While straight edge has never fully disappeared from the world of hardcore punk, and while it’s been around for long enough that it has its own oppositional offshoots, its prominence comes in waves that are often indicative of or reactive to larger trends of drug use in musicians’ communities. Just as early straight edge musicians were pushing back against the prevalence of drug glorification in more mainstream punk music as well as against the consequences of Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” today’s rise of straight edge might be correlated with our current opioid crisis. With the prevalence of drugs and alcohol we see today, one would be hard-pressed to find someone at any hardcore show whose life hasn’t been touched by addiction, abuse, and death, and where those feelings of suffering, resentment, and anger exist, straight edge will find a foothold, providing a voice for those feelings.
Struck Nerve has found their voice, and they deserve a foothold as one of the most exciting artists in hardcore today. Along with releases by Spine, Gulch, Scalp, Kruelty, and other unstoppable forces in modern punk and metallic hardcore, Struck Nerve‘s Rattle the Cage was listed by CVLT Nation as one of the best releases of 2020, and rightly so, as in just two years, the band transformed from promising new talent to fully realized artisans of the new straight edge sound.
While their demo drew positive comparisons to Struck Nerve’s sister groups –Agitator, Timebomb, Outlast, Payback, and Jesus Piece–Rattle the Cage reintroduces the band as its own colossus. With more confidence, more cohesion, and more risk-taking, the band’s sound is formidable and wholly their own while reminding old-heads of posi- and straight edge trailblazers like Down to Nothing, 7 Seconds, Chain of Strength, Side by Side, One Step Closer, Brotherhood, and Comeback Kid.
The songs on the album are energetic, powerful, and principled, and they deserve to be heard live. While listening, it is very easy to imagine a huge crowd of young people with x’ed out hands, having committed all of Struck Nerve’s lyrics to memory by quarantine’s end, storming the stage the moment this band finally plays these songs in person. Like Change’s Closer Still and Get A Grip’s United Fight, Rattle the Cage does the seemingly impossible and captures the sweat, the righteous aggression, the life, and most importantly, the love that one finds in established hardcore scenes, where friends are the only family one needs, and where one finds the freedom to explore, discover, and fully express oneself without the threat of judgment one might find in the outside world. In short, this album is healing and cathartic.
The themes explored in these songs balance personal and universal in the way that only hardcore can do. Foremost are the ideas of loyalty, integrity, mutual support, and respect for the straight edge lifestyle. “For me, straight edge is about hating drugs and alcohol for how they’ve affected my life. Because of my dad, I’ve hated that shit ever since I was a kid,” Struck Nerve’s Martin Williams says. “I think different things come in cycles within hardcore. I guess the unfortunate reality is that straight edge is just a phase for some people, so it kinda comes and goes as different kids get into it then move on. I’m happy there’s a lot of good straight edge bands right now though, and hopefully, they mean what they’re saying.”
The heavy-hitting, memorable songs on Rattle the Cage immediately put them in league with the well-known names in modern straight edge like Year of the Knife, Trail of Lies, Torso, Incentive, Berthold City, Mortality Rate, and Harm’s Way. Album opener, “Watch You Slip,” is a perfect way to start the album, and its two-stepping, high-intensity verses are the sort that get the merch tables knocked over, that get the bar shut down. in this song about witnessing a beloved friend break edge and abandon their principles, the lyrics speak to familiar frustrations of brotherly betrayal, of letting go of someone who’s let go of themself.
Where “Watch You Slip” is a song about breakage, the breakneck “Common Ground” is a song about mending. It is a call to fix what’s been broken in your community, to maintain your relationships, your bonds. “We all forgot about unity. Familiar faces, but there’s no community. Pointless cliques. No need to separate. No new wave, no old wave. Just one scene unity. Find a way to bridge the gap, to see some common ground. Instead of tearing each other down, where no solutions can be found.” These words should be written in Sharpie on the inside of every DIY-venue bathroom stall in the country, as they serve not only as reminders but as cautions to the younger generation to preserve what has been built without allowing scene-egos to get in the way.
Motorhead meets Cro Mags on “$$$, which continues the theme of what it means to stay true to your scene, especially when things like money and fame would invite you to abandon your values and your friends. It identifies “selling out” as a major culprit in causing great bands and great venues to lose what makes them special. “Seeing Double,” sounding like an infusion of Bane and Blood for Blood, distills everything that Struck Nerve stands for, everything that hardcore stands for, into one line: “Think for yourself and have a fucking spine.”
It is rare to find a debut album with so much power and poise, but Struck Nerve, with talents honed in their other excellent bands, has wasted no time in positioning themselves as one of the most important new outfits in straight edge.
Struck Nerve shared some thoughts with Cvlt Nation about the band and their debut, Rattle the Cage.
