Cast the First Stone

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With their second album, Cast the First Stone, Ensign ups the heaviness quotient, resulting in a pummeling listen that may be a little too close to metal for some tastes. All 16 songs follow the hardcore blueprint: a quick burst of chords, a brief reprieve from the bass, then a relentless spring to the end, as the vocalist shouts out serious lyrics, usually about politics or society. Like any hardcore record, it's over pretty quickly, but the heavy guitars -- which sound all the heavier because of the clean production -- mean that it's even more of an endurance test than the average hardcore record. And while hardcore is about power and speed, Ensign's metallic leanings illustrate that there's a fine line between razor-edged aggression and brute force. This may be something that only bothers old-school hardcore fans, but it's worth noting, since Cast the First Stone may be an album that makes them feel old. Younger fans -- especially listeners who came to hardcore through metal -- won't notice anything amiss and will likely enjoy the record, since it has enough momentum and rage to keep their attention, even if it ultimately delivers nothing out of the ordinary. Unless you count that heaviness.

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