That Walter Schreifels is an important figure in alternative music simply isn’t up for debate. In his three decades in the industry, his career path has taken him through hardcore with Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today, punk with CIV, emo and post-hardcore with Rival Schools and Quicksand and even a solo album in 2010. It’s gotten to the point now that Schreifels has nothing to lose anymore, given the longstanding influence of many of his projects, even right up to today. Presumably that was the motivation for Vanishing Life, a collective first conceived at Groezrock Festival in 2013 and featuring, alongside Schreifels, Rise Against’s Zac Blair, and Autry Fulbright and Jamie Miller of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.
And that ‘nothing to lose’ mentality seems to have seeped into the DNA of debut album Surveillance, as this actually feels like a side project more than a fully-fledged new band. As a first effort, Surveillance feels more like the first draft of a punk album rather than the finished article – the mid-paced riffs may be something that Rise Against could throw together in their sleep, but they have a bit of spring and are overall passable, while the lyrics do try to aim for the genre’s usual societal rabble-rousing (Image for example touches on the modern phenomenon of the ‘famous for being famous’ celebrity lifestyle). And when viewed as that sort of entry level punk album, Surveillance is perfectly fine.
What’s not perfectly fine is the fact that everyone involved should be aiming vastly beyond that. What’s here isn’t awful, let’s get that straight, but compared to virtually everything these four men have put out in the past, Surveillance doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and if this was a brand new band without the blessing of established names, they’d never be given the time of day. The guitar lines on tracks like Exile and Seven Pointed Star feel strangely static and have no fluidity for progressing the song, and whole thing remains at an almost identical tempo (bar the couple of ambient interludes that are thrown in for some reason), making it all unavoidably homogeneous.
But the worst part – the part that completely prevents Surveillance from working – is Schreifels himself. Judging by his efforts here, it’s easy to see why his previous dalliances with punk and hardcore have seen him as an instrumentalist; there’s no drive or acerbity in his vocals, seeing him remain in the lane of a raspier, more restrained emo vocalist. To give him the benefit of the doubt, there’s bound to be something of a lack of real piss-and-vinegar aggression given he’s now 47, and there are instances like on Painter and People Running where he at least tries to conjure up something more raw, and that can be respected. But when the direction is as misjudged as this it’s hard to give it a pass, and as a whole, Surveillance ends up sounding more like unused Quicksand vocal takes slapped over Rise Against B-sides than an original project.
The most disappointing thing is that this seems to be what Vanishing Life are pushing as the final product. There’s no hint of any growth or experimentation to come, and the belief that some half-baked punk is a satisfactory end result. Ultimately, Surveillance feels like an album created out necessity rather than want, one that saw its creators in the midst of a fallow period in their schedule, so they’d get something new out just to keep the ball rolling. Honestly it’s not dreadful – there have been countless numbers of punk albums released this year, both better and worse – but it’s the missed opportunity and what could’ve been that really clouds Surveillance.
For fans of: Rise Against, Quicksand, Billy Talent
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Surveillance’ by Vanishing Life is released on 4th December on Dine Alone Records.