Album Review: Stick To Your Guns - Better Ash Than Dust EP

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Stick To Your Guns are Jesse Barnett (vocals), Andrew Rose (bass), George Schmitz (drums), Chris Rawson and Josh James (guitars). They are an American hardcore punk band from Orange County, California, currently signed with Pure Noise Records.

The Better Ash Than Dust EP has been out since September 23rd 2016, but we loved it and wanted to share it with you, going track by track.

Starting off with the title track, Better Ash Than Dust, we're thrust into emotive vocals and what is essentially poetry with strong drum beats and punk guitar. I'm a really big fan of this sound and enjoyed a similar sound in Australia's Trophy Eyes. It's addictive to me and takes a great song and gives an element of depth that you can sink into if you choose. The blend of clean and unclean vocals gives a spectacular dynamic, and has you sit up and pay attention at 1:13.  This track does feel like a wake-up call; to be fighting for what matters (metaphorically "sticking to your guns" and keeping your own fire alive within you), versus letting yourself fade away and dying a pointless/shallow life.

The song ends with a soundbite by Nina Simone, urging artists to be involved. She questions why artists would not be reflecting experiences of the current times in their work, making statements about things that matter. In our recent interview with Jesse Barnett, he reinforced the same:

"There's a reason why there's an FBI file on Wu-Tang Clan, there's a reason why there's an FBI file on Rage Against The Machine, there's a reason why there was FBI files even back when the Beatles were doing their thing and The Doors and Led Zeppelin because the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Police, knows that there is pretty much nothing more influential than music."

"When I heard that in a Nina Simone documentary I was just like...she was already a person I grew up on and I love her music. She's the fucking queen, that why they call her the queen. She's just amazing and she's been so influential in her community as a black woman and even to a fucking white kid like me who she probably never thought she'd be able to reach. She touched me, struck a chord with me and so I've always loved Nina Simone. People called her crazy. People called her crazy cause she saw the world for what it truly was.
"

Kickass guitar & drums inviting us into track two, Universal Language. This track is honestly pretty moving to me. The distorted and unclean vocals express the appropriate anger that comes from the 'universal language of violence'; where things that are fearful (to organisations, societies, governments etc) the immediate response is to fight it.  It's a disappointing but genuine commentary on modern society how we strive to kill or crush the things that scare us. "War is all I see" as it says in the lyrics. To me this is a hardcore punk version of "all you need is love" (as Barnett sings "I can't believe you will not see / The ones you've grown to hate are just like you and me"). Inversely of hate and violence, love may actually be one universal language we can use to make a meaningful difference.

Track three, No Tolerance, is yet another emotive track and another important statement from Stick To Your Guns. It's a rejection of the world that we're being spoon fed through mainstream society. "Misguided hate and depthless love with no one left to take from / For your world of fictitious bliss, we've got no tolerance". Musically this song kicks and makes an aggressive statement to incite revolution; strong beats with vocal chants, and high paced punk with frustration and anger encrusted statements ("Fuck you! We've got no tolerance for you!").

The NeverEnding Story was the first Stick To Your Guns track I ever heard and it got me hooked. I fell in love with the drums (the kick beats used, something that I loved when used on the latest Avenged Sevenfold album also) as well as the honesty of the lyrics ("When did you lose your way? Just give a fuck about something, motherfucker!"). The NeverEnding Story is an anthem of a song and despite the lyrics being a wake-up call, the chorus is relatable to people who are not yet at the point of having more 'ash' than 'dust'. This song empathises with those among us that are defeated and depressed by life, and urges us to find something that lights us up and go do that. Such an important message.

Check it out live in this video, in particular what Jesse shares before the song: "This is a NECESSARY artform. This is not a novelty. This is not a phase. Just give a fuck about something. Motherfucker!"

The final track on the EP is The Suspend which is slower than other tracks and has a 3/4 signature. This song broke me emotionally when I truly listened to it, to be bluntly honest. It's a beautiful ending to the EP, where despite all the aggressive effort of rousing us all to reignite our individual fires, that there is an intention shared by Stick To Your Guns to "use that fire I have in my heart for those left behind, to now climb on my back and go even higher."  This sentiment potentially captures what drives the band, their music and encapsulates their purpose in music. It's (yet another) powerful song.

If all you hear when you listen to Better Ash Than Dust is rowdy hardcore punk, then you can be free to enjoy that, but there's meaning and message here if you want it. Stick To Your Guns are using an exceptional punk sound along with revolutionary pushes, for each of us to individually light up and make something better, for each of us and also the world.

Amazing album and I'm an instant Stick To Your Guns fan. More, please!

Reviewed by Kelly Burch
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