Stray From The Path - 'Only Death Is Real'
The level of online meltdown from the far-right following the July release of Stray From The Path's vehemently antifascist sledgehammer of a single Goodnight Alt-Right was really quite something to behold. For a group that so consistently decry what they perceive to be the "snowflake" and "triggered" left wing, this gigantic collective "triggering" might appear somewhat ironic; manifesting itself in a substantial backlash against SFTP, even prompting completely unqualified assertions from prolific gobshite Paul Joseph Watson that socially conscious metal is a new phenomenon (a statement that is so unfathomably false that it doesn't even require a retort here). For anyone that has utilised their public profile to speak out against injustice, the almost inevitable counterattacks on social media, and the very public haranguing via the kangaroo court of Twitter, have on occasion been so vicious as to force a period of self-imposed exile from social media. That being the case, it is testament to the resilience of SFTP that they have doubled-down on their message and released a 100ft concrete middle finger of a record, aimed squarely in the direction of Trump, Richard Spencer and all purveyors of social injustice in the modern age. However, as with any record containing a powerful message, all of this would be meaningless if the music failed to absolutely slam. Spoiler: it does.
Stray From The Path's ninth studio album, Only Death Is Real, has a genuine claim to be their best. It is an album so lean, so wholly devoid of flab or filler, that it is the musical equivalent of a stick of celery (but, y'know, a metal one). It possesses a characteristic of the truly great albums of this ilk, in that it never outstays its welcome but instead careers through 10 tracks of full throttle attack in half an hour.
For most, the obvious point of comparison for SFTP is Rage Against The Machine. Certainly, as well as the lyrical message there is a genuine Morello-esque quality to a number of the guitar tracks on display here (see: the chorus of Plead The Fifth and the second half of the title track), and the verse of Let's Make A Deal is straight out of the Rage groove compendium. However SFTP possess an acerbic hardcore aesthetic, carved into every single one of these tracks, that marks them out as a distinct entity. This is exhibited in a multitude of ways; from Drew's vocal lines that are delivered at never anything less than "maximum fury", to the absolute relentlessness of the musical canvas on display, all performed with a sprinkle of that oft-aped nu-metal bounce.
In the period since the release of 2015's brilliant Subliminal Criminals SFTP have recruited Craig Reynolds, drum tech for Architects' Dan Searle and former sticksman for criminally underrated British deathcore crew Viatrophy. In terms of decision-making this has been a masterstroke. Craig has not only brought an extra layer of technicality (see the ghost note peppered intros of Goodnight Alt-Right and the album's title track, as well as the mesmerising intro to They Always Take The Guru) but has somehow managed to incorporate even more punch to the band's sound, meaning those beatdowns succeed in hitting harder than ever before. Whilst the other members of SFTP could not be described as virtuosic, their performances on Only Death Is Real serve each song well and, as has been mentioned, there are some particularly succulent guitar moments. Lyrically, Drew is not one to coat his political message in metaphor in the manner that we have come to expect from someone such as Randy Blythe. In many ways, this is to the band's credit; messages concerning antifascism, anti-crony capitalism and opposition to Islamophobia are tremendously important and timely. Having said that, a lack of lyrical nuance and what is undeniably a singular approach to songwriting does tend to have the effect of creating something of a one dimensional record.
The naysayers are adamant that no one in rock or metal possesses a message these days. Once again, these people need to climb into the nearest refuse collection point. Recent records by Architects, Venom Prison, While She Sleeps & Fit For An Autopsy (and more) have all proudly championed a message of a better world. Whilst it often comes within a fingernail's reach, Only Death Is Real doesn't quite hit those heights: it is an album short on facets, but with a gigantic heart.