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Throwdown's followers insist that the Southern California residents are a cut above most of the bands in the metalcore field, which was extremely crowded in the '90s and early 2000s. And when Haymaker is playing, one is inclined to agree with that assertion. For all its bombast and sledgehammer brutality, Haymaker is simply smarter and better constructed than most of 2003's metalcore CDs -- which is saying a lot when you consider just how much of a metalcore glut there was that year. Haymaker isn't quite as heavy and dense as some metalcore outings; Throwdown give listeners more room to breathe and don't go out of their way to be exhausting. But while that room-to-breathe factor is a plus, it isn't the main thing that makes Haymaker superior to competing metalcore discs -- the things that make this album above average are the hooks, the vocals, and the lyrics. Lead singer Dave Peters favors the sort of tortured, screaming vocal style that metalcore is known for, but his screaming doesn't make the lyrics difficult or impossible to understand (which is a common problem among metalcore, grindcore, death metal, and black metal bands). You can easily understand the lyrics that are coming out of his mouth, and those lyrics -- for all their angst, anger, rebellion, and catharsis -- are relatively thoughtful. Peters often addresses the importance of things like friendship and self-respect, thus reflecting Throwdown's straight-edge outlook. Ultimately, Haymaker's lyrics are more positive than negative, but without getting into the sort of preachy political correctness that has made some straight-edge bands off-putting and even annoying. Heaven knows, there were plenty of metalcore releases to choose from in 2003; Haymaker is certainly among the more memorable ones.

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