I first heard of Stretch Arm Strong around 1998 off of a Tooth and Nail compilation that featured their song 'Second Chances'. I was really into bands like MxPx, Green Day, and the Descendents, but I dug the song. It was punk, but the singer screamed at me. But it had a sense of melody too. I didn't know what to think and it wasn't until not too long ago that I purchased their 2001 release A Revolution Transmission (an album that any fan of punk/hardcore should own) and have since been following the band religiously.
So, naturally, when Engage came out on August 19th, I ran to my local record store to pick it up. They didn't have it. So I ordered it and came back a week later. I was a little disappointed with the packaging- (I liked the digi-pack styling used for Transmission, but it was nothing I couldn't live without..) the artwork was done nicely and the disc was enhanced with special features. I popped the disc in, and was pleased the second the drums started pounding, the guitars started buzzing and vocalist Christ McLane began belting out SAS's usual positive lyrics, "Race, religion, sex and creed, we're all the same when we bleed". 'Rising Again' started off with the clean vocals of guitarist/singer David Sease and then burst out into mosh worthy sound that Stretch Arm Strong does so perfectly. Towards the end of the song, there's a nice trade off of singing and screaming between Sease and McLane.
Miles Apart is the first song on the disc that, *gasp*, has no screaming. McLane actually sings on this "love" song. I had heard that there would be more singing on this disc, and so far I was not let down. Miles Apart sounds like a song that would be radio-friendly. There's even a nice little part thrown in there by Thursday vocalist Geoff Rickly. Tracks like Black Clouds (they will be shooting a video for this song) and The Calling have more of a punk rock feel to them. The screaming is little to non-existent on these tracks, which may be a turn off to some hardcore fans. The Calling has a few "Hey Hey Hey's" thrown in, and has a nice chorus part to it at the end that serves as a follow up to Transmission's 'For the Record' about the fan-band connection in hardcore music, "Every where around the world, every boy and every girl. It's in our blood, it's in our soul. No matter your age".
The CD ends with a very cool cover of NWA's 'Express Yourself" that integrates some hip hop with hardcore. Engage features several guest spots, and the only guest vocals that come to mind that don't seem to blend well with Stretch Arm Strong's sound and McLane's vocals are the growls of Jason Shevchuk on the track, 'Ignition', but overall, the guest vocals on Engage aren't over the top or detracting from the song.
The lyrical content on Engage remains positive, in the vein of their last releases and the music is still intense, powerful, and fast. In terms of how this album sounds, it's sounds like a mix of both Transmission and Rituals in life; there are plenty of pop/punk/hardcore sounds, and lots of chugga-chugga mosh riffs. People who expected another Revolution Transmission will be let down; this is a stripped down album and the band has said that themselves. This is a plug-and-play recording of an intense band. Did I mention that Engage is enhanced? There's a nice compilation of tour footage put to several tracks from their previous album.
I wouldn't say this is Stretch Arm Strong's best CD, and if I were to recommend anything by this band it would be A Revolution Transmission or even Rituals of Life. Despite that, this is a strong release from a band that has been together since 1993. All members of the band have quit their jobs (two of them were school teachers) and have set out on tour in support of this record, with hopes of making SAS their full-time job. If you're a fan of hardcore/punk music and like bands like H20, Black Flag, and Hatebreed, or just a lover of east coast influenced hardcore with punk sensibilities, then do yourself a favor and check out Stretch Arm Strong.