Starting a melodic punk band isn't something I would typically consider a "risky idea". Unless, of course, you happen to be from Virgina, or worse Richmond. Then you happen to have just a little company. With such legendary punk and melodic hardcore bands hailing from one area it seems nearly impossible to bring anything new or worthwhile to the table. It's must be an intimidating undertaking for Landmines, and it's one they handle about as well as any band could.
It's clear that Landmines full length debut will draw comparisons to some of their precursors and perhaps not without warrant. One would have to be either dense or stubborn to deny the influence of previously stated melodic hardcore bands on this album. One of the most surprising comparisons is to former Richmond based Smoke or Fire, but it's hard to deny certain aspects of songs like "Making Good on a Promise" could definitely fit snugly in a mix with Smoke or Fire. These similarities should not be confused with "ripping off". Never does the band stray so far into their influences that they lose their own identity. It comes off as much more a tip of the hat than poor mimicry.
The album itself manages to be fairly broad thematiclly, covering topics from alcoholism ("80 Proof") to displeasure with political profiteering ("In Our Name"), to what it's like playing in Landmines ("If You Were in This Band You'd be Drunk By Now"). Though not the most groundbreaking topics, each song is given a unique voice, preventing it from seeming like repeating treaded ground.
One of the main things that catches the ear and keeps the album fresh is the impressive musicianship of the band. It doesn't immediately jump out but over several listens it becomes clear that there was a good amount of thought put into arrangements of each song. It never sounds like the band is just playing the chords or just hitting verse/chorus/verse. Each track has a sense of movement, as if they have a master plan on each song and each chord and drum beat is designed to reach that end. The band never seems to be settled on a single melody or pace, they always seem to be thinking about the next riff or the next drum fill and this really keeps each song moving at a great pace.
Unfortunately, this album can not be looked at merely for it's music. As the first release from Vinnie Fiorello's Paper and Plastick, the packaging must be considered. The album is available in two forms: vinyl LP and digital download. Though I have the LP on order, the copy I reviewed was from the Dropcards.com (the site that is doing for digital downloads with the vinyl LP). There are several noticeable shortcomings of the download. Most apparent is the sole availability of 128kbps downloads. While most may argue the superiority of higher bitrates it is important to consider that this is only readily available form for the download, there is no CD to rip at a higher bitrate.
The other let down is the complete lack of art in the digital version. For a label that has seemed to pride itself on great music and art it's confounding that there is nothing included for downloads. I double check on iTunes to see if they might have an option for a full download with art there and still nothing. There aren't even lyrics included digitally (the band was kind enough to post them on their MySpace blog for interested parties). Though this is Paper and Plastick's first release, it must be said they need to step up their digital download package drastically if they want to not include CD's as part of their offerings.
Disappointing packaging aside, the album is still great, if not full of surprises. Fans of the melodic hardcore genre should know about what to expect and will get the expected, plus a few musical bonuses. Landmines show a huge amount of promise and while they may not be rewriting the book, they certainly have a fantastic reading voice.