Released Feb. 4th on White Drugs/ATO Records
“Are you the antichrist or the holy ghost?” asks Matt Caughthran in the “The Unholy Hand”, the opening salvo on The Bronx’s fourth eponymously-titled album, “Do you wanna die or just come real close?” They’re questions aimed squarely at the band members themselves, addressing the dual personalities the group has fluctuated between over the last 6 years. In one incarnation they’re The Bronx, a bunch of hard-rocking LA dudes with hardcore roots; in the other they’re Mariachi El Bronx, a full-on mariachi band with authentic instruments and costumes. The last proper Bronx album was in 2008; since then they’ve been somewhat eclipsed by their mariachi side, releasing 2 Mariachi El Bronx records, touring Europe, and opening for the Foo Fighters all under their alter ego. So in a lot of ways The Bronx IV is the band’s rock side reasserting itself, and “The Unholy Hand” blatantly addresses this Jeckyl-and-Hyde-like duality and the struggle to balance the group’s two personalities.
“The Unholy Hand” is also about as close as the album comes to The Bronx’s early hardcore sound (well, “Under the Rabbit” and single “Ribcage” are pretty close). Over the years they’ve shifted their sound a bit, becoming more of a hard rock band with punk roots. I’m reminded of seeing them on the 2008 Warped Tour: They were about to play their then-new single, “Knifeman”, which was a significant shift in the hard rock direction. Caughthran dismissed the mixed reception the song had received from audiences thus far, saying “The Bronx is gonna do what The Bronx wants to do.” That’s certainly a philosophy they’ve held to, not only with their developing rock sound but also, of course, with the whole mariachi trip. The Bronx IV is definitely a hard rock record rather than a punk rock or hardcore one. Songs like “Along for the Ride”, “Youth Wasted”, and “Too Many Devils” veer away from the mania of their early tunes in favor of tight riffs, a vibe that continues through most of the album.
There are a few more complex tracks though: “Torches” provides a nice midpoint to the album, going a bit minimalist and midtempo but with a build to a big chorus. “Life Less Ordinary” brings things down to a simmer with introspective lyrics on Caughthran’s role as frontman: “I’m not ashamed to say I’ve lost my mind / I’ve been walking backwards my whole life / Some might say that there’s a price I’ve paid / For a life less ordinary / Welcome to my masquerade”. The album closes out with the rave-up of “Last Revelation”, declaring “Have we learned nothing at all?
A real close call is just the same as damnation”.
I was able to catch The Bronx at the Casbah just a few days before the album’s release, and it was an excellent show. The new numbers seem to pack more punch in the live setting, and the old favorites like “History’s Stranglers” and “Heart Attack American” made the crowd go berserk. It was all I could do not to get crushed up there against the stage. Having seen Mariachi El Bronx about 4 months prior, it was nice to see The Bronx back rocking after almost 5 years. Even if I miss the wild hardcore of their debut, The Bronx IV is still a rad album and shows that they aren’t interested in repeating themselves, while the live show proves they can still go as crazy as they did 10 years ago.