Songs of Armor and Devotion Tour
THE CASUALTIES and BONEFIRE
If you listened to Songs Of Armor And Devotion with no prior knowledge of Strung Out, you probably wouldn’t guess that the California band has been together for almost 30 years – such is the intensity and fresh energy of these 13 songs. Produced by Cameron Webb, who was behind the helm of 2009’s Agents Of The Underground, it’s a record that brims with the same ferocious fire the band had at the very start of its career when front man Jason Cruz was still a teenager, but which also demonstrates how far the California five-piece have evolved as songwriters, musicians and people.
“I don’t want to be 19 years old again,” says Cruz, “but the fact that we still have that energy, but we’re not 19 years old is a real feather in our cap. We’re older, but I’m so grateful that I still have a lot to do. I hope people hear this record, and they know that we’re not tired, that I still have ideas.” Those ideas flow throughout this record both musically and thematically, the vulnerability and uncertainty of Cruz’s lyrics lying in stark contrast to the fierce and ferocious pummeling nature of its songs.
That juxtaposition has always been present in Strung Out’s songs, but for this record, that push and pull has become the central basis and focus of this record, as his heart and thoughts struggle to make sense of the chaos of the world at large. That’s not to say this album has the answers, but in analyzing everything, it offers the listener – and Cruz himself – the various contradictory paths of life that, hopefully, can lead to some kind of truth or understanding.
“Some songs can be armor: they can repel and they can guard you,” explains Cruz. “And they can also bring you comfort and speak of love and belonging to something. To be a good and gentle person, you have to put up a little bit of armor, but that armor never works, because you’re so caring and sensitive and vulnerable, that your heart is going to be displayed on that armor anyway. There are so many thoughts and feelings in my head I think that with this album I just opened up the pen and let it go to explore the duality of having to defend and protect what’s inside, and at the same time make it available for the world.”
Much of Cruz’s vulnerability stems from the death of someone he was incredibly close to. That’s something which has exaggerated and exacerbated Cruz’s emotional fragility and continues the spiritual and philosophical journey he says he’s found himself on in recent years. At the same time, though, these songs are also infused with a spirit of hope and defiance. “I lost my best friend six or seven months ago,” explains Cruz. “It was right before we started writing this record, and that really put a shadow on things. Some of these songs – especially ‘Monuments’ and ‘Bloody Knuckles’ – reflect that loss. But that’s what’s always made our band work. The music is this metal machine and then you get these vocals that express this vulnerability in a melodic way – and there’s love and there’s searching in all that machine. This record starts out hopeful and then it kind of degrades. It sobers and ends with loss. But there are so many things on this record that I’m still figuring it out.”
All those thoughts and feelings swirl together on this record as Cruz – who refers to himself and his vulnerability as the “flesh in the machine” – tries to find some sort of resolution. The moody “Daggers” tells a story of personal turmoil within the backdrop of an increasingly dystopian America, while the grief and sadness contained with “Monuments” is offset by the pulsating, defiant frenzy of the song’s tune. “Disappearing City” blends a raucous energy with a sense of resignation but – importantly – not defeat, “Under The Western Sky” brims with Strung Out’s trademark sense of melody and coruscating aggression, and the insistent ebb and flow of album closer “Bloody Knuckles” is ravaged with both a despair and a kind of beauty at the same time.
Yet while these songs are fueled by a power and aggression, the band – completed by guitarists Jake Kiley and Rob Ramos, bassist Chris Aiken and new drummer (since 2018) RJ Shankle – infused them with plenty of nuance, too. Some of that is thanks to the lessons learned from last year’s acoustic yet expansive acoustic EP , something Cruz says was a necessary step the band had to take in order to then make this record. Underneath it all, however, is the same desperate need to write these songs and get them out of his system.
“This opportunity I’ve been given, and everything I’ve been doing, I don’t have any say in it,” Cruz says. “I don’t have a choice. I have to fucking do this. I have things inside of me that swell up when I go through this, but it’s what people put into what they hear and what they then take out of it that’s the magic. I need to do this, but if it’s not making a connection, I have no right to be here. My favorite part about America is the pain of the poor people and what they create out of it – the culture that the poorest people of this country have created. From that came blues, jazz, rock n roll, and, to me, coming from nothing and creating something is everything to me.”
You can hear how that is – how true that still is – from the beginning to the end of Songs Of Armor And Devotion. It’s a punk record, but it’s also much more than that. It’s a political record that addresses the state we’re in, but at its core is a heart and humanity –and a belief in that humanity – that overrides everything else. It’s pain and sadness and hope and rebellion all wrapped into one powerful statement that also serves as a culmination of the band’s three decades together. And while the record sees Strung Out still writing at the height of their abilities, at the same time, when Cruz reflects back on these songs, he thinks they represent something monumental for the band, even if he’s not entirely sure what that actually is.
