Let's get this straight. Your average punk band doesn't sell out venues like the 14,000-capacity Long Beach Arena. Your average punk band doesn't organize benefit shows for charities like the Surfrider Foundation. And your average punk band doesn't last fifteen months these days let alone fifteen years. For fuck's sake - PENNYWISE is not and never will be your average punk band!
From The Ashes, the seventh studio disc from this Hermosa Beach foursome, doesn't just pick up where the ""Fuck Authority""-touting Land of the Free? left off. It builds on it. Just when you thought PENNYWISE - the fan focused band that let loyalists choose the set list for its recent Warped commitment - could do no better than that 2001 long-player, the group ups the ante.
Formed in 1988 by vocalist Jim Lindberg, guitarist Fletcher Dragge, bassist Jason Thirsk and drummer Byron McMackin, PENNYWISE inked with Epitaph Records for their eponymous 1991 debut. A middle finger directed at the grunge movement of the time, the group helped to define the emerging West Coast punk scene. Remarkably, 1993's Unknown Road sold a few hundred thousand copies and at the height of the punk resurgence of 1994 the major labels came calling. Saying ""thanks, but no thanks"" PENNYWISE elected to stay put and released another hit with '95's About Time. But the tragic death of Thirsk the following year put the band's future in doubt. Electing to soldier on with new bassist Randy Bradbury, Full Circle hit the racks in 1997 and the outfit's following continued to swell with its fifth studio disc, '99's Straight Ahead.
Following the 2000 concert album Live at the Key Club and PENNYWISE's critically lauded, aforementioned Land of the Free?, the group took some time to evolve, look inward, and, in the case of guitarist Dragge, mourn the unexpected loss of his beloved father Otis. Earlier in 2003, the members of PENNYWISE regrouped with longtime studio collaborator Darian Rundall at Stall #2 in Redondo Beach and co-produced From The Ashes. It wound up being their finest album ever.
Lighting the fuse on this filler-free, fourteen song affair is ""Now I Know,"" a percolating anthem that singer/lyricist Lindberg says is about ""the personal struggle to find fulfillment and hope in a world that has become increasingly confusing and forbidding."" Despite such ruminations, From The Ashes is by no means somber. The material here is long on power, as evidenced by tracks like the nostalgic, radio affable ""Yesterdays"" and the intoxicating ""Punch Drunk.""
The cynical roar of ""God Save The USA"" - a public service announcement with guitars - is a reminder to free thinking punks everywhere that PENNYWISE is still the band of choice. As Lindberg croaks lines like ""Apathy's the national disease and there is no end in sight/God save the USA, blame the president, and say your prayers tonight,"" Dragge, McMackin and Bradbury drive this accusatory State of the Union home.
Change-ups like the blistering, imaginatively arranged ""Falling Down"" (a song about coping with looming middle age) and the acoustic false start of ""This Is Only A Test"" prove that PENNYWISE will always refuse to rest on formula.
Armed with the same belief it held when they started, that punk music can change the world, PENNYWISE have created a punk classic known as From The Ashes. And, once again, just to clarify matters, PENNYWISE is not your average, ordinary punk band. Try fucking extraordinary.
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