It’s rare these days to see a band’s career trajectory go the way that Stick To Your Guns’ has. Even though members have come and gone from the Orange County outfit since their formation in 2003 (frontman Jesse Barnett is the only original member left), there have been no major public upsets or turbulence, and their releases only seem to be getting more and more popular with each one. And that honestly doesn’t appear to change with their new EP Better Dust Than Ash, their first release since joining the Pure Noise roster. It’s not the most adventurous or daring thing to drop this year, but for the robust, iron-fisted melodic hardcore that Stick To Your Guns bring to the table, these five tracks fit nicely enough.
If that doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement it’s because that’s kind of the point. It’s not that Better Ash Than Dust is bad, it’s just that it feels like a very slight cross section of Stick To Your Guns as a band, and thus, doesn’t have much to dig into in a wider context. As individual songs, these five are fine enough – they stick to the band’s usual template of slamming guitar lines with Barnett’s alternation between snarling broadsides and soaring choruses. The problem is that the whole package reeks of a stopgap, and while that’s what it is, it leaves this intention exposed. Put it next to last year’s full-length Disobedient and this EP feels like a collection of odds and sods, especially in its weakest track, the clichéd No Tolerance.
But on the flip side, comparing an EP to a full album is always going to come out one-sided, and to Stick To Your Guns’ credit, Better Ash Than Dust isn’t the rushed extra helping that these sorts of things usually are. The NeverEnding Story and the title track are quality mosh fodder in their own right, and The Suspend is an attempt at something a bit more expansive and brooding that can feel a bit ploddy but largely sticks the landing. Then there’s Barnett, who’s even more proof that complacency has been tossed out of the window here. There’s as much power in his vocals as ever, roughness and bite in his clean sections and a fiery rage in his screams, especially on The NeverEnding Story‘s incendiary keystone line “Just give a fuck about something, motherfucker”.
It’s moments like this that do make Better Ash Than Dust seem worthwhile overall. Looking past the fact that it’s a blatant midpoint to show off a new label, it’s a good little EP that is largely inessential to anyone but diehard Stick To Your Guns fans, but provides a fair few thrills regardless. But to be brutally honest, apart from one or two tracks, this’ll be forgotten by the time the next full-length rolls around.
For fans of: The Ghost Inside, Comeback Kid, Hundredth
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Better Ash Than Dust’ by Stick To Your Guns is released on 23rd September on Pure Noise Records.