Stray From The Path are not the sort of band for whom their detractors will be easily converted to. Everyone who’s aware of them at this stage knows whether they’re onboard or not nine albums in, to the point where the ‘controversies’ that typically apply to such staunchly left-leaning bands and how “their politics should stay out of music” aren’t as noticeably thrown at them. That’s not to say they never are, especially given the minor firestorm that surrounded their last lead single Goodnight Alt-Right (a track which, for the record, was neither as incendiary nor embarrassing as either side would want to believe), but Internal Atomics has generally been free from that sort of discussion in its lead-up. That’s generally because everything that’s been revealed so far has been pretty standard for Stray From The Path, with groove-heavy hardcore liberally inspired by Rage Against The Machine taking the front seat and being delivered with the broadness but hard-hitting bluntness that so often characterises this band’s material.
As such, it wouldn’t be totally unfair to call Stray From The Path a one-trick pony, not when their sound really isn’t that diverse and hasn’t evolved too much particularly over their last handful of albums. But it’s hard to deny that what they do and the way they launch themselves full-force into it works, and that’s really where Internal Atomics shines. Revolution isn’t on the cards sonically as much as it’s called for in the writing and intent, but the fact that Stray From The Path have taken a pretty basic mould and are still able to get plenty from it speaks a lot to how effective this all is, and striking repeatedly hard and fast still proves to be a viable method of getting their point across.
It helps that, even in what can be seen as recycling past ideas, Stray From The Path aren’t resting on their laurels and continue to deliver their work with enough gusto and unrelenting heft to still leave a small to medium-sized crater in whatever they’re aiming for. The absolutely punishing guitar tone that pummels through the chorus of Kickback shows Stray From The Path at their best in terms of funnelling that heaviness into its most concise, effective form (as well as a guest spot from Counterparts’ Brendan Murphy for some added venom), while the straight-up hardcore of Holding Cells For The Living Hell feels far more effective given just how much more aggressive what’s effectively typical hardcore bluster is made to feel. Tom Williams’ guitar work definitely carries out a lot of the heavy lifting here, but when combined with Drew Dijorio’s vocals and the bile-filled snarl with more than a hint of Zack de la Rocha-esque flow-riding, there’s a potent core that, coupled with the band’s incredible knack for a levelling groove, keeps Internal Atomics moving at a great pace while keeping its destructive potential high. There’s no real advancement that’s been made, and as such there’s not really a moment on the album that breaks past the fairly consistent waterline that’s been set up, but consistency in itself says a lot, and that’s what Internal Atomics has going for it most of all. There’s no need to be overly flashy, and Stray From The Path continue to make use of that ethos in the most efficient way possible.
To find a place where Stray From The Path’s consistency hasn’t always yielded the strongest results though, you just need to look at the writing. Not the intent, mind, which has frequently remained sound in getting to the core of modern ills and utterly demolishing them, but there’s often been an approach more reliant on big, singular lines to hit these ideas rather than the disassembling that more openly political bands will often favour. And it’s not like that isn’t an issue here, especially with a track like Beneath The Surface with its notion of not knowing what people are going through in their private lives being decent but executed in a way that does feel a bit heavy-handed, to tell the truth. But to their credit, relying on those cornerstone lines and lyrical sentiments does have some weight here, even if it is incredibly blunt; going along with the crowd and speaking of making a change without actually doing anything do lend themselves well to such an approach on Ring Leader and Actions Not Words respectively, and tackling child abuse in religious circles on Second Death really does hit a good balance between seething gang chants and more incisive lyrical content. It’s an approach that doesn’t remain quite as intact as with the instrumentation, but for what they’re trying to do and the way in which their heft is prioritised, it’s something that Stray From The Path can still make work on the whole.
It’s honestly impressive that they’ve gotten so much mileage out of such an unwavering crop of ideas, but quality speaks for itself, and Internal Atomics is as solid a piece of evidence as any that Stray From The Path remain one of modern hardcore’s most reliable bands. They’ve gotten so good at hitting the right beats without it feeling contrived or overly formulaic, and this album is testament to the heights such an approach can still reach. They’re not breaking any new ground, but Stray From The Path are as totally, unshakably solid as ever, and that should continue to see them thrive as they have for so long.
For fans of: Rage Against The Machine, Gideon, The Ghost Inside
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Internal Atomics’ by Stray From The Path is released on 1st November on UNFD.