Stretch Armstrong

Engage

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Stretch Arm Strong's second effort for Tooth & Nail's heavy music imprint Solid State is a rousing collection of clean-burning hardcore revivalism varnished with a melodic sheen. While the record strikes quickly with the right and left lockstep hooks of "Raise Your Fist" and "We Bleed," vocalist Chris McLane and his mates sound much more comfortable on "Rising Again," which lets McLane turn off his conventional hardcore yawp for an impressively rich and oddly human singing voice. The ambitious chorus might have some purists shaking their heads, but the track's raw, half-time verses suggest East Coast post-hardcore at its creative zenith. Stretch Arm Strong has always enjoyed mixing melodic elements into its two-guitar, pit-friendly attack, so "Rising Again"'s parts might not actually be that disparate from one another. Besides, who in that pit isn't going to love screaming "Helpless!" and "Restless!" into the mike when the band rips into "Devil Shoots Devil" at the next show? Despite the parade of guest vocalists (Thursday's Geoff Rickly; Ian Larrabee from Reach the Sky) and the obvious, crowd-pleasing punk singalongs of "Black Clouds" and "Miles Apart," there's an intangible quality wrapped up in Engage that suggests it's not simply a play for a big payday. Maybe it's the trite yet earnest lyricism urging unity among the kids, or the white-hot purity of a hardcore band hitting on all cylinders (see the heartfelt Rites of Spring impersonation "Ignition"). Whatever the reason, Stretch Arm Strong has delivered a record that genuflects on the hot coals separating accessibility from the usual hardcore aggravation.

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