Take Offense, T.O.tality (MNRK Heavy, 2024)

Hardcore is all the rage among the hipsters of today, but popularity has a history of pushing the movement toward greater extremes.

Southern California set the scene during the late '70s, but by their second album, even the genre's flag bearer had crossed over to metal. 

Take Offense have been heading in a similar direction from the very beginning. The band are approaching their third decade, which is roughly an eternity when calculated in hardcore years. But while the flat brims and grinding D-beats immediately aligned with SoCal skaters, these guys have always ridden the same rail as fellow L.A. outsiders Excel.

Despite being released under a pretty recognizable punk label, their last album, Keep An Eye Out, leaned heavier on thrashy tempos and shredding leads. 

Their new album, T​.​O​.​tality, works best when it doubles down on those metal-headed tendencies. "If I'm Damned, So Be It" is so gassed up with greasy distorted chug that it could bust through an entire prison block on a Punisher-style headbanging spree. Gatekeepers can clutch their upside crosses over the cryptically redesigned logo, but that the band's wardrobe now comes in 50% more black isn't the telltale sign of a complete makeover.

Instead, T.O.tality establishes a more consistent aesthetic. Terror's Nick Jett returns as producer and the continued vote of confidence from one of hardcore's more crossover-friendly bands results in songs that are leaner, meaner and more committed to ass kicking. "Assasination" takes aim at the haters with a carpet bombing of double bass kicks and hammer-ons that ping like a sniper rifle. 

Viewed through a more literal lens and T.O.tality is still a long-time coming. Writing for this album began in 2021, before Take Offense signed with MNRK Heavy. Three years is a quick turnaround for most bands, but not when your fans have come to expect a new record with the same regularity as a Megadeth lineup shuffle. Take Offense decided to hold off until their founding guitarist, Greg Cerwonka, was done filling in for Turnstile, and while normally inadvisable when it comes to crossover thrash, their patience paid off. 

Cerwonka has always been the band's not-so-secret weapon, but on 'T.O.tality,' he lets his hair down to such extravagant lengths that he deserves his own small paragraph. His downpicks are tense and twitchy, like grinding teeth. Occasionally, he'll slip into a stilettoed strut that's sleazy enough for the Sunset Strip. Cranked up to full jackhammering speed, though, and he could easily shred marble into a big, bald, bust of Kerry King.

Pretty much every song gets doused by a solo that's dripping with reverb, but his slight of hand is never more cunning than "Deep Inside / The House of Shadows," where monstrous riffs spring out behind each and every turn. 

Take Offense @ Constellation Room, Santa Ana, CA, 2018. (Photo: Dan Rawe)

Other surprises jump out on T.O.tality. The title track glides over proggish bass burbles and some of the drum fills careen with jazzy off-kilter precision. I wasn't expecting a whispering instrumental interlude, but that's exactly where we end up on "No Man's Land."

Still, Take Offense are a hardcore band in spirit. Credit Anthony Herrera, who barks his Bic'd head off like an attack dog. Even when straining for Ian Shelton's raspy melodicism, his disgust — for the fake, the fraudulent, the inauthentic — is palpable.

Those are familiar targets for anyone well-versed in throwing elbows around a church basement and the lyrics aren't shy about repeating old Youth Crew slogans. "Wait for nothing." "It's now or never." "Stand tall or not at all." "Uncivilized Animals" isn't a bad song, but when T.O.tality falls back on more of the same hardcore stomp, I lose interest. 

But even the album's more traditional rippers serve a larger purpose. We can split hairs over whether they belong in Encyclopedia Metallum, but like any good hardcore or metal band, Take Offense make crowds of people move together as one chaotic whole.

Really, what sets T.O.tality apart is that sense of community has only gotten bigger. That they rep Chula Vista is nothing new, but "Greetings from Below" digs deeper into Mexican heritage by summoning spirits from the underworld.

Photo: Becky DiGiglio

They've never been afraid to talk politics, either, and while the last few songs drag under their own weight, "Stolen Land" certainly hammers the point home. "We will persist," the band chant beneath a solo that screams like a flaming bald eagle.

With so many forces at play on T.O.tality, it's going to take a nation of millions to hold back Take Offense. 

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