By Louis Johnson
Hardcore punk’s roots can be traced to southern California. An offshoot of punk rock, hardcore is characterized as being faster, heavier and more abrasive. The genre and subculture was a direct response to both mainstream culture and the dominant hippie subculture of the ‘70s. Punks hold anti-establishment views, but unlike hippies, are anarchistic.
Now, almost 40 years after hardcore’s beginnings, comes punk band Retox. Retox is from San Diego and was formed in 2010. The band was founded by vocalist Justin Pearson, a well known member of the bay area punk scene who has played with numerous groups since the ‘90s, most notably in the synth/punk band The Locust.
“Beneath California” is Retox’s third release, named appropriately as the band is heavily influenced by classic California hardcore. Pearson’s passion for noise and odd time signatures apparent in his work with The Locust bleeds into Retox’s sound as well. This release is the band’s most straightforward album to date, but is by no means an easy listen.
The album hits you with some headbanging punk rock and loud feedback for 22 minutes and never lets up. The riffs and drums fly by in a flash with an occasional odd time signature thrown in. The music is satisfying.
As far as the songwriting goes, Pearson is as angry as ever. He’s pissed off at life, society, ex-lovers, capitalism, religion and everything in between.
In the song “Die in Your Own Cathedral” he sings “when you look up at a star, know it’s dead and not too far from dead shit like common dreams.” In the song “Let’s Not Keep in Touch” he sings “every empire gets fat and falls apart, so sorry my dying sweetheart.” The 39-year-old is misanthropic as hell with no signs of lightening up.
Another highlight includes “I knew I was too clever for God. Who’s still Christian? Stale bread for stale tradition.”
In his writing Pearson seems to be driven mad by the vapid consumer culture of the west coast. The corruption and injustice in modern capitalism angers him as well. Pearson’s sick of America and all the smiling faces inhabiting it.
Retox holds nothing sacred, lashing out against societal norms, religion and humanity. As the album title implies, Pearson seems crushed by California, suffocated under the weight of a phony society.
If I have any criticisms of this album, I find that at times it is not progressive enough. I don’t feel like Retox is quite as interesting as other contemporary punk bands like Converge, Full of Hell or The Dillinger Escape Plan that incorporate more progressivism and experimentation into their sound. Fans of The Locusts’ whackier side may also be a bit disappointed by the album’s straightforward nature.
Still, Beneath California is a good listen, and fits snugly next to its hardcore predecessors like Black Flag’s “Damaged” and The Dead Kennedys’ “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.” It’s 2015, and punk rock has undergone all sorts of transformations, but Retox continue to be hardcore fundamentalists.