Within the larger context on modern hardcore, bands such as Drain could get lost in the shuffle amongst the likes of Turnstile or Knocked Loose as the genre goes through somewhat of a renaissance. With fellow Santa Cruz natives Scowl being booked on Coachella with the likes of Soul Glo and the aforementioned Knocked Loose, Drain look to force their way into the conversation with an album of undeniable, crowd-demolishing outbursts that owe more to Gorilla Biscuits and Metallica than they do Black Flag or Earth Crisis.
Sonically, the band have a lot in common with their scene mates Scowl. Sharing the sunniness of Turnstile and a diluted strain of the aggression felt in a band like Zulu. While still being heavy, it isn’t as metallic as many of their contemporaries, sharing more DNA with crossover thrash than it does with Converge. Thrash itself is a presence felt throughout the whole album, with riffs that could’ve come straight out of the 80s Metallica catalogue and Slayer indebted lead flourishes. Where hardcore is felt throughout the record is in the pace, energy and rhythm present. This is an arsenal of mosh-ready anthems; short, to the point and unrelenting. Two-step and slamming sections are introduced to the brew so that the thrash element is felt more than it is heard. This is an instantly identifiable hardcore album. Hardcore punk’s history and heritage are baked deeply into the genetic makeup of Living Proof. Its historic crossover appeal with hip-hop is present on ‘Intermission’, the classic bands are there in the cover of ‘Good Good Things’ – originally by The Descendents – everything down to the band’s “Kewpie” mascot give the air of a vintage hardcore template modernised for the current renaissance that the genre is experiencing. Where some expand in the field of dense metallic hardcore, and others follow Turnstile in a more widely appealing pop inflected sound, Drain straddle the fence, providing a path for prospective fans to follow either path.
Where Living Proof succeeds is that it has the feel of a live show, the length and sequencing of the tracks provide a kinetic push to the listener, one that is involuntary and present for a majority of the album. Living Proof is an album that moves and refuses to stop moving until the very end. Drain’s phrenetic energy is imbued into every track; the album is a ceaseless, involuntary convulsion as if a circle pit has become an ouroboros. In this, Drain create a 25-minute expulsion of rage and motivation. Somewhere between weapons-grade metal and sun-bleached hardcore, the bands mutant brand of crossover thrash feels distinct from their contemporaries whilst also slotting into a wider context. The pop-leaning brand of hardcore represented by Turnstile feels tame in comparison whilst the more extreme, primitive-sounding fringes paint Drain as more widely appealing alternative. Drain make metallic hardcore with a thinner metal exoskeleton whilst losing none of the weight or density.
Living Proof demands your attention, but once it has dragged your focus onto it, the album’s core issues are exposed. Even with just around 25 minutes, the formula Drain have established becomes slightly tired (or, well, Drained) even when broken up by a rap intro or one track of clean singing. The result is that real hooks are few and far between – ‘FTS (KYS)’ has a memorable hook in its closing moments, and there are sections memorable for just how hard they hit, for instance the breakdown towards the end of Watch You Burn, but overall, the album feels devoid of standout songs. Except for ‘Good Good Things’, that is. The fact the song is entirely sung cleanly makes it feel like a refreshing palette cleaner – making the closing, titular track spark you out when it comes in in full force. It is somewhat disappointing that the most memorable track is a cover, but it shows that the band are capable of range and dynamics, and it makes me hopeful that in their future their song writing could demonstrate their full spectrum of capability.
With all that said, even though the run time is long enough to expose the issues that are there, it isn’t long enough to make the album exhaust its welcome. As the final few droning notes of Living Proof ring out, I’m still left feeling that I could’ve gone again. One of the strengths in Drain’s writing is their restraint. Songs never extend past three and a half minutes, which is just short enough to make the tracks leave a listener ready and waiting for another – Living Proof is a boxing match of 10 three-minute rounds, and I think the band are capable of the final two championship rounds. Given some more diversity in the writing, I think the listener would be too. The restraint present in the writing is thankfully absent in the performance. Vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro gives a feral vocal performance, foaming at the mouth screaming the titular line on ‘Imposter.’ Cody Chavez’s guitar fuses with Mike Durret’s bass to deliver a juggernaut tone – delivering tank-piercing riffs that are propelled by Tim Flegal’s earth-moving drumming. You get the impression that the studio struggled to contain the band, and that they would be unstoppable on stage.
On Living Proof, Drain seem on the cusp of defining themselves as a band. They are within arm’s reach of the changes that would shake up their sound, between Sammy’s capable clean singing and the droning guitars that close the record they prove themselves able to produce something beyond fast, aggressive hardcore. If they were to infuse these elements into the nucleus of their sound, they would be one of the most diverse, interesting and accessible hardcore bands going. Despite this, the album seems destined to open unprecedented mosh pits worldwide. With albums like this and California Cursed under their belts it seems highly likely that Drain will soon place themselves amongst the definitive modern hardcore bands.