7 Seconds was onto something when a hypothetical character remarked in "Aim to Please" that the band's debut EP was "just divine." It's an attitude that plagues punk rock, where a considerable number of bands receive disappointed reactions with every new release, especially in hardcore.
Verse is a rare exception to this rule. Frankly, their debut EP, 4 Songs, was promising but hardly divine. Despite the praise they were blessed with for the full-length followup, 2004's Rebuild, the album really just did precisely that (rebuild) to the foundation of the band's sound, which showed considerable advancement on 2006's From Anger and Rage. Through this steady progression, Verse has developed into one of the touring circuit's premier acts, a position that has now been rightfully and justifiably solidified with Aggression, their third full-length, Bridge Nine debut and easily their best effort yet.
Since the band's inception, a Bane mention in regards to their musical footing has dogged them for better or worse, but on Aggression, there's little ground to stand on such a comparison. If anything, Aggression imagines Rage Against the Machine playing the type of epic, brooding hardcore that countless are attempting in the mid-2000s but few have mastered. The fact that frontman Sean Murphy passionately pleas poignant political protests so profusely certainly doesn't hurt the parallel.
The absolutely mammoth crush of opener "The New Fury" misleads listeners with a quiet, stand-alone riff before detonating with Murphy's cry of "They've got themselves a new spin on the story, / twisted for one-sided glory." While it's possibly the best track on the album, the following songs hardly slouch. Verse pick up the tempo in "Blind Salvation" and "Old Guards, New Methods," the latter in which Murphy demands, "What about the lack of education and lack of love? / But most of all: / What about the innocent in rooms with bars and three walls? / Can you tell me, / where is the justice in Philly for MOVE and Mr. Jamal?" Aggression is desperate enough, but Murphy lets loose fully in the unraveling "Scream."
Much has been made about the central part of the record, 'Story of a Free Man,' what's made out to be a six-minute song or so broken up into three 'chapters'/tracks: "The End of Innocence," "The Cold Return" and "Serenity." In truth, there's some clear distinctions between the first two chapters, but the second flows perfectly into the last. It's not quite the extravagant accomplishment it could be, but each subsequent chapter is better than the last, with "The Cold Return" containing a captivatingly repetitive declaration ("'Will we ever see an end to this?' he said.") and "Serenity" made up entirely of a huge, impressive buildup and explosion. The fact that the story revolves around a father killed at war gives the piece some strong depth and substance.
The record winds down with "Earth and Stone," with its spectacular yelled chorus of "Watched a man climb a mountain, / watched that man's end of time," and then the off-the-cuff shouts of the album title on closer "Sons and Daughters," where Verse choose to keep the urgency going over a superb, energized tempo, with the song taking a restrained finish through some increasing volume and atmosphere.
Only once do Verse seem to truly recycle themselves, with the introduction of the breathless "Unlearn" suspiciously reminiscent of the band's own "Hard to Breathe" from From Anger and Rage.
Aggression is assuredly one of hardcore's standout moments in 2008, but one hopes that Verse becomes more than a moment in time and instead a sustainable, legitimately veteran band who continues to improve and impress with every following call-to-arms of desperation, anguish and passion.
Aggression at the band's Punknews.org profile page