3 out of 5
Producer: Jerry Finn
So we dealt with pop snotty punk for a few years, and then there was this slight shift when bands like Good Charlotte wore eyeliner and maybe as a response to all the poop and pee la la la’s the genre swung around to Fall Out Boys and My Chemical Romances, where we got dark and gloomy again – in terms of having dyed black hair and talking about suicide over going to the mall – and the music got funneled through this Victory Records filter and was labeled ‘screamo.’ As usual, ‘screamo’ had been around prior to that in much more abrasive variations, but nonetheless: a shift. I’ve sung producer Finn’s praises for his work on Sum 41 and Superdrag, and even though I’m not a Green Day or Blink-182 fan, I still the the man is capable of turning energetic music up to 11 and giving it a perfect radio gloss without sacrificing that raw energy any given band is thrashing through their instruments. So I saw his name on Vendetta Red, and though I suspected the dark and gloomy act with the garish cover art and titles like ‘Accident Sex’ and ‘Suicide Party,’ I wanted to hear what new magic sin Finn had committed.
And opener ‘There Only Is’ does exactly what it’s supposed to do – it knocks your fucking socks off. You have no choice in the matter. It starts off with a good and groovy low-end thump of rock with some nicely twinkling or crunching guitar knocking out nodable riffs and Zach Davidson’s confident vocals giving us some interesting imagery that though it never, on this album, quite congeals into something that sticks, at least shuffles off to the side of normal to try to paint pictures of sadness in an indirect fashion. There’s also a prevalence of abuse imagery here, the main narrative track on this juxtaposed with one of ‘Between’s shinier and poppier sounding songs – ‘Stay Home’ – but again, Davidson would really buckle down for the superior followup disc to carve out deeper and more defined feelings and words that helped that album seem like a revelation of what Vendetta Red wanted to (c0uld’ve) been. But anyhow, back on ‘Never and Now,’ opening track, ‘heads on family crests’ and okay, sounds good… and then the music pauses… and they break out the screamo. But they let loose. This wasn’t exactly radio-friendly sing-song screaming mixed to the background while some pansy dude sings about high school hallways, this was throat tearing, amped up madness, all the more impressive since it’s Davidson handling both sides of the singing.
You’re all blustered from this lead track that it carries you through to the other album highlights – which include some more screamo masterpieces – ‘Caught You Like a Cold’ – but also the less hook-based songs like the swooningly moody ‘Ambulance Chaser’ that prove that Red has the song-writing abilities even when you take out the yelling elements, something they would capitalize on next time. As the Allmusic review of this disc points out, a lot of this material existed on a previous release, but Finn came in and really glossed it up and exacerbated the highs and lows to make it grabbing. The takeaway being that Vendetta Red could write songs before the major label came a’knockin’. But, once you’ve recovered from the screamo shock and come back to the disc with a level head, it’s not that the majority of it is filler at all – it’s just that the in-between tracks are… hm… very good. Catchy, well played, but with some element of restraint that prevents them from being top notch.
So consider this three stars a great big three stars – ‘Between the Never and the Now’ is a surprising album, with lots of replay value. But it’s held back a little by the band having to come more into their own, and figure out an identity that doesn’t just lump them in with a genre.