“I find that it’s time for a new adventure,” he says. “I feel like I’ve given what I needed to give to Strung Out. I feel like we did what we needed to do and it’s time to move on. I’ve grown. I’m not angry like I used to be – I feel like this was the end of something, and now it’s time for a new life. I look back on the record and I think ‘Done.’ For me personally, it’s a new beginning. We still have a lot left and as long as we listen to each other and we care about what each other has to say, I don’t see an end for Strung Out. I just don’t want to repeat things that I’ve done. I can’t write like that anymore.”
THE CASUALTIES are the voice of the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the dispossessed of this planet. These street fighters are still angry, still political and still keep the heart and spirit of Punk alive. This was already the declared aim of THE CASUALTIES, when vocalist Jorge Herrera founded the band together with second singer Colin in the year 1990. Hailing from New York City, they were inspired by early street punks such as THE EXPLOITED, SEX PISTOLS and CHARGED GBH.
THE CASUALTIES successfully revived this style with their hard hitting music as well as their visuals and took it to a new level with an impressive track record of nine studio full-lengths, three EPs and three live albums so far.
Being true to the spirit of Punk, THE CASUALTIES never took care to record what they were doing, but living like there was no future. Their first releases typically were two EPs 40 Oz. Casualty (1992) and A Fuckin’ Way of Life (1994). It took the band until the year 1997 to premiere their debut full-length For the Punx, which sparked a very productive phase with Underground Army (1998) coming out only a year later and a live album Live at the Fireside Bowl (1999) catching their restless energy on stage to follow. Another album Stay Out of Order as well as an EP, Who’s in Control?, were added in 2000. After Die Hards (2001) the street urchins felt it was time to give a summary of their early works to far with the compilation The Early Years: 1990-1995 (2001), which heralded a small hiatus.
Their boost of creativity despite ongoing line-up changes in the previous year now slowed down a little with another live release More at the Fireside Bowl (2003) and the fifth full-length On the Front Line (2004) to surface after some kind of recording break, while the Americans continued to beat the streets heavily. In quick succession number six En la Línea del Frente (2005) and seven Under Attack(2006) were added with the third live album Made in NYC making a point of staying true to their roots in 2007. THE CASUALTIES took a little breather for the second time before putting out We Are All We Have (2009). This eighth album marked some changes, indicated again by a compilation For the Casualties Army (2010).
With countless tours across the U.S. and Europe,-South America, Japan and Mexico – it would seem hardcore punk stalwarts THE CASUALTIES have done it all. But one shouldn’t be so quick to assume anything with these guys who still have much more to bring to the Punk Rock scene. The diversity of their latest offerings is also due to their extensive touring. “Being in different countries just opens your mind to things,” explained guitarist Jake already in regard of previous album We Are All We Have. “It’s definitely still way Casualties fuckin’ real Hardcore Punk,” he assured us, but nonetheless still believes “it’s leaps and bounds from what it was to what it is now. We’re not the type of band that would stay stuck in that era. You have to move on. Natural progression just happens.”
Next THE CASUALTIES unleashed Resistance (2012), taking up their fight against the injustice of a banking system gone berserk, police brutality against peaceful protest and the corporate onslaught on privacy with sixteen songs. Resistance fueled the anger of undiluted raw Punk with crunchy riffs and anthemic chants. Add a dash of precise energy from Thrash and a melodic dose of Rock and you end up with an equally catchy and fierce record. The band returned to their roots with 2016’s aptly-titled album, Chaos Sound. Chaos Soundfeatured fifteen blistering blasts of raw, DISCHARGE/EXPLOITED/GBH-inspired street punk that is these veteran’s calling card. Chainsaw guitars grind, ragged vocals scream, and gang vocals explode like bombs throughout the bands most impressive, and frantic, material to date.
thE loNgsCale aNd LonGwInDed FuLL BONEFIRE BiO: ~~~> Gags (MISERY) attends a Danzig concert in 2006, and is confronted by Raven and Jason (who’s left hand was completely covered in black Sharpie) asking if he would like to join a project Misfits tribute band called “The Misfucks”. He meets with the 2 and a new guitarist they had just recruited, Chris “Joker” (fresh out of Trouble Maker in Oakland). After the meeting, all decided to give it a go, and the name was then changed to “Bleeding Light”, so band name would be printable on flyers.