Stick To Your Guns – Spectre (Album Review)

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Stick To Your Guns are back. You heard that right. It’s been 5 long years since the Orange County 5-piece have put out an LP, but the waiting is well and truly over. The wait was worth it, because what the band have put together this time around is on another level.

Now, full disclosure, this review was written by a dude with the Hope Division heart tattooed on his ankle, so it’s fair to say there’s a bit of bias. With that being said, I think most will agree with me when I say that “Spectre”, the 7th studio album from Stick To Your Guns, is some of their best material yet. Coloring outside of the lines of what a STYG record should sound like, but still bringing that ferocious and familiar sound to the listener, “Spectre” will undoubtedly quench that 5-year thirst that fans have been feeling.

For nearly 20 years, Stick To Your Guns have harnessed all of the fury they can get their hands on and have transformed it into constant barrages of iconic and anthemic tracks. It could be argued that their breakout moment was during the release of 2010’s “The Hope Division”, where they carved out an instantly recognizable blend of hardcore and metalcore. 2012 then saw “Diamond” released to the world, and the band quickly became one of the juggernauts of the metal and hardcore scene. A die-hard fan-base continued to grow with each subsequent album since, and it seems that the only way this band was going to slow down was due to something out of their control, such as a pandemic.

Half a decade after 2017’s “True View”, the group finally unleashed a beast of an album upon the world. “Spectre” is everything one loves about Stick To Your Guns, but emphasized, invigorated, and definitely just as catchy. With a runtime of about 30 minutes divided into 12 tracks, the band doesn’t overstay their welcome, either. It’s an album that’s militantly purposeful, and the band’s aggression is only matched by a feeling of resolve that emanates from the music.

The album begins with “(My Heart Is A…)”, a gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar that invites the listener in, to join the band on the journey that lies just ahead. It sets the tone; there’s melody of course, but there’s a sense of deep urgency as the electric guitars fade in and things begin to roughen up. Vocalist Jesse Barnett then commands attention and heralds the beginning of “Weapon”.

Immediately, the listener will understand that Stick To Your Guns have not lost a single bit of their unique energy over time. The whole band explodes with big anthemic “whoa” gang vocals and a fast-paced hardcore sequence. It feels as if they have something important to say, and there’s no time to waste. The chorus is as catchy as anyone would expect a STYG chorus to be, and the breakdown is gross in all the right ways. “Mercy and venom; I am what you lack,” roars Barnett above heavily distorted guitars and a drum kit that was mixed with one thing in mind, oppression. George Schmitz’s performance on this album is fantastic, and this is made bolder and more dominating with a seriously punchy kick and a massive snare drum that rings out like a gunshot.

Now what would a Stick To Your Guns album be without a collection of unique and provocative audio samples? Personally, I don’t want to know. The audio samples the band has used throughout the years are just as much of a part of the group as the music is. “Who Dares” begins this way, and it’s also on this track that I immediately noticed how intense Barnett’s harsh vocals have become. Screaming lines like “live and die” or “good God, we will see you in hell”, it’s clear that he has brought every bit of experience and passion within him to the forefront of this album. This is immediately backed up and pushed harder in the following track “Hush”, which is surely a standout track off of “Spectre”. Gang whispers are something I didn’t know existed, but they are aplenty in this track, and they’re carried out across an evil section that feels insanely tyrannical. As if it wasn’t already filthy enough, the band slow things down and pummel the listener with a final breakdown, all whilst whispering “hush”. It’s a track that deserves to be repeated immediately. I’ll wait here for you whilst you go back and enjoy it another time.

To pace things nicely, we’re now given a lighter, more punk-filled track in the form of “A World To Win”. It’s a great palette cleanser, and most importantly it’s damn fun. It’s easy to imagine guitarists Josh James and Chris Rawson grinning from ear to ear as they rapidly strum through a thrashy bridge section or Schmitz pounding away non-stop behind the kit. The same goes for the following track, “Open Up My Head”, but in a completely different way. This number must have been something special for the band to create, as it’s a solid deviation from anything the band has done before. It’s a dawdling rock beat that immediately reminds me of the classic track “Where Is My Mind” from Pixies, but turned up and given new life. Easily a highlight track on “Spectre”, “Open Up My Head” and its simple yet powerful chorus will be scarred on people’s memories for a real long time.

