Recently I started reading Henry Rollins' Broken Summers and a sentence struck grossly true for myself: “All too often, contemporary music doesn't give me what I need, so I go into the past looking for the good stuff.” Listening to the contemporary puts the listener into an odd state. On one hand, we get to watch the evolution of music, sometimes through an embarrassing amount of years before something truly groundbreaking comes along.
On the other hand, the contemporary can be a dead end joint. Genres can spin their tires for years on end before a fresh perspective (without the bellowing cries of inevitable betrayal) really sweeps us up. Modern Life is War was a band that not only gave fresh perspective to hardcore punk back in the early to mid 2000's that cemented them as something more than just another contemporary act.
Modern Life is War is back after a five year hiatus with its full original line up. For the uninitiated, back in 2003 when the band debuted on Deathwish Inc with My Love. My Way. they were one of the first bands to really bring hardcore out of its state of massive breakdown worship, trading melodies for brutality and, basically, fighting music. The band would fully solidify itself in 2005 as a staple in hardcore with the classic Witness. A white knuckle kick of desperation, anxiety, anger, lust, confusion, and depression. The bitter cold of songs like “Marshalltown” showcased the band melding a moodier, grayer layers, while the classic anthem-esque “D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”was a full-throttle punk romp that practically melted your bones.
However, 2007 spelled a different sort of album for Modern Life is War. The band moved on to Equal Vision records, had a line up change, and released Midnight in America. Fan reception was mixed to say the least. Where Witness was still firmly rooted in youthful aggression, Midnight in America dispensed with much of it – though not losing it entirely- and traded it for a bluesier feel. But you know what? It's one of the most criminally underrated albums that's ever come out of the hardcore universe and a real modern masterpiece.
Fever Hunting is still another breed altogether for Modern Life is War. Having been out of the game for the last five years, the band has taken it easy, though you'd never know with this album. This isn't a head-long charge into the fray; their pistons fire differently from other bands. One might expect a band after a long hiatus to come back blazing in a blur. Fever Hunting is more like a slow burn.
The album opens with the same locked-in desperation that we've come to know. “Old Fears, New Frontiers” is in some ways a call back to “Breaking the Cycle” from My Love. My Way. Like a sort of recognition but a way of looking ahead as well. The fears may remain but the big picture has only gotten bigger.
It's when “Health, Wealth & Peace” kick in that things quickly turn back to the days of Midnight in America. Throughout there's much more focus on slower melodies. The album broods and Jeff Eaton's lyrics dwell on the acceptance of aging, of placement, of moment, detachment, loss, and friendship. Whereas Witness was the youthful pulse of anger and confusion, Fever Hunting is the struggling acceptance of time. So many things change. But some simply stay the same. Songs like “Chasing My Tail” or the “Blind Are Breeding” place slower, drawn out melodies to melancholy lyrics. Those that don't get it haven't been there yet. Rest assured, your time is coming.
"Dark Water” almost seems to pick up where “Big City Dream” on Midnight in America left off. Almost as though it were written right after it. It's another energetic song that briskly walks through the moonlight streets. The drum beat here adds fantastic mood and really pushes forward the listener while the guitars wail in the background. This is one of the best tracks on the record.
Fever Hunting wraps up feeling haunting and familiar. Jeff Eaton is still one of the best modern lyricists that manages to pen darkness without feeling like he's succumbed to the sadness pissing contest that trends so heavily in a lot of modern hardcore (or worse yet, the abstract sadness). Guitarists John Paul Eich and Matt Hoffman (no, not the BMX one) craft some fantastic melodies and showcase writing abilities that are still far above the run-of-the-mill hardcore band. Bassist Chris Honeck nails some funky bass lines (see: “Fever Hunting”) and helps keep it together with drummer Tyler Oleson.
Anyone's love or disdain for Fever Hunting is going to depend on how one feels about Midnight in America. With this new album it is clear that the band is mostly headed past old material but still occasionally tap into elements of My Love. My Way. and Witness. Fever Hunting contains plenty of milder tones and slower going songs. The writing isn't as complicated as Midnight in America but the blues still remain. If you've thirsted for the depression and desperation that has never sounded hammy or corny then welcome Modern Life is War back to the game.