What is the band’s current lineup, and what are other projects the members are involved in? Please feel free to plug any other projects here as well.
I’m Marty and I sing in the band and write the songs on guitar. I used to be in Agitator. Joe on drums. He was in Timebomb and Outlast. Anthony on guitar. He’s in Jesus Piece and Payback. Pat on guitar. He was in Agitator too. Jake on bass. He’s in Payback too. Definitely check out Payback if you haven’t. One scene!
Could you talk a little about who mixed and who mastered?
We recorded it with Wyatt Oberholzer in Philly. He’s the best. He mixed it and then Bill Henderson at Azimuth Mastering mastered it. Bill mastered the last two Agitator records so I knew he was gonna do a great job on this.
It’s been two years since your fantastic debut EP. There’s also been a shift in lineup and a move to Youngblood. Can you talk a little about what the last two years have been like for you all and how you approached the writing and recording of this record?
I was really psyched when WAR Records hit us up to put out our 2018 demo as a formal release. It was cool to me that word on our demo had made it out to California. After that we wrote and recorded a second 4 song demo that we were just going to post online for free about halfway through 2019. Around the same time Sean Youngblood said he liked our 2018 demo, so we sent him to new tracks to check out. He said the timing was great because he wanted to be more active with the label again. The only catch was he wanted a 12”. Putting out a record on Youngblood was a pipe dream for me for the last like 13 years, so we put out two songs from that new demo as a promo for the eventual Youngblood release. After that, Joe and I started hitting the practice spot every weekend trying to work and rework new songs until we felt like it lived up to the Youngblood name. I think all the hard work paid off, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. We finished recording in December of 2019 and originally our record release show was going to be in April, but then Covid hit and derailed everything. Around the end of the year, Sean Youngblood felt like we should move forward, so we finally got to have people hear it in December 2020, a full year after we wrapped it up haha.
Compared to the last release, Williams and Marinaro have essentially swapped duties. What inspired this switch, and how has it affected the band’s sound?
Anthony was originally singing but he’s always traveling, touring with Jesus Piece, or doing some other crazy shit so it was really hard for us to play shows and find time to get in the studio. We decided with the move to Youngblood, that we wanted to give Struck Nerve a chance to be able to do as much as we possibly can, so Anthony and I ended up switching spots. It’s a little goofy I guess, but now he can play with us when he’s around, but we can still exist while he’s gone.
The switch didn’t really affect our sound much because I’m still writing the songs. The main difference in the sound is that I had only been playing guitar for three months when I wrote our demo. This time around I was way more comfortable playing and writing songs, and I think that the quality of our songs took a big leap.
What were the most important musical influences on this record, past and present?
For me, it’s the posi numbers era of bands. Desperate Measures, Mental, Righteous Jams, Right Brigade, The Wrong Side, and stuff like that. When I was younger, I used to watch the Posi Numbers 2004 videos a lot, but I just missed being able to see all those bands when I was getting into hardcore in 2006/2007. I wanted to try to make a band that I feel like would have fit in on that DVD.
What were the most important lyrical influences?
Pretty much just being straight edge and pissed off.
What do you love about hardcore right now? What should change?
I love that there are so many good bands of every style. I like that there’s starting to be a shift towards more unity. From heavy shit to fast shit, it’s all hardcore and doesn’t need some cliquey nonsense.
One thing I wish would go away is people whose participation with hardcore exists more online than it does in real life trying to dictate what hardcore should and shouldn’t be.
Can you describe the hardcore scene in Philadelphia?
I think Philly hardcore is one of, if not the best scene in the country. Bob and Joe book the best shows. We have good bands and a good group of people dedicated to the scene. People come and people go, but Philly hardcore keeps moving forward whether people like it or not.
Philly HC seems to be blowing up right now, with bands like Luxe, Jesus Piece, Fixation, and Drowse gaining national attention. Who are some Philly bands that everyone should know?
Payback is, in my opinion, the most important band in the city. They’re a band that brings everyone together.
Chemical Fix is a band I love that I think is currently flying under the radar. As far as I know, they finished up a new record right before Covid, so hopefully when all this shit is over, we can finally hear it.
Mobile Terror Unit is one of my favorite bands to see live. Great music and Zack Elmer is a maniac.
Simulakra. They’re from Delaware but they kick ass. They were picking up steam before Covid so I’m excited to see where they go.
What should people know about Struck Nerve? About Rattle the Cage?
Struck Nerve is a straight edge band and we’ll always be a straight edge band.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Hardcore is the coolest thing in the world. People should feel pride in being a part of the hardcore community. Read the record inserts to your favorite bands and learn all the words. Sing all the words and jump off the stage. You only get out of it what you put in.
Struck Nerve’s Rattle the Cage is out through Wyatt Oberholzer.
It was mastered by Bill Henderson at Azimuth Mastering.