The hissing violence of Barnett comes back all of a sudden for “Liberate”, a straightforward pummeling that will have hands being thrown everywhere in a live setting. The huge stomping beatdown is something of intense magnitude, and on returning to the main theme, it’s clear that the message in the track is delivered. It’s simple in its viciousness and it feels as if the intention is exactly that. The same can’t be said for the following track, “The Shine”, however. It’s bigger and more powerful in every way. The energy picks up considerably, the sections are unpredictable, and the chorus is potentially the best one off the album. James and Rawson’s guitar work on this is fantastic, as is Barnett’s vocals. It’s placed perfectly in the album as well, giving a huge burst of refreshing energy to the listener in the same way a 3pm double espresso perks you up during a busy day.

The riffs keep on coming in “Spectre”, with “Instruments Of The End” following “The Shine”. It keeps hitting me how much energy has been injected into this album. It seems that it’s a combination of the songwriting, the ‘never been better’ condition of all members, and the vicious production carried out by Drew Fulk. The mix is massive, with everything turned all the way up. Including the intense rattle of Andrew Rose’s bass strings gives it that extra serrated edge as breakdowns are thrown at the listener at any given moment.Even in the softer moments of “Spectre” such as the 10th track, “Father”, there is still a beautiful atmosphere that taps into that soulful and passionate feeling that Stick To Your Guns is known for evoking from listeners.

The first single released off of this track was “More Of Us Than Them”, and this sits in the second last spot on the album. Rose gets some well-deserved time in the spotlight during the verses, playing a hypnotizing melody under the perfectly distorted cleans from Barnett. The screaming of “societal atrophy” is blood-curdling, and the final breakdown is the perfect way to finish off the album’s exhibition of animosity.

The final track is only matched in its beauty by its simplicity. Barnett sits down and serenades us in “No Way To Live”, bringing us all further into the theme of the album, but in a much more gentle and vulnerable way. I feel that sometimes Barnett’s clean vocals, especially this soft, are overlooked, when they tend to be just as iconic to the sound of Stick To Your Guns as any other vocal shape he transforms into. Think of the short yet gorgeous track “Erida” in “The Hope Division” or even the whole “The Meaning Remains” EP, where we’re even treated to a cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me”.

At the end of this album, it becomes pretty clear that Stick To Your Guns haven’t just released another LP… they’ve thrown all of their years of experience and love into their material and what’s been born is a body of work that will be some of their best, if not their actual best work to date. The energy put out through each track, be it aggressive or vulnerable, and the intention of creating larger than life choruses that will rival old classics like “Amber” or “We Still Believe”, has proven to be the winning modus-operandi to deliver the best version of the band to date.

Long story short? If you miss out on this album, well, that’s no way to live.

Released On: July 292022
Released By: Pure Noise Records
Genre: Metalcore/Hardcore

Musicians:

  • Jesse Barnett / Vocals
  • Josh James / Lead Guitar
  • Chris Rawson / Rhythm Guitar
  • Andrew Rose / Bass Guitar
  • George Schmitz / Drums

“Spectre” Track-list:

  1. (My Heart Is A…)
  2. Weapon
  3. Who Dares
  4. Hush
  5. A World To Win
  6. Open Up My Head
  7. Liberate
  8. The Shine
  9. Instruments Of The End
  10. Father
  11. More Of Us Than Them
  12. No Way To Live

8.9 Excellent

“Spectre” is a gargantuan offering from Stick To Your Guns, and may well be their best LP yet. It’s a big call, when genre classics like “The Hope Division” and “Diamond” are still out there being spun religiously by fans. But whatever people love about the band, be it the energy they put out or the infectious passion that oozes from their music, is amplified in every way on “Spectre”. Soaring choruses are abundant, and bone-snapping breakdowns are no less frequent. The members are all operating at their best, with vocalist Jesse Barnett laying down the performance of a life time. Spectre is a must-listen for any metalcore or hardcore fan.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8.5
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