Do It With Malice - The Burned-Over District
Record Label: Ska Mutiny Records
Release Date: October 17, 2010
This is how I approach an album I’ll be reviewing: I have some interest in the music before I hear the album. In this case, it's ska punk mixed with metal-like riffage and a two-piece horn section (the specific variation here they call “ska-core”). The first listen-through of the album is not context-specific, that is, it can happen wherever, whenever, usually as background, just so I get a sense of the style and overall tone of the album. This is followed by two or three more intensive listens, to hone in on the details and ingrain the songs in my head, pick out favorites. These: “6-18,” “Russian Roulette,” “Dock Up,” “No Music.” When I get to actually writing the review, I listen to the album constantly as I do so. But by and large, an album-under-review is not music for when I just want something to listen to, not until I finish writing and the pressure is off. Such listening conjures up feelings of unfulfilled obligations, which are never fun.
Except. With Do It With Malice, a five-piece band out of Buffalo, New York (I have relatives there!) this was not the case. During the admittedly brief period I’ve spent writing music reviews, their sophomore album The Burned-Over District has been the only album to burrow into my head so completely that I’ve had various parts of it stomping through my head for the past week while I procrastinated in writing this review.
It’s a peculiar, high-octane mix of music this band plays: like hardcore ska punk, but with guitar and drum work more characteristic of metal, with a saxophone and a trombone creating drama and adding melody upon melody (there are plenty of hooks to go around) while Chris Delmont spits out rapidfire vocals—all of which I imagine makes for a big, powerful presence onstage, and translates remarkably well both into the more ambient, rhythmic passages where the music is slower and less dense and to the slower numbers like “Rabiddz” and “pirT egnartS” (whose title I cannot forgive). When the horn section is successfully mated with thunderous guitar and metal-based drumrolls, it packs quite a punch (the driving outro of “Russian Roulette” is one example, as is “6-18”), and adds a great deal of distinctive character to the music.
The lyrics are significantly more subtle and interesting on The Burned-Over District than on the band’s debut, Symphonic Homicide, in which they more explicitly resembled those characteristic of metal (i.e. murder, male sexual potency) and were less shrewd. Take a line from “No Music,” one of The Burned-Over District’s standout tracks, a lyrically ornate depiction of the death of the music industry: “Between eyeliner overuse and skin-tight jeans I’ve lost the truth.” Or, a dig worthy of Elvis Costello: “I’m still yet to be convinced of your apparent common sense / This act of imitating arrogance has shown through counterfeit.” The production, too, is markedly improved in their second release.
Sometimes, though, one of the band’s elements sounds a little out of place, which is understandable from a band who mixes styles and instrumentation as freely as Do It With Malice. Occasionally, the horn section can’t match the tempo of the rest of the music and sounds a little thin by comparison. Similarly, the band’s apparent aversion to recording a clean, unaltered vocal track grates after a while. And most of the metal-born shouted backup lyrics in the background don’t seem exactly right when situated alongside the horn section. But when everything mixes together in the proper proportions, it’s wonderful.
The powerful, layered “6-18,” which seems to describe a vengeful, very personal war in epic terms—a personal crusade writ large, the bitter feelings of the betrayed—succeeds on every level, its evolution spanning from a plaintive opening to a galloping, vengeful instrumental passage and an anthemic chorus. At times, the dynamics of the songs on The Burned-Over District more than rival those of Streetlight Manifesto, perhaps ska punk’s current go-to band (and whose horn section, true, sounds a little more full-bodied).
Do It With Malice is out hacking away at its own niche in the surprisingly large ska punk community, and based on The Burned-Over District they’re doing a great job of it.