From the Ashes

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California punk and hardcore have always been fellow travelers with skate and surf culture; the convergent scenes had common beefs with suburban boredom and clueless authority. But as the Cali sound was discovered by a national audience, and surfing and skateboarding entered a new renaissance of extreme sport and big-money sponsorship, the original identification with subculture and subversion was perhaps diluted a bit. But while corporatization is still a factor, in the 21st century West Coast labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck have proven their staying power and independent spirit. Enabled by Internet savvy and genius marketing initiatives like the Vans Warped Tour, these labels and their bands have taken up the activism and subversion gauntlet once again, influencing a new generation of fresh-faced punks and X-Games skaters with ideas and attitudes that are anything but mainstream. Now 15 years on, Hermosa Beach punk veterans Pennywise have issued From the Ashes. It's a welcome, rocking return to form after some weaker efforts, but it also takes a page from NOFX's War on Errorism, promoting an agenda of awareness amidst its fist-pumping, sun-drenched anthems. The Cali bands' platform is one of wagon-circling. Fed up with conservative government, they encourage the punks and kids to pay attention to what's going on, but close ranks in support of each other. It's a reengineering of the original punk rock ethic in the face of a new enemy. Throughout "God Save the USA," the dynamic "This Is Only a Test," and the raging "Punch Drunk," vocalist Jim Lindberg rallies his troops. "They're draining the banks now but no one will tell you," he spits in the latter. "If you don't believe it then they already got you." All this consciousness raising is admirable. But what's even better is the stripped-down, classic Cali punk delivery system that Pennywise deploys throughout From the Ashes. "Something to Change" recalls vintage skatepunk, bitching about boredom over a breakneck brutally simplistic screed. Pennywise sums up its lengthy career, informed cynicism, and warning tone with the ringing power chords of closing anthem "Judgment Day." Lindberg asks, "Who ever knew there'd be days like these when the world could knock us to our knees?" It's the skill of a veteran band to recall its salad days while rocking the recruits, and still clock in at under three minutes.

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