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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

Armada Rallies Against the Suburbs

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The story never gets old: Kids discover hardcore punk. Kids decide to start a band. Kids pour all of their heart and soul into songs that mean everything to them. Kids play these songs with a passion that is absolutely infectious, one that reminds even the most jaded of listeners of the power of music.

It’s this narrative that keeps me going to basement shows, close to 20 years since I was transformed by the first note of Minor Threat’s “Filler.” It still gives me goose bumps when I hear a band that is able to channel the feeling that punk rock, whatever its flaws, can still change lives.

Milwaukee-based Armada is such a band. With song titles like “School Spirit,” “Give Up” and “Words on Deaf Ears,” the young members of Armada (Drew Meier on guitar; John Taylor on bass; Matthew Tomashek on drums; and Jon Gorski on vocals) are not necessarily pushing the genre of hardcore punk in new directions, either sonically or lyrically (at least not yet). The band’s catalog is full of two-minute thrashers that serve as soundtracks for vocalist Gorski’s rants against everything he hated about growing up in the suburb of Franklin. To Gorski, Armada has become “a way to rally against the suburban life we were given.” Yet there is something comforting in the material’s familiarity, a feeling that ultimately brings me back to my experiences growing up in the sterile suburbs of Philadelphia.

But there is more to Armada’s appeal than their ability to awaken dormant nostalgia. What is most remarkable about Armada is the energy that comes through in their recorded material. The songs on the band’s latest release, a 7-inch EP titled Premonitions (Volatile Recordings), sound incredibly fresh, tight and focused. Songs like “All My Friends Are Dead” and “Houses” are played with a manic intensity, fueled by Tomashek’s aggressive drumming, that separates them from countless other hardcore acts. There is a purity present in this material that convinces the listener that these songs should matter—for both performer and audience.

The band also seems to have a strong understanding of what makes for a good hardcore song. One definitely hears such recent acts as Modern Life Is War and American Nightmare/Give Up the Ghost in the band’s material, but there are also nods to late-’80s, East Coast posi-core acts and such seminal thrash bands as Infest. As bassist Taylor notes, he “discovered hardcore when I was 14 or 15 years old. Before that, nothing ever seemed hard enough or aggressive enough stylistically for me.” Taylor and his fellow band mates have grown up living this music—and they now welcome the opportunity to give back to a scene that has meant so much to them.

Armada’s Jan. 2 show at the Borg Ward will launch a 12-day Midwestern tour for the band, a tour that will hit such cities as Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Louisville, Ky. It’s heartening to see a Milwaukee-based hardcore act get out of the city, as most of our harder-edged bands cross state lines only on rare occasions. Here’s hoping for a successful tour—and for a kick-ass send-off show.
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