4 out of 5
Produced by: Dean Baltulonis, Bob Strakele, Matt Henderson (engineered by)
I think every hardcore group that’s chosen to take volume as their M.O. has to struggle with balance; across an album’s worth of songs, if you’re always at 11 – which Modern Life is War is, with Jeff Eaton’s powerhouse vocals and their near non-stop pummeling of instruments – you can manipulate pace, song or album length, and other various variables to insert some sense of beginning, middle, and end, else you risk overwhelming your audience’s earholes. As with followup Witness, MLIW try to add in some slower moments toward album’s end – By the Sea; A Tale of Two Cities – and it’s wisely conceived, but it also draws a contrast: tracks where they’re going all out all the time rule the day, and are also some of the best, most inciting hardcore punk rock tracks from amongst their peers at the time. Jeff’s lyrics, though tracing familiar tales of fight-fer-yer-rights, are written at such a higher conceptual level than are commonly associated with the scene, crafting recognizable and yet personal narratives / thoughts, and not relying on the usual swears to make some aggressive point. The group’s compositions – Chris Honeck on bass, Tyler Oleson on drums, John Eich and Matt Hoffman on guitars – are unrelenting but varied, finding different ways to mix up chugga chugga with punk rock slams to play off of Eaton’s differing shouting intonations; it’s understandable why there’s difficulty with maintaining this intensity when things are slowed down a bit, though the relatively short(er) opening track, Breaking the Cycle, which is also stripped down but used as a lead-in to the excellent Late Bloomers, shows how this can work at its most ideal.
The Deathwish reissue has two 7″ bonus tracks at album’s end, which actually end up forming a nice, straightforward coda to the gang vocals rockout of closer First and Ellen.
Emotive, ear-shredding punk metal at its best.