Belvedere’s brand of skate punk is far from simplistic.
Johnny Loftus perfectly described skate punk as “a confluence of punk’s anger and simplicity, the furious speed of hardcore and defiantly smart-assed machismo.” While Belvedere’s brand of skate punk is far from simplistic, their newest effort (and first album in over a decade), The Revenge of the Fifth, is the reason that description exists. In fact, with this album, Belvedere may very well have become the torchbearers of the genre. While their peers evolved into different things over time, Belvedere’s absence has allowed their skate punk souls to age from piss and vinegar rotgut into a fine, peaty, single malt, self-aware, piss and vinegar rotgut. And, dear lord, are the results delicious.
The Revenge of the Fifth does many things incredibly well. The music is technical and speedy. The vocals are melodically on point. The production value is crisp but understated to maintain a punk aesthetic. And, perhaps above all, Belvedere doesn’t at any point try to pretend that they are anything else than what they are: a skate punk band with stuff on their chests that needs to be pummeled off by songs set to drum beats that’ll take Olympic sprinters to church.
“Shipwreck” opens The Revenge of the Fifth with a smidgen of everything that’s to come throughout the album. A blistering fast intro with a pop punk-level octave lead that settles into a mid-tempo verse featuring a set of harmonized guitars playing a canoodling riff that’ll dazzle anyone with an ear for great guitar work. There’s some hardcore fury here that leads into an immediately classic skate punk chorus that is both sugary and melancholy all at once. Then, of course, the bass is taken for a walk exemplifying the idea that, yeah, punk can be simple, but Belvedere doesn’t play any shit.
“Hairline” and “Years” offer some sonic diversity. Mid-tempo structures that always, without want to disappoint, are shifted into high gear before you can go fishing for a faster tune. “Years” is the better of the pair because while it begins like a radio-ready pop punk tune, Belvedere ensures that it’ll never receive any mainstream airplay with its eventual speed and structural technicality. It’s not the riffs that impress on this one (although they do); it’s more the level of creativity needed to craft a tune that uses an atypical approach to the four-chord-wonder structure punk is known for. The drums go from mid-tempo to half time to utilizing fills for purpose more than flare within the same measure. For a less talented band, this approach would cripple a song. But, again, Belvedere knows what skate punk is as much as they know their music theory.
“Transmissions” borders on noisy, nasty hardcore without fully crossing the line. “Delicatessen” is more or less Belvedere’s take on a Bad Religion tune with a somewhat country-ish lead riff. Granted, that doesn’t last long—this tune’s a technical dazzler with a handful of mini vocal hooks that are some of the best you’ll hear in punk rock this year. “Achilles” is one of the strongest tracks on The Revenge of the Fifth. Fast but not too much so, it’s a quintessential song for aging punks. Its maturity is measured by its bitter-sweet progression/riff combo that, if this weren’t a punk record, could bring a tear to your eye. Of course, aging punks enjoy a soaring vocal melody too, and this tune is full of them.
See “The Architect,” “As Above, So Below” and “Carpe Per Diem” for some of the most diverse and genre-scaling punk you can reasonably get your hands on. Everything from pop punk to speed metal is covered within these three tracks. While these may seem like fairly disparate parts, Belvedere has been bending the genre lines so heavily thus far, taking inspiration from every iteration of fast music, that, yes, they may be disparate, but they all fit together like an incredibly complex puzzle.
The finale, “Generation Debt,” is a fine tune. But it’s not the best way to end an album like this. Maybe if this slow jam—relatively speaking, of course—were placed somewhere in the middle of the album would it feel like one of the aforementioned puzzle pieces. But here at the end of the line it feels more like a bonus track than anything else. As if Belvedere had recorded 12 tracks and said, dammit, 12 tracks The Revenge of the Fifth shall have. But, despite this minor misstep of track placement, this record just flat out works.
“A confluence of punk’s anger and simplicity, the furious speed of hardcore and defiantly smart-assed machismo.” There couldn’t be a truer statement made of skate punk. And The Revenge of the Fifth shows that Belvedere lives, breathes, eats and digests every ounce of meaning in that description. They also turn it on its head, stick said head in the toilet and flush. They are skate punk torchbearers, no doubt about it. They are also brilliantly talented musicians whose love for punk rock is just what the genre needs to keep it fresh, keep it rooted in its origins and, ultimately, keep it going for at least another four decades.