Sunday, September 14, 2008

Modern Life is War - Witness

Modern Life is War - Witness

Say hello to the best thing to ever come out of Iowa.

(I’m pretty confident about that statement)

Formed by five friends growing up in tiny Marshaltown, Iowa, Modern Life is War is a hardcore band that utilizes a keen understanding of mood and strong, layered guitars to create a diverse and exceptional blend of hardcore that is entirely their own. In 2005, they released their second album, Witness, reaching a pinnacle in their songwriting career in the process. The album focused on the trials and tribulations of the modern generation, based on the lives of the band members and the people they grew up with.

What makes this album so different, and so exceptional when placed against the backdrop of today’s more generic hardcore, is the pronounced effort and energy flowing through the music, as well as the band’s ability to develop mood. We’ll start by focusing on the former. In many ways, Witness feels like a labour of love, and songs like “D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” exemplify this feeling impeccably. In the song, the band describes their humble beginnings and their lifelong desire to play music and escape the day-in, day-out boredom of small town living. With lines like “Save me from ordinary, save me from myself” and “I just wanna go back home and turn my stereo until the rhythm melts my bones”, Modern Life is War perfectly outlines their intense passion for the music they play, showing that its not just a way of life, but a reason to live. Much of this emotion is conveyed through the singing of vocalist Jeffrey Eaton. His voice is coarse and unrelenting, yet still melodic enough to flow with the music, as his breathless shrieks aim to deafen alongside the frenzy of the guitars. It’s almost as if a battle of volume ensues between Eaton and the rest of the band each time the music picks up, with both sides trying to outdo the other in a feverous display of enthusiasm. In short, when Eaton screams “we’re playing as hard as we can”, you damn well better believe it.

As far as mood goes, Modern Life is War commands and controls a distinct atmosphere throughout Witness. The music evokes feelings of an after-dusk stroll through an industrial wasteland, barren and desolate as far as the eye can see. The soundscapes conjured up are bleak and unfeeling, directly representing the band’s take on modern life, portraying the world around them not as ruthlessly antagonizing, but as generally apathetic and uncaring. The twin guitars strike a delicate balance between melody and the dense layers of distortion they carve that melody into. In tone and feel, the guitars sound like a better produced version of those on Naked Raygun’s Jettison, churning out a very comparable mood, only coming off darker, denser and more paranoid in the process.

“Are you a messenger boy?"
"No, I'm the judge and jury. If you're gonna call the better fucking hurry. There's no use begging for your life. You made your choice and now you pay the fucking bastards! Bastards! Bastard!"

Place defines much of who we are as people, and the influence of Anytown, U.S.A. shines through in the uneasy urgency that peppers the band’s blaring approach to hardcore. As such, much of the thematic subject matter seems inspired by the band’s shared coming of age in sleepy Marshaltown, IA. Restlessness abounds in both lyrical content and musical background, like the band is pissed as hell at anything and everything and needs desperately to let it out. The caged frustration is palpable, as the band recklessly unleashes their bottled anger on every track, taking only the briefest of pauses for rest. ‘The race we are running is a joke’, Eaton screams in the tense and agitated “Young Man Blues”, ‘and I’m a drop-out”.

A lot of the album’s content revolves around the idea of what to do when there’s no longer a clear path to follow. The song “John and Jimmy”, for example is, in Eaton’s own words, “about how [John and Jimmy] were over seas fighting not necessarily to defend the ideals that we were over there supposedly trying to defend, but because they didn't know what to do with their lives and they felt like they were going nowhere”. The sombre, two-part “Hell is for Heroes” follows this idea of what happens to the rebels when they just can’t keep it up anymore, but don’t know what else to do. These songs paint a picture of a generation of youth who don’t know how to enter society, but see no alternative and feel like they have to start settling down and living ‘normal lives’. In context, this presents a very powerful problem to the listener, of whether one should abandon their ideals for the easier life of which they’re told they should lead, or continue on the more gruelling path of a life opposed. There’s no easy answer, and Modern Life is War agonizes over the fork in the road, making Witness not only something of a concept album, but a very personal creation at that.

With Witness, Modern Life is War created nothing less than a hardcore masterpiece, an album obsessed with internal conflict and external hell. The songs crafted are thunderously dense pieces of hardcore goodness, chalked full of emotion and ferocity. Never has any piece of music so aptly summed up the restless desperation of growing up in a small town, that aimless desire of wanting frantically to leave but having nowhere to go. Modern Life is War has since broken up, but their legacy will live on through the impassionate, frustrated brilliance of this album.

and i say to all the young wild ones...for you...yeah on your way up..the world isnt against you, my dear, it just doesn't care


Ape Mummy said...

I thought at first about saying something smartassed, but that is an awesome piece of writing about a crucially underappreciated HC record. I got excited to see what was coming after the "D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S." post earlier today. I was not disappointed in the least. Fine work, Cretin!

cretin said...

smartass comments are good, I'm a big advocate of them myself, but unabashed praise is always a worthy substitute :P thanks!

this is really one of those albums where no matter how much praise you lavish it with, it always seems warranted. absolutely phenomenal all the way through.

*#..(brad said...

this is the record i put on when i get home from work and just lock my door, ignore my family, my friends, my troubles and my past. i suppose this is my blues record.

Ape Mummy said...

I was planning on waiting to post this, but your unabashed praise of MLiW led me to write this:

I still like your prose better, but, to steal from Brad, this is my blues record.

cretin said...

being white and soulless, this concept of a "blues" record confuses me. in fact, the concept of "blues" in general seems odd. why don't these blind old men just take some xanax or prozac and alleviate themselves of the burden of artistic expression?

gabbagabbahey said...

wow. this is really really good. definitely lives up to a post-Shape of Punk to Come categorisation.

there's also definitely a Ramones comparison, not just with that song, but with the whole album. There's a refreshing simplicity and straightforwardness about this, repetition and relentlessness, even if it is sonically a lot similar to post-hardcore and the complexity which comes with that frame... I get the Naked Raygun comparison, as I've never listened to Jettison exactly because of the production values...

I've been listening to Hot Water Music's No Division a lot this week and, like that album, there's a great sense of lyrical directness in this. Anthemicism is the looser word which doesn't quite describe the intensity of some of these songs.

also, 27 minutes is a great running time.

cretin said...

glad you liked it. it is a very progressive work musically, at least as far as hardcore generally goes, but on that same level, there is a lyrical simplicity that really shines through and makes it very relatable.

on that same note, I should probably look into No Division as well.

ben.137 said...

Does any one know of any other bands similar to these guys? Any help would be greatly appretiated