When I saw The Bronx performing at Groezrock last year, it showed me once again why I love this band so much. Their show just bled passion and devotion, both on stage and in the sweaty dust bowl that arose in front of it as soon as the first snare hits ignited the venue. The band’s branded mixture of hardcore, southern rock and good old rock ‘n’ roll stylings is just made for the stage, breathing the commitment of the fans until it becomes a blistering tornado of distorted grooves and devilish screams that even the rearmost row can’t escape. This consolidation of sonic fury with energetic performance is what The Bronx is all about, and what each of their records has celebrated to the utmost.
Their last record, The Bronx III, was a testament to that. Full of infectious guitar hooks and straightforward songwriting, it offered 11 songs to scream, shout and rumble along, nothing more and nothing less. While it lacked the more experimental cuts like “Dirty Leaves” or the fleet-footed pop rock flavors a-la “White Guilt” of its predecessor, the record succeeded through its unambitiously fun nature and energetic delivery. Now, after a long five-year wait, “The Unholy Hand” kicks off their fourth full length, self-titled of course, as if nothing changed; a pleasantly gritty guitar riff and an even grittier Matt Caughthran screaming “they got you working on the weekdays/they got you working on the weekend still” will conjure up a big fat grin on your face, regardless of long-time fan or average punk enthusiast. So, is IV more of the same? Not quite.
The second track “Along for the Ride” hints at what maybe is The Bronx’s most accessible and varied record to date. With a stomping chord staccato leading the way, the song finds Caughthran’s distinctive organ in a distinctly restrained manner, never reaching full throttle but effectively giving the song its raspy texture, while the rhythm group banks on cracking chord power and an occasional lead guitar providing joyous tinkling once in a while. However, the song is one of the several double-edged swords on the record – the kind of being a passionate, catchy and freewheeling punk song with an alt-rock vibe that sometimes feels a bit too comfortable in its slightly tamed nature. “Valley Heat,” “Last Revelation” and “Pilot Light” follow this very same approach, creating engaging sing-along refrains and musically well-written hooks out of a simple guitar-centered framework that’s elevated by the outstanding whiskey-colored tone of Caughthran’s vigorous voice, but all of them are ultimately lacking the final punch.
But The Bronx wouldn’t be The Bronx if there weren’t some sonic equivalents of smashed guitars, shattered beer glasses and grinding teeth found on the record. “Under the Rabbit” is like a non-stop circle pit, induced by clapping snare hits and teasing guitar riffs until everything falls apart in the furious chorus, whereas opener “The Unholy Hand” finds its drive in southern rock antics and single “Youth Wasted” conquers the world with what is probably the band’s most anthem-like chorus yet, shouting “sometimes the best laid plans/still end with blood on your hands” till your lungs collapse. Album highlight “Too Many Devils” perfectly balances the acidic, aggressive nature with the more lighthearted and controlled feel of the album, facing the rambunctious riff attacks of the verse with a smooth and honest garage rock refrain. The way that the song is so razor-sharp in its delivery but still has these rusty lo-fi fringes around the edges channels the energy that went into the recording right into your speakers, spilling the sweet dedication and sour sweat the band put into this effort. With just the same amount of vigor but completely contrarily in sound, world’s grainiest ballad “Life Less Ordinary” hits home with Caughthran’s abandoned crooning over a single noisy guitar, trading laconic recklessness for emotional depth when distant octave chords echo his insightful sentiments like trenchant strings.
However, the overall tone of the record is notably more reserved than on their previous records, with occasional guitar solos and shinier chord progressions most likely bringing the notorious “sell outs” and “radio rock” bawlers into the arena sooner or later. But everyone who has seen The Bronx live knows that this band lives their music through every single artery, that their passion and love for the music they play stems from their hearts and not from cash checks or chart positions, and every song on here is an engrossing example for that. Even if the mercilessness and heedlessness of former outputs is sometimes greatly missed, IV is still a The Bronx record through and through, filled to the brim with energy, wit and urgency, making it a more than worthy addition to the band’s already outstanding discography.