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After the Fall's punk-rock is best-of-year, shiver-inducingly good

I still have a soft spot in my heart for well-done punk. Many people grow out of their punk phase, but I didn’t. Mine just morphed. I still mosh and skank and throw up my fist with the best of them; I’m just more selective with who I go all out for. Flogging Molly earned my passion, as noted in my Righs review a couple weeks ago. If I ever saw After the Fall live, they would earn my fervor as well.

There’s nothing complicated about After the Fall or their album Fort Orange. They play punk rock with a constant snare, more strumming than should be possible, and hollered vocals that waver between screaming and singing. This is my favorite vocal style, as it shows a singer who really wants to be singing, but occasionally becomes too passionate for notes and has to scream. It gives me shivers. And there aren’t that many bands (and even fewer punk bands) that can give me shivers the way that “1994” does.

They don’t usually stray toward the pop-punk end of things, choosing more often to err on the side of hardcore. But they rarely set up in chugga-chugga breakdown mode, preferring the spastic side of hardcore, as seen in the brutal, flailing attack of the minute-long “It’s Her Choice.” They also keep it short and tight; of the thirteen songs here, only three make it over 2:10. Most clock in around a minute and a half. This rapid-fire release of songs helps distinguish the songs. If they were any longer, the stuff might run together. Instead, it feels like After the Fall is dropping bombs, one after the other.

“Poor Excuse” showcases the chops of After the Fall, as there’s some impressive metal-esque guitar soloing. The strumming also shows up in some interesting patterns. The drummer keeps pounding that snare; the muscles in his right arm must be about twice as large as his left. “Routine” makes it clear how tight the band is, as there are timing breaks and tempo shifts that require a lot of band cohesiveness. This isn’t just a frantic, “play-as-fast-as-you-can-GO!” band. They know exactly what they’re doing; they decided to play punk because they wanted to play punk.

They show they aren’t a one-trick pony with the slowed-down melodic sections in “Decapitate,” the only song that breaks three minutes (and barely, at 3:10). It’s an impressive song, as they maintain their attitude even through the quieter sections. They keep it punk by (hilariously) having the drummer play as if it wasn’t a quiet section. What’s even crazier is that it becomes one of the most memorable moments on the album. Shows what I know, right?

After the Fall’s Fort Orange is the best punk release I’ve heard this year. I’m sad it came out last year, although I might still sneak it into my best-of list at the end of the year (I do what I want!!). If you like straight-up, snare-heavy, passionate, scream-it-loud-and-mosh-along punk rock, you need this record. Or, at the very least, a download of “1994.” It will give you shivers, it’s so good. That is, if you recognize shivers while you’re flailing in a pit.