BERTHOLD CITY – When Words Are Not Enough (2022)REVIEW

There’d be no alternative once I’d heard hardcore punk as a youth, music played at my speed yelling about shit that mattered to me. Call it third generational counter culture-lite afire in the suburbs, or, a bit of us vs. them with decent enough marketing but having mail order access to the late 80’s hardcore boon meant ideas like veganism, ‘straight edge’, anti-fascism and alternative spirituality helped reinforce ideals of social conscience in plenty of folks like me, convinced there was a better way to live compared to the trash portrayed by soulless pop culture of the era. Sermons from sharp-minded idealists instilling persistence and humility into anyone willingly indoctrinated may or may not have sunk in across the board, and no doubt not everyone ended up practicing what they’d preached but, the point is that motivation and action were accessible as truly underground fanaticism to a handful of generations before corporations had fully bought aging back catalogues and made a thousand broken-assed shards of the hardcore craft salable. Why the rant? Well, if your experience is anything like mine you’ll understand why Los Angeles, California straight-edge crew Berthold City‘s debut full-length ‘When Words are not Enough‘ is such an energizing experience — a ~half hour hard-cut word from wisened hardcore die-hards able to inspire without cynical nostalgia or straight-aped ideas in hand.

We’d last checked in with Berthold City when they were more-or-less in the earlier stages of development on their ‘Moment of Truth‘ EP, which I’d reviewed just a step beyond the demo stage where their Don Fury mastered first set of kicks was already hitting home for me. Spearheaded by Andrew Kline (Strife) alongside members/ex-members of southern California hardcore bands Abrasion, Internal Affairs, Allegiance, and Throwdown their sound wasn’t entirely limited to the spirited jib and aesthetic of late 80’s hardcore punk and straight edge out of New York/New Jersey but it would have been fair to set ’em along the lines of groups like Youth of Today. Where I’d felt Berthold City had a subtle edge on that sound came by way of melodic traits you’d expect to find in good classics-minded California hardcore as well as a shock of speed that has been persistent on all recordings thus far. They’re fast, a bit fed up most of the time and I’ll be damned if the lyrics are more often positive and self-reflective than they are mean or dunder-headed. All they’d have to prove here is that this sound can carry its own ass across a good sized full-length and no question ‘When Words are not Enough‘ not only does so but also kinda leaves me wanting another one right away.

Much as Berthold City resemble the clean-cut straight edge side of hardcore in the late 80’s they don’t take on much (if any) of the metallic edge you’ll find on releases from bands like Sick of It All post-1990, landing closer to No For an Answer, the first Bold record and/or ‘We’re Not In This Alone‘-era Youth of Today rather than the stomping spread of ‘Bringin’ it Down‘. With hints of the Los Angeles, New York and D.C. scene-specific technique at their fingertips, most of ’em having been at it for at least a couple decades, there is some serious editing here in terms of sticking to purely potent riffs, runs and breakdowns while still keeping the details engaging via flourish. The gist of it is basically “riff good, band fast, big-brain breakdowns, great album.” Berthold City‘s tighter than ever performance and songcraft reflects the high standards of a bygone age and speaks to the lost world of hardcore punk idealism and its direct, positive reinforcement without delusion.

When Words Are Not Enough‘ appears to find this narrative at a breaking point as we drop into the warzone of opener “Only Truth Wins”, a pulpit-shattering reaction to mass disinformation madness that explodes right from the start into its staggered anthemic rush. Less a carpet-bombed roar and more a series of tightly wound addresses to widespread illnesses of insincerity, greed (“Flashing Lights”), and disillusionment (“The Pharmacist”) that plague folks today en masse, the lyrics are particularly effective in reinforcing ideals others have left behind for opportunism (“Still Holding On”, “A Better Way”) from a place of strong personal conviction. The shouted-out frustration on display doesn’t arrive without some hope instilled, though, as we do see more than us vs. them within an album many will see as a love letter to the unity-mode of hardcore punk as much as it is a reaction to the wrongs of today.

The breakdowns, shredded harmonics, shout-along choruses and general panic pacing of the record is a brilliant spectacle but it’d all be a blur without a few semi-melodic pieces strewn within the 90 second burners. “Left With Nothing” gives us some of that melodic gilding to emphasize its transitions, a very SoCal hardcore edged knack, but it was probably “Empty Faces” that’d struck as the most melodic hardcore piece, a sort of skate ready jab that had my neck twisting back to records like ‘Operation Phoenix‘ upon first impressions. Sure enough it is a quick and to-the-point record with twelve pieces chopping up just ~25 minutes or so and it’d have probably slowed the impressive momentum of ‘When Words are not Enough‘ to have one more melodic piece in there or a true NYHC style shout-along anthem to close the record but I’d found myself wanting one more sort of punctuation point nearby the end to hit it home. Otherwise these guys have knocked it out of the park in the long-player format and hit me pretty hard with a record I was always happy leave on repeat for hours upon hours without any sort of fatigue. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:When Words Are Not Enough
LABEL(S):WAR Records
RELEASE DATE:March 18th, 2022

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