Toronto via Newfoundland punk rockers Brutal Youth signed to Montreal’s Stomp Records in late 2015 before releasing Sanguine. The firecracker of an album gives listeners the back-to-basics in hardcore punk, while simultaneously throwing curveballs to the punk rock regulars. The band is known for mixing classic punk elements with pop-punk vocal sensibilities. Sanguine showcases the band’s ability to toe the line between underground and mainstream perfectly. The fourteen high-energy tracks on the album are cohesive and fast-paced. Most of the songs are short, peppered with machine-gun drumming, bashed-out bar chords and singer Patty O’Lantern’s screeched vocals. The album doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, but it does provide the listener with just the right balance of common and time-honoured punk rock and new twists on the hardcore punk genre.
Sanguine is divided into the five stages of grief: “Denial,” “Anger,” “Bargaining,” “Depression” and “Acceptance.” This concept is unique and cool, though I find the tracks don’t vary as dramatically between stages as I might have expected (with the exception of “Denial,” which is the mellowest part of the album). “Denial” is the opening stage of the album and sets a doomy, sludge-metal tone until the songs shift into “Anger” on track four. The energy picks up noticeably on this track; fans of skate and crust punk will enjoy every song from here on out. The band manages to maintain those classic elements of speed, high-velocity strumming and discordant noise-making while mixing in some rockabilly on “Hostile Work Environment,” and even pop “woahs” and melodies.
The songs explore the human condition with lyrics addressing themes of loss, betrayal, suicide, death, and hope. On the title track, O’Lantern screams, “I know it hurts because I’ve been there too / And it might get worse / The only thing to do / Is just trust yourself and see it through.” Despite the grim theme of Sanguine, the listener gets the sense that there is more to Brutal Youth’s perspective on death and loss than frustration and anger.
This is most apparent in the second-to-last track, their tribute to Todd Serious, late front-person of local punk legends the Rebel Spell. The song is the crown jewel in an album fraught with existential anxiety and grief, paired perfectly with the desperate vocals and frantic guitar and beats that accompany every track in this album. Although not every song is distinct, there are a few pieces of ear candy, and just enough unexpected moments thrown in to distinguish Brutal Youth from every other hardcore band playing the Bovine Sex Club this year.
I liked the balance between the harder aspects of the album and the musicianship. It’s obvious that although Brutal Youth have their feet planted firmly in the roots of their genre, they’re not afraid to take some musical chances, and Sanguine benefits from their risks.