Review: Black Army Jacket, 222 (Brainscan, 2015)

Amidst a discography packed with splits (with the likes of Corrupted, Noothgrush, Spazz, etc.) and compilation appearances, 222 was the lone full-length from New York City powerviolence outfit Black Army Jacket—originally co-released in 1999 by Chainsaw Safety Records and Reservoir Records (the latter of which was run by Black Army Jacket guitarist Andrew Orlando). Some of the band's only output that was not collected on the excellent Closed Casket CD back in 2004, 222 was certainly due for the reissue treatment, and what better means than serving as the debut release from Orlando's brand new label, Brainscan Records—freshly remixed and remastered, with two previously unreleased bonus tracks from the original sessions to boot!?

With a lineup (No Echo's own Carlos Ramirez among them) having also been involved with Burnt by the Sun, Discordance Axis, Disnihil, Hope Collapse, Human Remains, Lakota, Municipal Waste, and quite a bit more throughout the years (especially considering their drummer was the extremely prolific underground legend Dave Witte), it should come as no surprise that Black Army Jacket was openly working with a wider range of influences than many comparable acts. You'll pick out elements of classic hardcore, grind, crust punk, tracks that sporadically teeter on the edge of the chaotically noisy, etc. Generally fast and explosive, sure, but—like any great powerviolence—balanced with slow, pounding rhythms and vocals all over the board from midrange yelling, to bitter high-end sneers, to more of a guttural shout, some spoken passages, etc. (Contributing to said vocal diversity, drummer Dave Witte handles lead vocals on the blasting "When I Can't See You, Are You There?," while Carlos tackles vocals on "U68," an ode to NYC's U68 Music Television.)

Openers "Meow Meow Meow" and "Lightswitch" both exemplify some of the more traditional midpaced hardcore influences (musically speaking); killer chunky palm-muting grooves lend a catchier edge to the awesome "Primitive Crawl"; "Distance" sounds like straight-up Septic Death; and "DANTAM" offers a raging 28-second burst of acerbic attitude (bested in brevity only by the 15-second barrage of "Deathache").

On an album where the "longer" songs barely pass the two-minute mark, the sinister, sludgy pulse of "Empire of Tears" (featuring some vocal contributions from Hemlock's Lino Reca) is of course an unexpected standout at six minutes in length; while "I Object" carries a nice balance of tempos and vocal tradeoffs—not to mention a bass-centric breakdown.

The new mix sounds great, possessing the rugged ferocity you'd expect given the style and era, but with surprising clarity. The vocals are slightly out front without overpowering, there's good separation between the guitars and bass (hard-hittingly heavy with a shocking absence of any muddiness whatsoever), and I'm always a sucker for dry, natural drum tones.

Also an improvement is the excellent new cover art by Godmachine, which completely destroys the original release. The insert includes a collage of old photos on one side and all of the lyrics and credits on the other, but you'll also get an 11" x 17" poster of the cover art, a 4" x 6" screenprinted patch of Black Army Jacket's flag emblem, and a download code.

For the most part, the lyrics are staple powerviolence diatribes dealing with dark and aggressive personal turmoil—dashes of the socio-political and very small amounts of lighter fare thrown in periodically—generally abstract enough to be open for interpretation in an intriguing manner:

Sending the signal to the issue
Experiment begins anew
Vastness sets the pace it waits
A universal shared mistake
Will it repeat once again?
The innate pattern defense
A species chooses its destiny
As mapping confines alternatives
Chain is scrutinized
Peptide truth revealed
Reflection in the code
Start again

The 18-song, 28-minute LP is available in your choice of red, blue, or black vinyl (or just plain digital, if that's your thing), so if you missed out during the late-'90s or are interested in the prospect of a new and improved powerviolence gem, head on over to Bandcamp and make it happen...

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