Drain : Living Proof
Hardcore and its history are laden with tales of rejects, outcasts, or down-on-their-luck ne’er-do-wells bonding over their mutual alienation. Its roots stem from an “us vs. them” mentality, and while its basis lies in pointing out society’s flaws with a foam finger’s subtlety, what’s kept it around for 40 years with gradual evolution is its inclusiveness. The “us” is a vital component, and good hardcore attempts to draw in as many people into that “us” bubble as possible. Or, at least, the hardcore community does. At its most caustic, hardcore punk is musically antagonizing, like Nails’ autonomist 2016 album You Will Never Be One of Us. Of course, there’s the argument that this thorniness is what attracts so many to hardcore; it’s a pure emotional discharge in the form of breakdowns and gang vocals. As difficult as it can be to marry inclusion and raw power, Santa Cruz’s Drain accomplish just that on their second album Living Proof.
This is not to say that Living Proof is the group’s attempt at overtaking the charts. Drain’s sophomore album is hardcore punk from its flesh to its filaments. It’s nowhere near as biting as vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro’s former group Gulch, but it’s bouncy and coherent, like early punk rock before speed became one of the genre’s favorite tools. It’s intense without malice as tracks like “Devil’s Itch” and “Imposter” chug along with a two-step-friendly rhythm. Living Proof rarely outpaces this rhythm. Rather, Drain recognize their crossover appeal and sublimely balances it with their hardcore affectations. This is a precarious ledge to perch on as there are three ways they could falter; they could pay lip service to their other musical interests and ring hollow as a result, veer too deep into their ambitions and abandon hardcore, or fence sit squeamishly. Living Proof, fortunately, keeps it simple. Ciaramitaro and colleagues don’t meld genres into tracks so much as they create space for all components. Their fury can stand beside Shakewell’s trap feature on album highlight “Intermission” and their Descendents cover “Good Good Things.” The latter’s clean vocals and thick mix recall the late ’90s period when emo and alt-rock became bedfellows, and if Drain were to get big outside of their target audience, this would be the one to propel their ascent.
What solidifies Living Proof as warm-weather-short-shorts-and-tank-tops hardcore are the flirtations with thrash metal. While Drain never plays quickly enough to be a thrash band, they love to wink at the idea. Their riffs draw from Bay Area groups from four decades ago and Ciaramitaro embellishes his snarl to disguise that, had he been born earlier, he could’ve fronted one such band. “Watch You Burn” is guitarist Cody Chavez’s playpen as he snakes pull-offs and peppy riffs that, if ever so slightly, threaten to escape their hardcore framework. Flourishes such as these are representative of Drain’s self-control; they do just enough to add a little kick without stumbling over their feet.
In a clip from Epitaph’s ten-minute behind-the-scenes feature on Living Proof, Ciaramitaro explains that the album’s title is self-referential and inspirational, or at least that’s Drain’s hope. He says they are evidence that anyone can make something from nothing through hard work. Motivation such as this is nothing new in hardcore. The genre is rife with calls to arms about actualizing oneself. Ciaramitaro comes off like an older cousin, wisened from an unremarkable yet character-building excursion, giving life lessons that have already been told before. However, his conviction pulls you in closer. He’s not talking as if he’s the first one with this idea, but as if he’s recognizing these cliches can ring true. Living Proof, as a whole, embodies that sentiment. Drain’s take on hardcore is based on charisma and self-determination. They build upon the genre’s positive framework rather than its pugnacious offshoots, and while there’s an audience whose bloodlust outweighs their appreciation for Drain’s artistry, Living Proof’s stubborn success never needed that audience.
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Colin Dempsey is a Toronto-based writer with publications at Consequence, Invisible Oranges, Spectrum Culture, and more. There will always be more to write about, and he wants to cover it all.