Strung Out - Blackhawks Over Los Angeles (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Strung Out

Blackhawks Over Los Angeles (2007)

Fat Wreck Chords

Strung Out's Blackhawks Over Los Angeles came into my possession with a free revelation included. The envelope containing the CD arrived at the radio station's office in which I work, addressed to the metal director. I stared at the package and cringed as I imagined my station's metal director sorting through a pile of new metal releases, glancing at the CD, and tossing it to the side in snobby, metalhead disgust. From that thought, I realized that us punks aren't nearly the elitist jerks that we're made out to be. In fact, we're pretty accepting of other genres being incorporated into our own. It keeps the punk spirit fresh and adaptable. I grabbed the envelope and left the office so the metal director would never get his chance to ignore this momentous metallic skatepunk release.

The first 30 seconds of Blackhawks Over Los Angeles will undoubtedly leave you wondering what on earth you're listening to. The familiar drone of helicopter blades is probably to be expected from the title and artwork, but the crafty incorporation of cowboy western whistling and acoustic lead-in is a clever way of preparing the listener for the sonic barrage that follows.

The hypnotic riffage of "Calling" circles sinisterly for a few measures before exploding into the metal-infused skatepunk that Strung Out has perfected. The title track is a relentless shredfest that flaunts the band's super-technical guitar playing and the furious precision of Jordan Burns' drumming. "Party in the Hills" has a much thicker sound, but the rich, expansive quality of Jason Cruz's vocals give the song a smooth, almost wandering overtone.

"All the Nations" shows Strung Out's masterful execution of the mid-tempo pop-punk that bands like Yellowcard and All-American Rejects wish they could do right. The globe-trotting lyrics are reminiscent of "Souls for Sale" by another Fat Wreck band that also released a record earlier this year. Cruz has long been known for his eloquent and artistic lyrics, and the standout track "A War Called Home" shows why: "I was the son of the promised land / Whose father's youth was lost in Vietnam / One nation believed all the TV said / Killed Kennedy and screamed 'God is dead!'" The hypertechnical "Orchid" is a young, developing Guitar Hero expert's worst nightmare, as blistering solos rise above Cruz's trademark wails and more superior drumming by Burns.

Although the first half is ostensibly stronger than the second half of the album, the relatively sluggish "Dirty Little Secret" is undeniably catchy. "Mission Statement" gives a nod to the melodic skatepunk of some of the band's best work like "The Exhumation of Virginia Madison" and "Rottin' Apple," while the record's closing song "Diver" is as diverse in styles and rhythms as the album itself.

With the Mad Caddies' superb "reggae" release earlier this year and now Strung Out's "metal" offering in Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, Fat Wreck Chords continues to show why it's one of most popular labels in the punk scene. Strung Out's perfected formula of stunning guitarwork, strong vocals, eloquent lyrics, and varying rhythms combines for yet another stellar showing in Blackhawks Over Los Angeles. The next time you listen to and appreciate a band like A Wilhelm Scream or early Thrice, you'll know who to thank.