I’m not sure whether to hear Future Death’s Special Victim as a watered-down version of something fundamentally aggressive and exploratory, or as a shih-tzu wearing a spiked collar. The former would not do justice to the pop-songcraft evident on “Bodies”, “Speedweed”, and “Roman Devices”. The latter would gloss over the hard-hitting instrumental parts, particularly the drums, which simultaneously slam over, groove with, and interrupt the rest of the action. There’s a little taste of post-hardcore and math rock and whatever else in there. But the meat of Special Victim is hooky, sugary pop-punk: if the album opener “Riot Train” came out in the ‘90s, it would have been on the Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater soundtrack and thus held a very special place in my heart. Try to not let it stick in your head. Also, just for a thought experiment, try to imagine Blink 182 delivering the same song—it’s not that weird.
An attempt at this kind of pop songcraft was evident on Future Death’s self- titled EP from last year, particularly on “Trickin’”, which somehow missed all of the marks, and “Malevolent”, which almost hits the mark System Of A Down might have been aiming for in 2001. “Bath Salts” was the highlight of that album, with a fluttering guitar line, chaotically slamming drums, and catchy vocals. In addition to being really solid in its own right, it points in the direction the band would take for their second effort.
As an album, Special Victim is much more successful. The band has developed their thing, and their thing holds up for 10 songs (“Transparent” and “Cornered” are more “droney affairs” than songs, so maybe eight songs) without being boring or repetitive. “Roman Devices” is a highlight, alternating anthemic vocals (and from what I can hear, pretty silly lyrics—“Weekends fuck shit up?”) with moments of full-blast chaos. “Dream” follows it up perfectly—particularly if it’s drums that provided the basis for your attention. The classic pop-punk exurberance of “Riot Train” stics in your head mid-song, its gnarly delivery quenching desires for painful-on-the-ears-but-technically-demanding blasts of noise. “Riot Train” is for those who recall strange days of alternate between Hella and The Exploited, meanwhile hearing Good Charlotte on the radio. As an embodiment of this sort of music soup, “Junkhammer” and “Post-Everything” speak to a long-standing, oft-repeated state of affairs in which an outsider form gets assimilated into the wide world of pop. Being no purist, I have no problem enjoying the things that result, should I find myself enjoying the things that result (like what Deafheaven and Liturgy did with sounds from Black Metal.). But I also understand and value the impulse to keep these boundaries intact—hence my initial ambivalence.
On that note, Future Death would benefit from a record with clearer production values. I almost never prefer crystal-clear production over a little bit of fuzz, but here, there is plenty going on that would be interesting to hear in clearer detail, and I get the sense that the mild clipping and the blast-of-sound approach is mainly a way to divert attention from the fact that this is a pop record. Even so, Special Victim comes across as not only a pop record, but a pretty good pop record with a lot going for it. If I were trying to learn the drums, I’d listen over and over. As it is, I’ll fondly remember my half-hour visit with a very aggressive shih-tzu, and look forward to visiting again sometime.