Connecticut’s Hostage Calm made a name for themselves by way of reinvention, starting off as a genuine hardcore punk outfit on Lens before becoming an atypical pop punk act by their self-titled sophomore effort. 2012’s Please Remain Calm flashed glimpses of greatness, combining the borrowed ideology of The Clash with harmonies and melodies lifted straight from The Beach Boys. On Die On Stage, these punks continue blending ’60s bubblegum and distorted power chords into a sound they can call their own.
While many pop punk bands establish themselves by ripping off Blink-182 and aiming their lyrics at an underdeveloped audience, Hostage Calm bring an intellectual maturity rarely found on the Warped Tour. Both lyrically and musically, they walk their own path; the band replaces standard mosh pit beats and played-out progressions with four-part harmonies rarely heard this side of the ’70s, unusual instrumentation, and the energy of the hardcore band they once were. The end result is a record equally likely to feature a drum roll stolen from Black Flag as it is a vocal melody lifted from Frankie Valli.
That’s not always for the better, though. As frontman Chris “Cmar” Martin pushes his voice to the edge of its ability, the notes themselves sometimes fall flat — literally. Most of the time this is disguised by backing vocals and the type of production that modern punk rarely attempts, but there are moments where the record calls for Auto-Tune, a mulligan, or something else entirely.
The album’s best songs attempt what few other bands do. The new wave slow ballad “Raised” sees Martin dueting with I Am the Avalanche vocalist Vinnie Caruana, inviting sympathy for the emptiness they feel. “Every passion is a passing phase, the hell we raised!” Caruana shouts. Others, like “Fallen Angel”, sound like a record by The Shangri-Las was played at a faster rpm and overdubbed with Martin’s nasal baritone.
With the exception of “12/31”, an abomination that combines “Auld Lang Syne” with undercooked lyrics and the melody of Tom Petty’s “Freefallin’”, the album keeps a consistent strength. Die On Stage is like a cold beer and a bag of chips: It’s not the healthiest meal, but it sure goes down easy.
Essential Tracks: “Raised”, “A Thousand Miles Away from Here”, and “Fallen Angel”