The Amity Affliction
Sleeping With Sirens
Stray From The Path, Unity TX
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General Admission * Standing Room Only * If Any Seating Is Available, It Will Be On A Strictly First Come-First Serve Basis * All Ages * Additional $5 Cash Surcharge At The Door For Under 21 * Attendees Under 16 Must Be Accompanied By A Ticketed, Adult Guardian
While maintaining the passion, integrity, and unflinching honesty that has characterized their career, in 2018 The Amity Affliction are striding into new territory. With Misery, their sixth full-length, the Australian unit have woven electronic elements and even bolder hooks into their signature sound, and they have done so with humbling confidence. “It was time for a breath of fresh air, and more so for us than anyone else. We’re all really excited about the new direction, and we’ve made a record of which we’re super proud,” states vocalist and lyricist Joel Birch. “Our whole career, we’ve always felt that we’ve had to prove ourselves. We’ve had to prove we tour enough, that we’re good enough, and we’ve never been given a handout. We’ve never really been supported by other bands taking us on big tours to help us get bigger. With this record we’re standing here and stating here we are.”
The reinvention is evident from opening track “Ivy (Doomsday),” swathes of electronics suffusing it, yet with its anthemic chorus, crushing breakdown and Birch’s confessional lyrics, it remains instantly recognizable as the work of The Amity Affliction. Throughout the album, while they push their sound in previously unexplored directions and imbue every track with a distinct identity, everything they do remains fundamentally true to who they are, both as individuals and as a unit. “It was definitely somewhere that we were headed. Everyone’s a bit older and musical influences change, and how we envision the band changed,” explains Birch, who goes on to stress that they did not rely on outside musicians to help them realize this. “We always handle everything ourselves, and our producer Matt Squire helped us get the electronic stuff the way we wanted it. We came to him with clear ideas and placeholders of the sounds we wanted, and he helped us nail those down.” While they retained the formula of guitarist Dan Brown writing all of the music, Birch providing lyrics and bassist/clean vocalist Ahren Stringer weaving the two together implemented on This Could Be Heartbreak (2016), the band worked more cohesively than on any of their previous releases. With the departure of drummer Ryan Burt, they also recruited Defeater drummer Joe Longobardi, and having worked with producer Will Putney on 2014’s Let The Ocean Take Me and This Could Be Heartbreak they decided it was time for a change. “Will’s amazing and a good friend of ours, but we were writing songs that we didn’t want processed through a metal producer. We felt it would be a waste to try to go in this direction and have the same process applied to it, so we went with Matt and it was a super positive experience.” Tracked at Buzzlounge Studios in Beltsville, Maryland and Noble Street Studios in Toronto, as far as Birch is concerned the most stressful part of the process was recording several parts with clean vocals, rather than solely the screaming that fans are familiar with. “I was full of self-doubt. I was coming out of the booth during pre-production like a frightened little lamb,” he laughs wryly. “I was asking if it was okay, and everyone was telling me yes man, it’s good, or we wouldn’t let you do it!”
Having penned the heart-wrenching lyrics for This Could Be Heartbreak while caught in the throes of alcoholism and substance abuse, which only exacerbated the mental illness he has long struggled with, Birch wrote Misery over the course of the two years of sobriety that began just prior to the release of its predecessor. However, neither the band’s successes nor eliminating alcohol made his depression easier to deal with, and the lyrics for Misery reflect the difficulties he continues to face in his everyday life. “There’s been a lot of change and a lot of work to be done on who I am, and understanding who I am as a person without the addiction present. It will always be there, but I’m now living my life without substance abuse and all the things that used to define me, and made life difficult. I also had a really crazy relationship upheaval around the last record, but we worked through it and everything’s great in my relationship now. But, shit doesn’t just disappear. I find myself saying a lot on social media recently that success doesn’t change your mental health, and music remains my way of moving past certain events in my life.” For the most part, Misery is a record about addiction, and while rife with religious references, all of them ultimately come back to the role alcohol played in his life. Many of the songs are also aimed at Birch’s wife, and his awareness of the pain his decisions have caused her. This is definitely the case on standout track “Drag The Lake”, which is also about the cycle of self-abuse. “You can take a few turns in your life before you die, and I’ve definitely had a few in my time, and none of them made me sober. It was my wife that did it, but none of this was easy for her.” The title track also addresses this. “That song is about me holding onto her but still feeling like I’m just floating along, unable to ever really get out of my situation. There’s also the line ‘misery loves company, that don’t mean a thing to me,’ because this is an everyday thing to me.” However, it is stark album closer “The Gifthorse” that is perhaps most affecting, written following the suicide of Birch’s close friend, Shane Collins of Brisbane band The Gifthorse. “The line ‘There’s a message at the bottom of this bottle and it’s calling out to me’ is his line. He wrote that. Dan wrote the music for that track fairly quickly after Shane died, and I heard it and said I want to put these lyrics to that song, and he said that’s why I wrote it for you. It’s a really beautiful thing that he did, doing what he could to help me at that point.” Having admitted that all of his vocal parts for This Could Be Heartbreak were recorded while drunk, it was not until Birch listened back to the songs that he realized how bleak a place they came from, and how grave a situation he was in, which compelled him to enter AA. With Misery, all of his parts were tracked sober, though he candidly admits he was no more self-aware while in the midst of laying down his vocals. “It was a very abstract experience. I didn’t really read the lyrics, I wrote them and put them away, and while I was in the booth I did it line by line. It’s strange to be not very cognizant of what I’m putting out, and I’ve listened to the songs, but I haven’t really let anything sink in yet. I know they’re very dark, because when I was writing them I got a few emails and messages from people who had read them asking if I was alright. I don’t think I’ve really processed them thus far, and I don’t know why. I still haven’t grieved properly for Shane either, this coming in just bits and pieces in strange circumstances. I’m sort of waiting for the pin to drop, and I feel like it’s the same as far as my lyrics go. Maybe they’ll affect me more in a year, who knows?”
