While Toronto has a fine hardcore punk pedigree with notable releases from Cancer Bats and Fucked Up this year, the surrounding area has produced a couple of very fine bands of the more melodic variety (met with comparably less fanfare mind you), Kover being the first and Welland, Ontario's Attack in Black being the second.
With their second EP this year, Widows, Attack in Black firmly explores a musical template I like to call "beard punk." The band states musical artists from Neil Young to Refused and literary sources as their influences, however there is something more glaringly obvious to their music. Though they are from Welland, their sound could have been birthed by stewing the band in a gourd full of Pabst in Gainsville. Seeing the band live I noted vocalist/guitarist Daniel Romano shared a strong vocal similarity with Tom Gabel. On record that similarity still exists, however when he goes for his cleaner and softer approach he displays much more of an uncertain tenderness than Gabel does. This self-consciousness is revealed in a line on the first song where he sings "from the knowing that I'll never sing in tune / like the rest of you." In the vocal department there is also some good understated backups provided that have a very slight British invasion quality to them at times.
Musically the band has been compared to both Hot Water Music and Dag Nasty, but I take issue with either of those comparisons. There are some slight post-hardcore leanings but the songs tend to lack the dueling guitar/vocals of the former or the hardcore speed of the later. If anything the band works from a straight-ahead rock foundation more akin to the Draft, Fifth Hour Hero or Disco / Eternal Cowboy-era AM!, and mixes the introspective lyrical approach of Dag Nasty. Lyrically the band shines, walking in a rare territory. The words are straightforward enough but never fall into blunt cheesiness, and still have poetic qualities without delving in overblown obliqueness.
The four-song EP is effectively structured opening up with two slower numbers, then letting loose with the hard-rocking "Cut and Run" and closing with the dark "1950." The opening song "Broken Things" is where the majority of the Against Me! comparisons stem from. The very drum-dependent buildup, the sound of the guitars, the "ohh-ohhhh" near the end, and the closing trumpet all seem to be smacks of AM!. That isn't to say the song is without its own character. Nothing is directly pilfered from the Floridian ghetto uprisers and the vocal harmonies on the refrain are very much the band's own. "1950" is perhaps were the band is at its most unique. Starting out as a fairly driving and catchy punk tune, by the end the band breaks into some, dare I say hypnotic ground, with lightly plucked guitar, faintly reverberated drums, atmospheric organ and soaring layered vocals.
To top off the album there is some rather interesting artwork to complete the package. While only four songs, there is still a lot to enjoy and zero filler. It does in effect what a good EP should do: stand alone as a great piece of music and whet the appetite for a full-length (which is coming out early next year, Bob). The band already has a decent following growing, and with this release and a solid live show it should continue to grow. What with opening slots for Alexisonfire's four large drawing Toronto dates later this year, if they follow through with as strong a full-length and do some consistent touring I predict great things in the band's future. Also, guitarist Spencer has a righteous beard, 'nuff said.