Artist: Stray From the Path
Album: Internal Atomics
If I’m being honest, I have always had a tremendous soft spot for Stray From the Path. Ever since hearing “Capital” off their Sumerian debut, Villains, all those years ago, the melting pot of metalcore that these Long Islanders craft has always caught my ear in just the right way. However, even independently of my own love for the act, Stray From the Path are an intriguing band when it comes to their growth. They’ve progressed uniquely in the sense that not only have they grown with each release musically—where technicality, songwriting and dynamics are concerned—but that they have also grown to complement the increasingly intense settings everyday Americans have come to call “home.” This was most notable on the shift from the “Negative and Violent” days to songs like those on their record Anonymous. This isn’t to say the band haven’t always been political, but as America—and the world—dived deeper into an all-consuming, omnipresent sense of sociopolitical incongruity, Stray From the Path rose to the challenge, filling a niche that the heavy music community didn’t even realize was empty.
This trend—blending emotion and introspection into a canvas of harsh, scathing takes at contemporary politics—continues on Internal Atomics. In short, this record is the catchiest, heaviest and most fun Stray have been since Make Your Own History, while still not backing down on issues of race, poverty, religion and equality, making Internal Atomics their most comprehensive and authentic record yet.
Somewhere in the front half of the decade, Stray From the Path underwent a transition from chaotic, dissonant and aggressive math-infused metalcore to “alternative hardcore,” a self-prescribed title which, in all honesty, fits better than most conventional genres. It isn’t without being misleading, though, as the band have continued to retain those elements of off-the-wall groove and technicality that gives their songs a unique edge compared to many of their peers. This element remains abundant throughout Internal Atomics, where percussionist Craig Reynolds lays down his most intriguing and mesmerizing work behind the skins yet. Songs like the album opener, “Fortune Teller” are rambunctious from start to finish, highlighting Reynolds’ seemingly unending wellspring of energy. Others, like “Beneath the Surface,” incorporate elements of ambience, where Reynolds’ minimal percussion works beautifully with Anthony Altamura’s bass to keep the listener’s head bobbing, waiting for the next scathing salvo of bombastic drumming and grisly, groovy low end. Between Reynolds and Altamura, Internal Atomics runs on what may as well be nuclear power, with this dynamic duo pounding out a remarkable foundation, all to be filled-out and thickened up by the jaw-dropping work of guitarist Thomas Williams. Williams, the band’s sole remaining founding member is an absolutely integral aspect of Stray From the Path, and the manner in which he blends elements of contemporary metalcore into socially-conscious punk, groove metal and hip-hop throughout Internal Atomics is incredible. “Holding Cells for the Living Hell” is one incredible example of the group—Williams chief among them—channeling their unpolished metalcore roots, while “Beneath the Surface” and “The First Will Be Last” see the band’s (at times) overt Rage Against the Machine influence woven into a soundscape of bouncy metal with a flow curiously similar to late-90s hip hop dashed atop for good measure. The point is that Stray From the Path’s musical dynamism is at an all time high on Internal Atomics, and it doesn’t stop there.
Vocally, Drew York has as distinct a voice and swagger as one can have in the contemporary metalcore market, and in the same way that the genre’s populous these days can hear Knocked Loose’s Bryan Garris and know exactly who’s playing, York’s voice elicits the same response. In brief, York is still York. He doesn’t do pig squeals or tunnel-throat lows, whatever the fuck that means, on Internal Atomics. His “newfound vocal growth” is non-existent—and that’s okay, in fact, it’s even excellent. York’s voice is a familiar sound, an anchor even, for the listener to latch on to, and at this point, if you’re still checking Stray records out, York’s voice probably isn’t a deterrent to you. Internal Atomics sees York’s lyrics continuing to stride the tedious tightrope between introspection and immolating political stances with confidence and ease, boldly juxtaposing songs like “Beneath the Surface” against “Holding Cells for the Living Hell.” True—Internal Atomics is probably the band’s most openly and consistently political record yet—but it also includes references to the band’s past material alongside enough diversity in content to keep it sounding fresh and keeping the listener engaged. The current political atmosphere sucks. We know it sucks. No one’s happy about it—or, rather, if you are happy about it, this isn’t the record for you—so we don’t need a record just telling us “yeah, this sucks.” York—and Stray—know that, and instead provide the heavy music community with a record that offers explanation and insight (personal and otherwise) into today’s state of affairs, and, hey, might just get the listener pissed off enough to think critically about it.
Internal Atomics is an intense record. It starts off frantic and doesn’t let up. It’s motivating, mercilessly heavy and thought provoking all while being relatable and—best of all—fun and easy to listen to. Loaded with guest features predictable and otherwise, slimmed down to avoid filler and monotony and amped up on six or seven of those Bang™ energy drinks, Internal Atomics feels like listening to pure, pissed off, ravenous energy in the form of Stray From the Path sounding the best they have in years, if not ever.
For Fans Of: Counterparts, Left Behind, Rage Against the Machine, Jesus Piece, Kublai Khan TX
By: Connor Welsh