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Beneath the Shadows (Nitro) / Disappear (Nitro)


T.S.O.L. is releasing its comeback album Disappear at the same time as its label reissues the band's 1982 disc Beneath The Shadows. One record is a classic slice of California hardcore filled with sharp riffs, snotty vocals and brutally honest social commentary; the other is a mature album that steps far away from punk's formula with fey piano bits, slowed tempos and emotionally vulnerable subject matter. The surprise comes in discovering which is which -- the new Disappear sounds as if it's been plucked from a time capsule, while Beneath the Shadows falls closer to the stylings of today's punk-spin-off hybrids.

Like The Vandals, another California-based group from the same era (and with which T.S.O.L. shared producer Thom Wilson and countless tours), this band has incurred the wrath of its original fans by changing its lineup and sound several times -- without changing its name. After a few politically charged, hard-edged EPs that influenced punk and metal acts alike (Slayer included a few tracks from T.S.O.L.'s early days on its covers album Undisputed Attitude), the group explored a different, darker path. Beneath the Shadows expands on the goth punk foundation established by The Cure's early work, with Ron Emory's eerily distorted guitars cutting through deceptively peppy keyboards. Though not as morbid as the tearjerkers penned by the full-on goth outfits of the time, Beneath the Shadows' tracks explored love and loss years before emo and pop-punk made it acceptable for the mohawk set to do so.

On "Wash Away," for example, singer Jack Grisham's lament Now she's gone/and I'll never raise my face again sprawls over a mopey mesh of swirling guitars and humming synthesizers; it's hard to imagine the song playing well in the pits back when speed was king and new wave was considered the enemy. But if such tracks might have alienated the group's young, aggressive fanbase at the time of Shadows' release, they've aged well, revealing more depth and lasting value than the soundalike thrash favored by many of T.S.O.L.'s contemporaries.

Disappear, the group's third full-length album with Grisham on vocals -- and its first with the original lineup in nearly twenty years -- proves the band hasn't lost its initial fire. Its new songs (thirteen on a 29-minute disc) are fast and powerful without resorting to double-bass-pedal abuse or downtuned chugging breakdowns (two questionable contributions to the punk legacy that rose to popularity during Grisham's hiatus). His voice, always expressive, retains impressive range. It quivers with rebellious rage ("Anticop"), hides festering contempt with a soothing tone ("Socialite") and wavers with sarcastic emotion ("Crybaby"). The rest of the group hasn't lost a thing, either: Its riffs are tight, its bass lines sinister and its drumbeats steady.

T.S.O.L. has returned not just to prove that it can still outrage the young guns (though it clearly can) but to inject energy into a vital vein of punk that's been dormant too long.

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