Bystander - Where Did We Go Wrong? (Cover Artwork)


Where Did We Go Wrong? (2019)

Safe inside records

Bystander play fast, provocative, and political hardcore. Perhaps that is of little surprise given the band is fronted by Greg Bennick, best known for his vocals in the outspoken Seattle hardcore band Trial. With Where Did We Go Wrong? the band offers up seven short and powerful hardcore songs that seem hell-bent on evoking self-reflection from the listener.

The record’s opener and title track puts focus on Bystander’s ability to weave melodic guitar tracks over an otherwise speedy and traditional hardcore song structure. Yes, there’s the horse-hopping verses and angry lyrics. Yes, the drums pound along at a blistering pace. But that’s balanced with some great melody and octave layers in the guitar work. Similarly, Bennick’s lyrical content serves to give the song even more dynamism, offering up questions to the listener about music’s purpose in the world and in their lives. The absence of chugging mosh-ready stylings here is welcome. The song drives forward with energy and punch without needing any of that. It's brevity also serves to develop an urgent tone in the song.

“Sing with Me Tonight,” the record’s fifth song might just be its most powerful. The song opens with ambient noise, seguing into a mid-tempo brooding pace that serves as the song’s musical backdrop. The lyrics here are brief, but seem painfully reflective. Again, there is just enough melody sprinkled into the guitar work here to give the track the dimension it needs to pull off such an austere song structure. Bennick’s balancing of his vocals against the gang vocals to close the song only serve to reinforce the song’s power as well. There’s a haunting quality to “Sing with Me Tonight” that is both unsettling and thought-provoking.

Perhaps the most straightforward hardcore song on Where Did We Go Wrong? is the closer, “Broken No More.” The verses make good use of start/stop choppiness in the guitars and Bennick’s vocal cadences move along with the speedy drum beats. The song breaks into a grooving sing-along to close that screams for pile-ons. The song actually creates a nice balance for the record by closing with a familiar structure for the genre while still staying away from hokey pitfalls like obligatory mosh parts. “Broken No More” is an anthematic and driving song that gives great closure to a strong release.

Bystander are an important band for hardcore and for the time. Their music is great, their lyrical content is accessible and thoughtful, and they are active about their message. They walk the walk. From their work founding the 100 for Haiti charity, to their contributions to COVID relief work, Bystander act. Where Did We Go Wrong? is as prescient as it is reflective. It’s a great record, and is very much worth picking up.