Maximum Penalty - Demo 89 & East Side Story EP (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Maximum Penalty

Demo 89 & East Side Story EP (2006)

I Scream

Among discussions of the Cro-Mags, Madball, Kill Your Idols, and Agnostic Front, there's always one pre-eminent NYHC band that for reasons unbeknownst to me, always gets left out of the picture. Maximum Penalty is the name of that oft-forgotten band, and this latest release from I Scream Records is a collection of one of the band's early, long-out-of-print demos, and the EP, East Side Story, that preceded the eventual full-length.

The demo is an absolutely perfect encapsulation of the band's earliest material: raw and in your face. As with most bands that carried the flag of New York hardcore, Maximum Penalty are firm proponents of the straight-ahead, no bullshit approach to hardcore. And unlike many of the era's forbearers, time has done nothing to stifle the rage and intensity coming from the band. Each song on the demo has a unique identity, but is strongly bolstered by the gruff but distinguishable vocals of singer Jim Williams. The consummate frontman for this type of band, Williams has the perfect sound and the perfect amount of energy in his inflection to not overshadow all that is going on around him.

That's not to say that the arrangements are complicated -- far from it, but many times in hardcore the vocalist tends to serve as the be all / end all, and the rest of the band's members are just going through the motions and contributing the breakdowns and gang vocals right where they're ‘supposed to.' Not here. "Be Yourself" storms out of the gate with crackling distortion and quickly delivered vocals as the pace seems to continually quicken. Sporadic backing vocals help to flesh out the sound, and the heavy drum fills keep everything centered. Most would contend that it's an easy sound to get right, and maybe it is, but to set yourself apart as a band from all the others playing that style, there has to be a sincerity, and that's something that Maximum Penalty find a way to work well into their unrelenting onslaught.

The EP, though recorded four years after the demo, continues largely in the same vein. I don't want to say the band didn't progress much, but…the band didn't progress much. Still as enjoyable and hard-hitting, simply not much progression though. Jim Williams' vocals take a bit of a turn towards metal, as with more singing over slower riffing, but the band is largely the same.

Too many good songs and not enough credit for some of New York City's finest, but what's lost in accolades is made up in enjoyability. This collection is a solid piece of hardcore history, and anyone who claims to be part of the NYHC scene had damn well better take their stake in it.