Growing up, I found myself in the midst of the so-called “emo” days. Remember those? Back when emo was used as a slur towards kids that liked My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, or Dashboard Confessional. Whether emo’s association with unfiltered angst, suicidal thoughts, and Hot Topic came from a small group defining the word for millions, or millions pinning this association upon emo adherents, it is this stigmatization that has brought us the phase of the “scene kid”. Nowadays, kids find themselves enamored by the likes of Sleeping with Sirens, Pierce the Veil, and other metalcore bands with intense unclean vocals and pretty boy choruses, for many of the same reasons that kids thirteen years ago listened to Tell All Your Friends.
I’ll be honest, it’s extremely confusing to see the intensity at which these fans adore bands that, ten years ago, could barely expect to garner themselves any sort of fandom, let alone spots on Warped Tour and the top of the Billboard charts. Not only was post-hardcore pinned under the emo label, but bands in the genre struggled to produce top-notch records for all to enjoy. For every fan of The Used or Alexisonfire, there was another who tossed them aside for the likes of Refused and At the Drive-In.
While it remains tough for a band like Silverstein to command the respect of both music critics and Warped Tour fanatics, some groups are working to tread a middle ground that is both visceral, and aesthetically addictive. With their fifth studio album, Disobedient, Stick to Your Guns may have found a way to do just that. This is the kind of record that the scene kid, emo fan, and post-hardcore aficionado can all embrace together, as this album is hardcore at heart, but emotional at its core, and the results are top notch.
On paper, a record like Disobedient aims to draw in the post-hardcore purists. These are the critics and fans that hold Fugazi in the highest regard, and embrace the efforts of La Dispute, Defeater, and Touché Amoré to do post-hardcore justice. Stick to Your Guns certainly pushes themselves to be held amongst post-hardcore elite, and if Disobedient earns the respect that it deserves, there is no doubt that they will embed themselves as one of those important names. But they do something that few have managed to do. Not only is this album worthy of praise from post-hardcore fans, but it has the ability to gain praise within the “scene”. This band has managed to combine the power of intense screams and melodic singing to create a half an hour of pure emotion, something that Vic Fuentes fans should have no problem embracing.
The first thing to note about Disobedient is in the credits. Producer John Feldmann has really delved into diversifying his production palette in the past year or two. Feldmann adds Stick to Your Guns on a long list of artists he’s worked with, which includes everything from “scene” stalwarts Sleeping with Sirens, to worldwide sensation/laughingstock 5 Seconds of Summer. While you won’t find any guest spots by Kellin Quinn, or hooks referencing American Apparel underwear, what will you will notice is the instant charisma that Stick to Your Guns brings to the table.
This record was designed to destroy, seeing how the fledgling riffs and desperate vocals in “It Starts with Me” lead right in the double-bass pounding “What Choice Did You Give Us?” It feels as if Jesse Barnett is attacking his opponents once and for all, with the lasting hook where he makes it clear that “we’ll always been your enemy/so save your breath”. All the energy that this track creates sticks throughout the record. Whether he is yelling or singing, Barnett’s defined voice proves crucial to guiding Disobedient. We don’t see sudden shifts from unclean growls to pop vocals, as his grit and toughness is unwavering.
Much of the intensity here is by way of the clear, instrumental attack the band presents. Feldmann’s production is tightly wound, making each element of the music as clear as can be. Not only are Barnett’s vocals crisp, but the backing gang yells feel huge, with the “woah-ohs” on “Nothing You Can Do to Me” and “The War Inside” showing cohesion and intensity. Drummer George Schmitz makes use of punk, hardcore, and metalcore drumming techniques, as more melodic efforts gearing themselves towards the punk/post-hardcore side of things, but high energy attacks showing the best of all three, with Schmitz using the double bass pedal in full force. While a band like Defeater may turn off mainstream listeners with their rawness or La Dispute with their complexity, Stick to Your Guns measure both well, and even manage to show off a side of themselves that is appealing to the likes Hot Topic and Warped Tour.
It is unfair to paint the “scene” in negative respect, as, despite how artificial or superficial their music may be, they seem to be working as hard as they can to keep their faithful satisfied. There is certainly nothing wrong with this, but for fans of bands like Comeback Kid or Touché Amoré, such attempts do not their forefathers justice. If anyone on either side questions the ability of Stick to Your Guns to pay both sides respect, take a listen to this album’s closer, “Left You Behind”, beginning with a soft voice over an acoustic guitar, the track evolves into a bit of pop punk anthemia. It feels big, powerful, and cathartic. Throughout Disobedient, Stick to Your Guns faces their disrespect head-on with a mix of punishing breakdowns, loud head bangers, and a little bit of the two. For anyone who calls themselves a post-hardcore fan of any sort, Disobedient is the kind of album that can unify the various forces that have diluted the genre, and it deserves the respect of those who love it.