber, Hazzard’s Cure) and guitarist Nick “Sikki Nikki” Cantu (Femacoffin, Xeroxide, Detonize, Sanctum) around 2013 after Clza‘s Acts of Sedition had fully given up the ghost. They’d wanted to work on something together in the vein of Japanese hardcore punk heroes Bastard (check out ‘No Hope in Here’) which uh, from my perspective is somewhere between Totalitär and the first Neurosis album, very straightforward and harder than your typical ‘Why?’ influenced hardcore record. They’d have the chance when Sikki moved to Bay Area and vocalist Chuck “Zone Tripper” Franco (Desperate Hours, Midnight Brain) wasn’t far behind. Along the way they’d land guitarist Kristen “KP” Payne (Red Thread, Pink Nightmare) and bassist Bazzy.
If you go dig up their demo ‘Final Wind of Mercy’ (2014) and the follow-up single ‘Midnight Soldier’ (2015) it was clear they were still working off that Japanese d-beat/hardcore influence but still never reached anything has harsh as Gloom or Framtid. The tangled guitar solos were worked out over time and the band made sure they were well road-tested and festival ready (two members are career festival organizers/promoters) before recording this debut. They’re tightly in sync but not wooden, the performances are captured with some raw edge, and Zone Tripper‘s vocals are commanding in presence (see: “Bloody Dove of Peace”) from start to finish. ‘Isotope’ has all of the right shapes and semi-metallic sounds to punch out classic crusted hardcore punk and they take a serious stab at it across the albums 24 minute length. None of this’d stand out so much if they weren’t already such pros at arranging a record that is varied, creates a session that’ll rile you up and hold your attention for its full spin without having to get too gnarly along the way.
Isotope stands out above the crowded and well-fed Oakland hardcore environment not for doing a bit of everything in terms of hardcore/crust punk style but for writing memorable songs while pulling from the various ‘scenes’ past and present the world over. The main focus might seem like d-beat, especially if you’d gotten hung up on that Bastard reference earlier but, there’s a bit of Oakland, Japan, Boston and Sweden spiking the road as ‘Isotope’ plays through. “Dream Thief” is a great example of a few of those multi-national styles colliding whereas “Departed” and “Not So Distant” appear laser-focused on a sort of heavier Bay Area style. However you slice all of those pieces ‘Isotope’ is a great debut that comes confident but not so effortless that it sounds arrogant or brutish with its balance of outrage and muscle. Moderately high recommendation. For previewing purposes I’d say the songs that hooked me back for closer listening were “Pleasure Convenient”, “Not So Distant”, and I’d say “Departed” more or less sets the right tone for the whole thing.
…From the fucking swine. 3.75/5.0
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