I have a fleeting thought enter my head every once in a while. It goes something like this: Why doesn’t Mindforce try something new?
The song “Excalibur," off the Hudson Valley band’s record of the same name, is as good as they will ever get. That’s not because they lack skill or lucked into it. It’s because that song is literally as good as hardcore gets, period. It’s up there with the “Fillers” and “Firestorms” of the world; iconic, transcendent, an instant classic.
Some rogue neuron in my brain is broken by music criticism. It can’t accept that a band could perfect something early and then keep running it back. Surely that will lead to diminishing returns. We all know these guys could write four-minute thrash songs if they wanted to. Why don’t they start ripping off Anthrax? Can’t they add a blast beat somewhere?
The more I spin New Lords, though, the less this thought enters my brain. Demanding more from Mindforce is like demanding more from chocolate ice cream. Chocolate ice cream has been the same for 100 years. You gonna stop eating that shit any time soon? I didn’t think so.
The band’s second LP for Triple B Records might have a bit more Slayer influence than their first full length Excalibur, which people cited as owing a fair bit to the Bad Brains. Still, the core of the songs on both albums is short, thrashy New York hardcore with lots of leads and even more mosh riffs.
Mindforce have a formula. It’s not a creatively bankrupt one, though. Lords lead single “Survival is Vengeance” makes a strong case for being the band’s second best song.
Part of the formula is going from a pile-on vocal part into a room-levelling mosh riff. They execute this on “..Vengeance” with the energy of a comet smashing into the side of the earth.
Mindforce seemingly build around the mosh riff. Every song has some sort of syncopated half-time chug part designed for dancefloor participation. These specific types of riffs were more common in hardcore when Excalibur came out in 2018. Recent developments in mosh technology have seen bands move slowly towards different avenues of expression, so Mindforce’s dedication to the bouncy chug is becoming something of a trademark.
The band got a ton of love for their heavy parts on Excalibur. I think when they wrote their 2020 EP Swingin Swords and Choppin Lords, they overemphasized heaviness in an attempt to give the people what they wanted. The songs on that record feel more like vessels for mosh parts than actual songs. New Lords is a major course correction.
The care has been put back into the transitions. The fast parts feel meaningful again. New Lords doesn’t have the same lightning in a bottle quality as Excalibur—it feels more refined—but the songwriting chops remain.
Guitarist Mike Shaw is shredding like a madman on this record. That’s nothing new, but I think he’s tapped into an even higher level of speed and technicality. The entire band rank as some of the most technically proficient musicians in modern hardcore. I really believe this band could write a great thrash metal record if they wanted to. Mindforce is for the hardcore community, though, and vice versa.
They’re not trying to follow bands like Power Trip and Code Orange by going on big room tours supporting legacy metal acts. They seem to have few ambitions beside headlining one or two big hardcore shows a month, showing up, getting the room to go nuts, and chucking the deuces as they ride off into the night. New Lords is perfect for that mission. These songs should fit seamlessly into the setlist and spice it up for the diehards who catch them at every festival.
The most notable improvement on this record comes from vocalist Jay Petagine. He’s always done a good job on record, and live he’s a force. Still, his contributions on New Lords shine more than they have in the past. He’s doing a bit more with his voice on this record. His trademark bark is the same, but he’s added a bit of a swaggering warble on slower songs like “Thirteen and Mean." His new range, paired with the music behind him, reminds me of a young Harley Flanagan on Best Wishes.
His lyrics have evolved from the earlier material as well. I think some of this growth comes from the fact that he’s not afraid to take risks when it comes to subject matter. I first noticed this on Swingin’ Swords with “Fratello”, but New Lords delves deeper.
“Words Fail” is an electrifying love song whose lyrics belie its musical ferocity. “Thirteen and Mean” addresses street violence without the manufactured machismo tropes other bands fall into. There’s a certain literary quality that elevate songs like “Survival is Vengeance” and “Instant Karma Comes Fast” from hardcore sloganeering to genuinely reflective ideas. Petagine’s articulate and thoughtful effort pays dividends by giving these songs an added layer of depth.
All in all, it’s easy to like New Lords, especially if you’re already a Mindforce fan. I have no accusations of diminishing returns or a sophomore slump; in fact, as a whole, I might enjoy this record more than the first. I don’t know how many people will agree with me on that, but I don’t think it’s a hot take either.