If Smartbomb’s nine-song, 12-minute debut Chaos and Lawlessness was the band’s newborn infant (kicking, screaming and refusing to calm down), their full-length followup Diamond Heist is its toddler older brother. Though not too far separated, the older brother is more constructive, slightly more disciplined and knows a few more tricks. He is, however, still prone to bouts of unrestrained aggression and fits of youthful energy.
Made up of two-fourths No Trigger and one-fourth Shock Nagasaki -- two Northeast acts that would seem to come from very different sides of the punk spectrum -- Smartbomb convenes in Worcester, MA with a sound that doesn’t exactly blend the melodic hardcore / skatepunk of the former with the throwback pogo street punk of the latter. However, to peg Smartbomb with a sound would be erroneous in itself, as their style has shifted slightly (but noticeably to the astute listener) from one release to the next. While their debut was more or less an anarchic frenzy of hardcore punk, Diamond Heist is not as easily classifiable.
For one, the album has much more of a Boston punk feel. This may be due to producer Jim Siegel (Dropkick Murphys, the Unseen, Blood for Blood), but it may also be thanks to vocals from Eric Widing that for some reason now sound almost identical to Far from Finished frontman Steven Neary. The band also experiments a tad more, with a punk interpretation of a Ventures’ surf tune, and some upstroke ska thrown into Smartbomb’s cover of the evidently timeless Isham Jones / Gus Kahn classic “See You in My Dreams.”
However, there’s still plenty of the frantic hardcore and skatepunk variety. Sprinting off the starting blocks is the album’s catchiest track, the fiercely outspoken “Barely Legal”: “Sign ‘em up and shave their heads and ship them off to die / […] / When you’re barely eighteen you’re too preoccupied / Too young to question why / […] / I’m alright if you’re alright, I pledge no allegiance to this fact / I am proud, and it’s my job to keep thinking out loud.” The similarly pointed and similarly catchy “Who’s the Terrorist Now” follows suit with a choral nod to U2’s “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” while “Lesson Learned” blinks by in a matter of seconds, though not before calling out the (2008) totalitarian government and calling on listeners to “revel in the urgency of now.” “Crucial Times” not only sounds like it could be the name of an ‘80s hardcore band, but the song actually flirts with such a sound, at least with its gritty guitar intro and frenetic chord patterns.
Though somewhat amusing, “Avoid the Lloyd” comes off as more of a personal vendetta than the universal antagonist for which it aims, while “Worcester, MA” isn’t bad by any means, but lacks the incisive, inclusive message of songs like “Blood and Sand” and the greater part of the album in lieu of a more local appeal. Still, there’s plenty to like about Diamond Heist. Though lacking the uninhibited aggression and brevity of Chaos and Lawlessness, Smartbomb substitutes in catchiness and accessibility for a solid sophomore effort.