Having been diagnosed as bipolar prior to embarking on this summer’s Warped Tour, Birch is hopeful that medication will help him better deal with the extreme highs and lows he has long faced ahead of the shows that will take the band around the world in 2018 and 2019. While admitting that staying sober during the first year of touring following the release of This Could Be Heartbreak was difficult, and led Birch to cutting himself off from the rest of the band, such issues have since been resolved, and both he and his bandmates are looking forward to playing the songs on Misery to their fans. “This really is the most excited we’ve been with our own music in a while. It was funny, we always put records out every two years, pretty much like clockwork, and we were feeling like maybe we should make it three years after this, but while we were in the studio Dan was already saying how excited he was to write the next one!” Birch laughs. “And I’m getting more confident about my clean vocals too. ‘Ivy’ is the hardest song to sing and on Warped Tour that’s worked out okay, so we’re feeling good about this.”
Falling on the more melodic side of the post-hardcore world, Florida's Sleeping with Sirens create a whirlwind of emotion with their yearning and aggressive blend of metal and emo influences. Formed in 2009, Sleeping with Sirens -- featuring vocalist Kellin Quinn, guitarists Jack Fowler and Jesse Lawson, bassist Justin Hills, and drummer Gabe Barham -- quickly caught the attention of metalcore label Rise Records, which signed them and released their debut record, With Ears to See, And Eyes to Hear, in 2010. The album launched the band onto the Billboard Heatseekers chart, debuting at number seven and selling over 25,000 copies. Their sophomore effort, Let's Cheers to This, arrived in May of the following year. At the beginning of 2013, the bandmembers announced they had entered the studio to record their third album, and Feel was released just six months later. The album debuted at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Madness, the band's fourth studio long-player and first outing for Epitaph Records, arrived in early 2015. Live and Unplugged followed the next year, an acoustic set that also included covers of Sublime's "Santeria" and Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris." The band's fifth set, Gossip, arrived in 2017 on Warner Bros. Produced by David Bendeth, the album featured the lead single "Legends." ~ Gregory Heaney
Life often resembles a game of chess. Players outside of our control make moves that affect our everyday existence. However, recognition remains the first step to revolution. Once you know the game, you can make a difference in the outcome. On their sixth full-length, Only Death Is Real [Sumerian Records], STRAY FROM THE PATH survey the playing field and provide a book of bloody battle notes etched in hardcore energy, metal fire, and hip-hop poetry. The Long Island, NY quartet—Thomas Williams [guitar, vocals], Andrew “Drew York” Dijorio [vocals], Anthony “Dragon Neck” Altamura [bass, vocals], and Craig Reynolds [drums]—outline that fight on the record’s very cover art…
“The king equals the elite, the queen equals the government, the bishop equals the church, the knight equals the military, the rook equals the police, and the pawn equals the people,” explains Thomas. “This was the first time the vision and the theme of the album came before the music. We had the artwork first. We wrote this during a pretty dark and reflective time in our lives. In an age where government has failed, they made us feel as small and as insignificant as ever. In this game, all of the attention is turned onto the people: white versus black, Democrat versus Republican, gay versus straight, or Trump versus no Trump. They know the fight is within the community. There can be no fight against the establishment.”
Nevertheless, STRAY FROM THE PATH continue a 16-year tradition of speaking out. This tradition has transformed the group into genre luminaries. Most recently, Rock Sound placed Subliminal Criminals at #17 on its coveted “Top 50 Releases of 2015” list, while its single “First World Problem Child” [feat. Sam Carter] racked up 721K Spotify streams and counting. In support of the record, they hit nearly every corner of the globe with the likes of Architects, The Amity Affliction, Beartooth, Stick To Your Guns, and more in addition to Warped Tour.
In 2017, the boys hit the studio for their fourth straight collaboration with producer Will Putney [The Acacia Strain, Body Count] and first with vocal producer Jesse Barnett. Recording with Craig behind the kit for the first time, they ignited a fresh spark.
