Hardcore done right is in pretty short supply but Declaration AD has certainly done their part to fill the void since coming on the scene in 2009. Unfortunately, Sometime’s It’s Us may be the last we hear from them but they have left us with a great album.
Formed in 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand, hard work has gotten Declaration AD opening spots with the likes of bands including Terror, Saving Grace, Trapped Under Ice, and Sleeping Giant among others. Since their beginning the band has released two ep’s, MMX (2010) and Voices (2013) and one other full length, I Can’t Ignore (2012). What sets Sometimes It’s Us apart from the others is the fact that this is the first professionally recorded work they’ve done. The album was recorded and mixed by TKO at STL Audio in Wellington, NZ and mastered by Collin Jordan at the Boiler Room in Chicago. Over the course of their career, the band has written about things that are important to them, including their faith in Christ and while not a band to preach from the stage, the band’s faith was an open story.
The album literally explodes into the first song “Spent” which is one of the fastest and most furious songs on the album, a great way to open things up. The song also showcases some different vocal styles with one section in a near spoken word like delivery, while the rest is Sam Coates’ trademark shouting voice that carries both intensity of emotion and an air of authority.
Much like “Spent”, “Picket Signs and Protest Lines” starts off fast and has a good circle pit speed hardcore groove to it as the lyrics address those who “trade the cross for the sword” in their judgment of others. As in “Spent”, the lyrics show a good bit of introspection, this time around the struggle to love those who are our enemy, “I know that I should love my enemy, But it’s so damn hard, I’m failing every day”. Having the gang vocals come in for this ending verse part reinforces the idea that sometimes it’s all of us in this situation.
The biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of “Better Man” on this album. From what I’ve read, this is actually the 3rd incarnation of the song. My first exposure to Declaration AD was this song on their debut ep, MMX in 2010. The raw intensity of the vocals and the relentless groove during the verses and the slower chorus sections with Sam literally crying out, “Oh God, make me a better man, a man to stand above these evil ways…a man who knows how to love…” really hit me. This version is a bit different as the relentless guitar groove now has been broken up in parts but the overall impact of the song remains. This is one of those songs where I keep both versions on a playlist as they’re both so good.
The band has also shown they can move away from the traditional hardcore song structure on the album as well. “04-14” is the band’s longest song on the album, coming in at a long for hardcore 4:30 and a much slower tempo and heavier song than others on the album. Introspection comes into play again here as the speaker in the song takes an unflinching look at their own sins and cries out to God to “uncover my scars, the black soul I’ve been hiding”. Heavy lyrical themes abound in Declaration AD songs but carried within the songs is the air of hope throughout it all. Much like a train going through a long, dark tunnel, there is light and hope at the end.
Muscially, the band has become more solid over the years, honing their sound. Hardcore allows for some looseness and the earlier Declaration AD albums had a bit more of that than Sometimes It’s Us. That being said, they have managed to retain their signature sound, loud, fast, driving and no filler, the workman –like sound you would expect from a hardcore band. On this album though the instruments have a bit more distinctiveness to them compared to previous albums with even the bass guitar being clear in the mix.
Fittingly, “Peace Be With You” closes out the album and is potentially the last song from Declaration AD. The song opens up recalling the words of Jesus, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light, though you will face trials of many kinds, I am beside you in the darkest night” and closes with a shout-along gang chorus,
When I have nothing left, be my strength
When I fall, when I fail, lift my head
Grace of God, see me through, see me through
Peace be with you.
Great parting words from a great band.
Written by John Jackson
02. Picket Signs and Protest Lines
03. Mental Hell
04. Sometimes It’s Us
05. Better Man
09. White Collar Mind, Blue Collar Heart
11. Peace Be With You
Sam Coates – Vocals
Kirk J Hodgson – Guitar
Dave Morry – Drums
Dan Drower – Bass
Record Label: Independent, June 2015