Album Review: Modern Life is War – Witness (10th Anniversary Edition)

“So what the fuck are you going to do, kid? Still ratting at the chains of the gates of the world… But you can’t quite pretend. Still tasting youth’s bitter exile here in your empty generation’s wasteland…” screams Jeffrey Eaton on the opening lines of the neural assault that is Modern Life is War’s ‘Witness’, the second album from surely the greatest hardcore band of the 21st century. It has been re-mastered, repackaged and reissued to commemorate 10 years since its first release and now that the band are back together, will be accompanied by a handful of gigs in the UK showcasing the album in its entirety.

Modern Life Is War came onto the scene in 2002 and quickly established themselves as one of the most intense bands on the planet, but that intensity was to be their own undoing, as a brief line-up change and eventual break up was to prove. They reconvened in 2013 “without so much stress and life crushing commitment”. As a result, they have expanded their audience, so a repackaging of their seminal work was just what the doctor ordered.

‘Witness’ documents the struggles of life in contemporary Middle America, but talks to disaffected youth everywhere in the world. Jeffrey screams and shouts his way through this record, no sing-along choruses here, because he is enraged at the restless ennui of small-town life and has a burning desire for something more, just like so many of us. Quite what the disaffected youth want is not the issue, it’s more about what we don’t want and what makes us feel alive – we are frustrated, disappointed and alive with a desire to rage against pretty much everything, because “we’re living in a world we just can’t trust” and so many aspects of modern life are so mind-numbingly awful.

Witness (Remastered) by Modern Life Is War

The foreboding of the menacing guitar lines that lead off opening track ‘Outsiders (AKA Hell is for Heroes Part I)’ offers a melodic undercurrent to the sonic fury about to be revealed. There is an immediate sense of belonging to a lost generation which is further explored in the subject matter of ‘Martin Atchet’, based on Martin Atchitson, the thalidomide victim Skinhead of Peter Milligan’s graphic Novel ‘Skin’. ‘John and Jimmy’ is a powerfully chaotic number with one foot in metal riffing, while ‘Marshalltown’ offers more controlled chaos in its ode to the shit-hole town they had the misfortune to live in. Their hometown is also featured on the album cover, so the lyric “I don’t know what I’m still doing here” sums up the love/hate relationship many of us have with our places of birth.

The most commercially standout track is ‘D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S’; a bona fide classic, a celebratory tribute to the punk rock lifestyle worthy of any mosh pit. If this doesn’t make you want to jump around uncontrollably, nothing ever will and you must be dead inside.

‘Young Man On a Spree’ is more disposable, losing its way and petering out after a minute and a half, not that much attention is paid to song structure on any of the tracks, yet it works as a kind of bridge from the frenzied punk of the first half of the record into a slightly bolder, more dramatic sound evident on the final three tracks. ‘I’m Not Ready’,/i> highlights the bands technical ability; they know how to rock but apply it with an enviable artistic freedom that allows them to really communicate with the listener.

There are echoes of Black Sabbath on the opening riff to ‘Young Man Blues’, which deals with the on running theme of dystopian small-town existence of troubled disconnected youth, struggling to relate in an alien adult world. It finds its punk chops on the swirling rhythmic climax however, before seguing into the final track; ‘Hair Raising Accounts of Restless Ghosts (AKA Hell is for Heroes Part II)’. The grand finale is actually quite curious, weighing in at a hefty 5 and a half minutes (the whole nine tracks take up less than 28 minutes) and boasting a complexity and thoughtfulness that encapsulates the melancholic beauty of this resounding work of introspection.

All in all, ‘Witness’ is a really quite incredible hardcore album of intensely cathartic songs that are not only lyrically intelligent, but technically well-crafted, whilst paying little heed to artistic convention and listener expectation. The most stunning aspect is that the album managed to catapult my imagination into the live arena, as I listen I find myself in the swirling mass of wrecking and diving stage invaders – magic!.

5/5

’Witness’ (10th Anniversary Edition) by Modern Life Is War is out on now on Deathwish Inc.

Modern Life Is War links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)

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