“Since Craig joined, the vibe of our band has been electric,” Thomas continues. “Everyone has a brand new fire in them to push us to places we’ve never been. He’s added a chemistry on and off-stage that has changed us for the better, and we’re writing our best material to date because of it. Then, there’s Will. He’s basically a member at this point. He’s our tie breaker. He understands us better than anyone. Also, Jesse brought in something we haven’t had yet on a STRAY FROM THE PATH album.”
They introduced the record with the first single “Goodnight Alt-Right”. A full-blown aural assault, it goes straight for the jugular, confronting and courting controversy head-on.
“When Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, was punched on-camera a few months back, it was great to see that he and his hatred were not being tolerated,” he explains. “We were shocked to see that people were actually defending him though. They said he should have freedom of speech. They’re not wrong. People should be able to exercise free speech. Sometimes, the things you say come with consequences. There is enough hate, misery, and division in this country that we don’t need a televised white supremacist saying, ‘This country belongs to white people.’ Bottom line: if you preach hate, expect hate.”
Elsewhere on the record, Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die and The Damned Things brings pure rock fury to the rousing and rambunctious “Strange Fiction,” and the “insane voice” of Knocked Loose’s Bryan Garris adds another dimension and dynamic to “All Day & Night.” In a rare cameo appearance, hip-hop luminary Vinnie Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks spits raw truth on “The House Always Wins” between a chaotic, combustible, and catchy hardcore onslaught.
“Vinnie might be the craziest feature we’ve ever had,” Thomas explains. “Jedi Mind Tricks, and Vinnie specifically, is one of the most politically aware and ferocious acts of our generation. I know he doesn’t collaborate much, so to have him do an entire verse was an incredible honor.”
Ultimately, only death is real comes at the right time.
“This is the world we live in,” Thomas leaves off. “It made a heavier and darker version of STRAY FROM THE PATH, and death is the only thing that’s certain.”
The cover of UNITYTX’s new EP, MADBOY, features a cartoon depiction of frontman Jay Webster shouldering a massive boulder, though from the illustration it’s hard to tell whether this represents the final step of a Herculean triumph or another entry in a Sisyphean sentence.
As it turns out, the Dallas-based hardcore/hip-hop band’s career has been both. Formed in 2014, the group has battled untold numbers of ups and downs, from numerous member changes to even more naysayers kicking back at their refusal to bow to genre norms — not to mention deep turmoil for Webster himself, including near homelessness and serious doubts about the viability of his musical dreams. Just when it seemed they were gaining traction, misfortune was always just around the corner looking to cut them down.
But now, with MADBOY set for release September 25 via Pure Noise Records, UNITYTX is living proof of the power of personal resilience and sheer will.
“Nothing ever made sense to me like music did,” Webster says. “The only shot I really had was to go for this. Coming from the mud, from nothing — the hard times motivate you to keep grinding.”
Mixing punishing hardcore breakdowns and razor-sharp riffs with the murky soul of grunge and hip-hop energy, UNITYTX — Webster, guitarists Alberto Vazquez and Ricky Cova, and drummer Jonathan Flores — bridge musical boundaries, spanning the gap between rap/rock’s forefathers and the new underground with a captivatingly rhythmic take on the heavy music genre. From the middle-finger salvo “Cross Me” (a shot at those who’ve doubted the band’s drive) to the resilient “Piece Of Mind,” the eight-song MADBOY is a battle-tested, unrelenting spin on a genre that’s stayed stagnant for far too long.
“A lot of people don’t understand you can listen to more than one genre,” the frontman says. “We sound like a thrash band? Cool. I’m still going to rap over it. I want fans to understand that there’s more out there than heavy breakdowns and screaming. This band does everything.”
As they break down barriers with not only their music but also their head-turning live show in massive settings like the So What?! Music Festival, Webster hopes he and his bandmates can someday become a guiding light for listeners with stories like his — just as artists like From First To Last’s Sonny Moore and countless others inspired him to chase his own dreams.
It’s certainly easier now, as modern-day playlist culture has broken down barriers that once seemed immovable — setting the stage for a new crop of artists who could care less about how things are supposed to be done. Because, at the end of the day, music isn’t about a specific sound; it’s not about where you came from or what you look like. It’s about the euphoria, the rage, the catharsis you feel when a song speaks to your soul like never before and opens your eyes to entirely new ways of thinking.
As far as UNITYTX have come over the past five years, both personally and as a band, they know there are still plenty of mountains ahead of them. With MADBOY and all it represents in tow, they’re finally ready to make the climb to continue transcending not just musical lines, but cultural, ethnic, and generational ones as well.
“I hope to create a culture for kids of all ethnicities,” Webster says. “I want kids in the black community who grew up like me — who want to get into punk or heavy music but don’t feel comfortable because they’re not being represented — to know it’s possible. I want every single person who comes to our shows to feel free. If we can do that, everything else will work itself out.” XX
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