A solid collection of timely hardcore.
Over the course of several albums, Stray from the Path has positioned themselves as one of the most politically motivated metalcore acts out there today, pulling no punches on social issues ranging from racism and police brutality to capitalism and privilege. With a gritty New York hardcore sound and fiercely scream-rapped lyrics, the band keeps swinging on their latest release, Only Death Is Real, a record written largely in response to Donald Trump’s presidency and the attendant rise of white nationalism in the United States. Although the band doesn’t do much in the way of reinventing their Rage Against the Machine-inspired sound or developing nuance to their lyrics, Only Death Is Real stands as an aggressive and furious soundtrack of political resistance.
The band’s most direct confrontation with white nationalism has already been steeped in controversy. Released as a single with a music video, “Goodnight Alt-Right” is anything but subtle, and has attracted the internet scorn of the song’s targets—neo-Nazis and members of the far-right. With a hardcore punk meets nu-metal energy, the song references the famous video of alt-righter Richard Spencer getting punched in the face and contains lyrics attacking the prominence of white supremacy in the United States. In the music video, the band kidnaps a white supremacist plotting a terrorist attack, beats him up, and tattoos a swastika on his forehead. Members of the alt-right swarmed to YouTube and Twitter to condemn the band for equating the alt-right with Nazism and to defend their right to free speech. But the song itself offers a stark reminder that free speech does not come without its consequences with lines like “Speech is ‘free’ but it comes with a price” and “If you preach hate, then expect hate.”
Beyond “Goodnight Alt-Right,” vocalist Andrew “Drew York” Dijorio maintains his vitriolic political edge. On “Loudest in the Room”—a throttling hardcore banger highlighted by Craig Reynolds’ frenzied around-the-kit drumming—mocks the idea that the United States is the “Greatest country in the world.” “Let’s Make a Deal” uses rap-metal breakdowns to scathingly critique the global problems borne out by uneven distributions of wealth.
Not every song on the record is directly political, however. The thrashy punk “They Always Take the Guru” is written about the passing of Tom Searle—guitarist of the British metal band Architects and a close friend of Stray from the Path. Dijorio emotes on the chorus, “It’s nights like these that remind me/ That we are all/ We’re all temporary.”
Elsewhere on the record, the band recruits a star-studded cast of reinforcements, including Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die, Bryan Garris of Knocked Loose, and rapper Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks. Buckley brings his Southern-inflected screams into the pummeling “Strange Fiction,” while Garris throws his piercing shouts into the dissonance of “All Day & A Night.” Paz drops a scathing verse on “The House Always Wins,” framing how the citizens of the United States are always set up to lose no matter who gets elected into office.
Although these guest appearances stoke the flames of an already fiery record, they also point to some of Stray from the Path’s shortcomings. Buckley, Garris, and Paz all provide greater lyrical depth by utilizing vivid imagery and a keen sense of narrative. Much of Dijorio’s lyrics, although delivered with the utmost sincerity, fall short in comparison. While lines like “Don’t hate the player/ Hate the game” and “Everything has its price/ But the price is wrong, bitch” fit the aggressive register of the album, their juvenility takes away from the band’s political message. Then again, perhaps the sentiment of “Nazi punks, fuck off” doesn’t require the most eloquent language.
Altogether, Only Death Is Real follows Stray from the Path’s well-honed formula. Like many of their previous records, it relies on Dijorio’s frank political venom and the band’s heavy aggression. Ultimately, the result is a solid collection of timely hardcore that continues to bring politics into the mosh pit.