It doesn’t take long to see how much sense a band called PUSH! (in all caps, because of course) being compared to bands like Madball and Stampin’ Ground makes. The name alone embodies the brutal, brusque assaults that hardcore is and always will be synonymous with, not to mention the fact that those reference points leave them in a pretty good standing to deliver something great. Even for as samey as hardcore can be, especially in this vein, there’s always a case to be made for the effectively foolproof trifecta of riffs, energy and aggro, and PUSH! have as much chance of delivering that as anyone else. They’ve already gained a fairly strong reputation for it in their native Portugal, and with this being their first international release, there’s a lot riding on Dark Dive to put its creators on the world stage.
Unfortunately, the reality is a lot more disheartening, as Dark Dive only reveals itself as an increasingly difficult album to get along with. It’s not necessarily because it’s awful or anything to that magnitude, but the straightforwardness and lack of dimension of PUSH!’s moniker only seems to seep down into their actual sound as well, and stacked up next to the reference points that have so readily been attributed to them, it does them no favours. These flaws only becomes easier to see as well, and deepening to an extent where a simple papering over wouldn’t help, mostly due to the lack of inspiration the seems endemic across this entire album. Keeping on the comparisons to Madball, while their sound feels just as indebted to a very straight-laced brand of hardcore, the exuberance and swagger that Freddy Cricien brings up front is what keeps such an incredible level of momentum running as a constant; with PUSH!, Nuno Cruz might have some degree of power in his vocals, but there’s such a lack of dynamism in the execution that drains any similar bravado, and sets so much of Dark Dive on a crawl that the band seriously struggle to lift themselves from.
That’s an issue that bleeds into the instrumentation as well, namely how PUSH! rarely tend to deviate from the outwardly heavier, groove-driven brand of hardcore that relies on a sense of darkness to really make its mark. On its own, that’s far from a bad thing; indeed, with the more limited vocal approach that they take, tracks like Pitfall really pick up a more guttural edge well to slip into a more convincing metallic hardcore guise. But when so many of these grooves feel recycled in one way or another across so many different tracks, the lack of even a modicum of variety really can make this a slog to get through, and saps whatever remaining spark there was. Factor in a writing style that doesn’t amount to much of interest, and PUSH! fail to do much that sets them apart from scores of other hardcore chancers embodied by the exact same issues. Compare that to the haunting, swampy blues-rock of Left With Memories that’s packed with so much more richness and texture, yet is relegated to an interlude when it makes it abundantly clear that PUSH! have the musical chops to really push beyond such restrictive, boring boundaries that they’ve set themselves.
And at the end of the day, when the cardinal sin of hardcore is running short in excitement or drive to make the listener want to keep going, it’s hard to endorse PUSH! as much more than another hefty slice of mosh fodder to throw on an already sizable pile. Sure, that has its merits, and for all intents and purposes, Dark Dive can fit the needs of that particular subsection rather well, but that’s hardly a selling point on its own, especially for a band positioned to do so much more and take themselves so much further than they have. It’s a disappointment almost across the board, and while it’s certainly listenable and, in the right setting, enjoyable, it takes a lot more than that to make a truly great album.
For fans of: Madball, Knuckledust, Terror
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dark Dive’ by PUSH! is released on 8th February.