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Album Review: COMEBACK KID Heavy Steps

8.5 Reviewer

The enduring might of Canucklehead hardcore heroes Comeback Kid exists because of a variety of factors. The quintet hails from Winnipeg where, when the temperature at the intersection of Portage and Main gets to 50 below (and it does!), you stay inside and rock n' roll. And when you've had enough of the four walls and beer-and-black mold rehearsal room scent, one can choose to decamp to the four walls and fart-and-armpit scent of a tour van. Which is what Comeback Kid have done like clockwork since forming in 2002. Originally, coming together as a side project, the band has issued seven brick-solid albums and backed them up with an impressive ledger of touring that has spanned here, there and everywhere borders were open and visas could be applied for.

Album Review: COMEBACK KID Heavy Steps

If anything, you have to give them props for surviving being signed to Victory Records and their on-and-off-again business model for the time period from 2005's Wake the Dead to 2014's Die Knowing and the two albums in between. Looking at the chart numbers, in hindsight, their emerging relatively unscathed from that decade likely had much to do with them being one of the label's cash-cows. And how did that come to be? By creating a perfect storm of thrash metal, melodic punk and NYHC all whipped together by Andrew Neufeld's unmistakable banshee with a pack-a-day habit rasp which he twists and turns into some of the most infectious, fist-pumping and euphoric vocal phrasing the genre has ever heard. 

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Heavy Steps is their second record for Nuclear Blast and continues the tradition of force feeding Slayer and healthy helpings of Bay Area guitar riffology into a melodic wringer kissed by the southern California sun and chewed on by New York City rats, with beats and rhythms patterns influenced by fellow warriors of ice Sacrifice and Propagandhi. And then there's Neufeld, expressing the sort of irascibility you'd expect anyone who's read the news at any point in the past 40 years alongside the sort of en masse joyous roar you hear from English football supporters when the World Cup final falls on a bank holiday. When the title track kicks in with a riff that's shifty and clobbering at the same time before making the seemingly dichotomous leap to mellifluous two-step thrashing punk, it's the frontman's agile and seamless shift between hard charge and a welcoming vocal bear hug that helps the songs' movement from post-Reign in Blood Slayer to Hatebreed to Sick Of It All to Strung Out as delivered by bassist Chase Brenneman, drummer Loren Legare and guitarists Jeremy Hiebert and Stu Ross. Not only does this track open the album, but it delivers a definitive parry distinguishing Comeback Kid from peers and pretenders. Together, the transitions are made smooth, natural and, ultimately, the sort of thing thousands will be bouncing and singing along to in European farmer's fields and American dust bowls when that becomes a thing again.

Take a gander at the many videos posted online of the band's set from the most recent Furnace Fest to pay witness to the fact that writing sing-a-long, pit-stirring anthems has long been part of the Comeback Kid methodology. Heavy Steps steers that ability into new directions. There's a maturity to this album that sharp-eared listeners will cotton on to while thick-necked mosh pit denizens will continue to hear ripping musical accompaniment to the bouncing of their flabby, XXL-sized guts off of one another. "No Easy Way Out" does all of the above with the inclusion of a jazzy breakbeat breakdown and some crafty wah-wah pedal bluesiness that's simultaneously blue collar rallying cry and raised pinky, sweater vest intelligence. Similarly, "Face the Fire" tempers it's classic Bad Religion linearity with angelic backing vocals and "Crossed" appears to take lessons from its featured guest (Gojira's Joe Duplantier) as staccato pauses are massaged into its mix of Seasons in the Abyss, Destroy the Machines and Cause for Alarm, whereas "Everything Relates" brims with melodic warmth and a radio-ready chorus that will sadly never be heard on anything but college and internet radio. 

For those looking to strictly have their faces caved in without frills and diversions, more traditional fare exists throughout the album's middle third with the mid-paced vintage Metallica-meets-vintage Epitaph Records stomp of "Dead on the Fence," the coruscating, galloping riff work and gang vocals of the bruising "Shadow of Doubt" and the down-picked crunch and Italian punk references powering "True to Form" and "In Between." 

Quite often, folks on the metal side of the extreme music spectrum undeservedly point fingers at the supposed limits of hardcore punk. Heavy Steps acts a beacon of how to bolster one's own basics and starting points so as to inject new life into one's own sound and the scene at large. All while staying true to both sound and scene.

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