Reviews

No Escape, Selective Punches: A Collection of Ballads and Battle Hymns (Hellminded Records, 2021)

27 years on and the Garden State wellspring that gave us No Escape continues its fertile run.

Even if one were to forego a peek at their considerable sonic resumes, 1993’s Just Accept It would be a sufficiently lasting legacy.

Considering their reassembly after a near three decade hiatus, no one has any business being THIS FUCKING GOOD after such a lengthy slumber. Then again, the collective resume of this particular band is the stuff of envied legend, the splintered product sharing members of both Deadguy and Turning Point, bands whose watershed albums sparked not just imitators but genres.

Some bands are just built differently.

Fast forward to 2021 and we’ve magically been given Selective Punches: A Collection of Ballads and Battle Hymns, a wholly new six pack EP released via New Jersey's Hellminded Records who, if you’re not yet hip, have not so quietly been dropping essential wax from a smashing roster of bands.

No Escape somehow stands on their own shoulders here… it’s every bit as urgent and warped sounding as their first go round. Dare I say, this shit is better. It also goes without saying that this will absolutely satiate anyone that didn’t get enough of Process Black and Bitter Branches, the two ripping recent projects with Tim Singer’s throat on loan. Let’s get to it. 

The band’s lead single “Insomniac” is anything but languid or drowsy, and immediately lays waste to any worries with a mountain of metallic discord. The band has long peddled asymmetric and just downright odd rhythms that, to my ear, have always owed a bit of a debt to noise rock as much as they do early metalcore.

Though unique, this is an absolute must for fans of All Else Failed, 108, Turmoil, Rorshach, Coalesce, and Damnation A.D. Around the two minute mark, things get expectedly unhinged and feral. The band excels at the push and pull of tension and release.

The following track warns “Don’t Poke the Bear” but, by the sound of it, it’s too late, fuckers. Fittingly, the opening riff lumbers in slow and low a la Floor or Cavity, the sound capturing the first lucid moments of a grizzly post-hibernation. Laid sinisterly below the mix a bit, Tim Singer’s trademark cantankerous yawp spits a repeated  “I don’t wanna be your enemy.”

There’s an urgency that gives the song its ill-tempered conclusion. It’s the sonic equivalent to trying to convince yourself of an impossibility and ultimately caves in on itself. Built around a deceptively simple riff, it shifts at the 2-minute mark into a tar thick and rubbery bassline. The band goes full tilt into a noise-laden workout that sports damaged and warped sounding guitars. It’s uniquely unsettling in a way only these musicians are capable of.  

“Lies On Your Sleeve” sports a near-Snapcase level of cracking precision and Singer ushers in their most straightforward stomp that chugs along until, well, until it doesn’t anymore. Of the many tricks this band pulls off exceedingly well, it’s their tendency not to follow the straight line, should they happen upon it. They flash moments brilliant enough to write a song around and then discard it every bit as quickly and confidently.

Clearly, No Escape still prefer the winding path. Peep the riff at 1:30. If you’re like me, you likely wish it’d go on forever but the band’s cutting room scraps are better than the best of lesser bands. It builds into a maelstrom, backed with Singer’s manic and bruised hush that play like the self affirmations one makes in a shattered mirror or, perhaps, the cover of Black Flag’s “Damaged.”

Elsewhere, “Everything You Need” picks its corpse with patience, starting intimidatingly slow. Their subtle building here only works to ratchet up the tension. They plunder the depths of the more straight ahead end of AmRep Records, notably the riff at the minute mark. There’s a touch of Helmet in its austere simplicity and, when paired with the anxious energy of the slower passages, is enthralling.  

No Escape in 1991. (Photo: Justin Moulder)

On what is likely my favorite track here, “This Compromise Is Filthy," No Escape go a bit further afield. At just South of five minutes, a veritable epic by their standards, they’re given the chance to spread out a touch and it’s fucking wild.

Aside from achieving the perfect tone, the bass is relentlessly busy whilst not overplayed. Calling to mind the pure godhead rhythms of Nomeansno, the band again embraces odd pacing. There’s a primitive and pacing violence when they strip back on the instrumentation, feeling like the kinetic energy of a caged and feral beast as it paces.

Even when pummeling the listener with a vicious and metallic assault, they still manage to lurch and heave. At just shy of the fourth minute, a determined riff at last breaks through the murk before washing away on a wave of seasick noise.

Again, this feels like it could only be the byproduct of these players. As you guessed, the vocals are next level across the runtime but, specifically, Singer’s performance on this track defines all logical placement and cadence for vocals.

At most opportunities, No Escape subvert expectation and we’re all the better for it. It’s a fitting sendoff for album closer “Souvenirs, Novelties, & Party Tricks," which launches itself into being on a bent and wiry riff. The guitar tone is a decidedly new and bold choice on this one, flashing the band’s first embrace of groove and low end fury. The last minute of the song is a larynx-flaying monstrosity of stop/start heaviness and oddball metalcore.

No Escape is back and we need to “just accept it.” They rule. 

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Tagged: deadguy, kiss it goodbye, no escape

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