Hardcore is alive and well, but it sounds a bit different than you might remember it. Using only a basic, old school template to build upon without being bound by its restraints, Toronto’s Fucked Up has repeatedly taken the genre into brave new realms. From their earliest singles up to their epic 2006 release Hidden World, the group has evolved toward something that practically transcends genre. And with the release of The Chemistry of Common Life, their first full-length for new label Matador, they’ve upped the ante yet again, building a sprawling and soaring double album of existential reasoning and questions of faith.
Taking a leap that recalls Hüsker Dü’s transition from Zen Arcade to New Day Rising, Fucked Up is a bit more polished this time around, with stunning production and heady layers of sound to accompany their brute force. Guitars interwine in unison to form an unstoppable force of melodic brutality. Psychedelic overdubs phase in and out. There’s an inexplicably gentle flute at the beginning of the record. And guests ranging from the Vivian Girls to Death From Above 1979’s Sebastian Grainger lend their backup vocals to Damian Abraham’s incisive growls. This isn’t just a punk rock album, this is something far more intricate and transcendent.
The aforementioned flute that opens the record acts as a sort of nebulous precursor to a conceptual “Big Bang” so to speak, which occurs about 90 seconds into the awe-inspiring and epic opener, “Son the Father.” When these forces collide, the band surges into one of the most ass-kicking progressions I’ve heard, be it in punk rock or otherwise. But rather than simply collide and explode, the band’s three guitar players set a precise and incendiary path with their riffs, laying down a fiery bed for the faith-based cynicism, “Being born’s hard enough in the first place/ Who would ever want to be born again?” Holy shit.
“Son the Father” is just the first step. While it’s arguably the album’s best song, the level of artistry remains at this seemingly impossible high throughout. “Days of Last” creates a swirling mixture of heady riffs and pummeling rhythms, while the dense and catchy “Crooked Head” is like Pavement or Dinosaur Jr. on ‘roids. Likewise, “No Epiphany” has a trippy, languorous sound akin to a more aggressive Dandy Warhols, without the stupid jokes, no less. And “Black Albino Bones” should, by all means, be a hit alt-rock single. That, of course, would be a little difficult to do with the band’s FCC-unfriendly name. But its hooks are undeniable, sounding at home next to a band like Foo Fighters, before they went sports-rock, that is. And in addition to its unstoppable melody, Abraham finds a way to make sex sound even more awesome and disgusting than ever thought possible: “squeezing flesh together ’til the magic comes out.”
For a band strongly rooted in hardcore punk, The Chemistry of Common Life is an album that breaks open the constraints of genre. It’s a powerful and devastating collection of melody and muscle, paired with articulate lyrics funneled through a menacing mouthpiece. Fucked Up have taken a 30-year-old genre and given it new life. And with The Chemistry of Common Life, they’ve also given it a new landmark in sonic achievement.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.