Drain Somehow Exceed Expectations on 'Living Proof'

BY Paul DikaPublished May 5, 2023

DRAIN are undeniably at the top of their game. The Santa Cruz trio have been on the rise since releasing their debut LP California Cursed at the height of the pandemic in 2020; instead of waiting for a more opportune time to release the album, DRAIN gifted fans of hardcore with an insanely catchy collection of songs ripe with riffs and breakdowns. Along with their endearing and refreshingly positive live performances, California Cursed catapulted them toward the top of festival and show flyers. Even before the crowds started to grow, the band signed to Epitaph shortly after Cursed dropped, a vote of confidence that the band was just scratching the surface. Living Proof, the band's highly anticipated sophomore record, is finally here and delivers on its title — a near perfect hardcore record with no skips that proves DRAIN is one of, if not the most, dominating voices in the genre. 

Perhaps their emergence shouldn't come as a shock, seeing as members of the band found success in previous hardcore outfits like Hands of God and Gulch. They've been crafting and performing varying styles of heavy music for so long that DRAIN have uncovered the secret sauce needed to make standout tracks in a genre where separation from your peers does not come easily. The songs on Living Proof never overstay their welcome, and give just enough to make the album palatable with each spin. Hooks are delivered once or twice, which makes each breakdown and riff that much more impressionable, a trait among the best contemporary hardcore anthems. 

Vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro's raspy howl kicks off opening track "Run Your Luck," and in turn introduces guitarist Cody Chavez' meticulous leads and chugs in partnership with Tim Flegal's pummeling drums. "Run Your Luck '' is the perfect intro because it succinctly demonstrates what DRAIN does best: sizzling thrashy leads coupled with bounce-heavy guitar parts reminiscent of New York hardcore bands like Backtrack and King Nine. 

And while those influences are present, the trio find a way to make familiar sounds surprisingly fresh. Ciaramitaro will spit his rage throughout a track, and when it suits the song, he'll pull out his demonic growl to accentuate the punishing, palm-muted crunchy breakdown that follows. To close out "RYL," he screams "You dug your own grave / Now fill the fucking…"  before bellowing out "hoooole," bringing with it the snail's pace slug of a breakdown to cap it off. 

Living Proof is a hardcore record, so the vast majority of the album is undoubtedly heavy, but what punctuates the standout moments is DRAIN's mastery of tempo and rhythm. Chavez' progressions and leads are always in perfect lockstep with Flegal's grooves, with each hit connected to each stroke, as if they're tied together by a string. They know when a song needs to barrel along and when it's time to bring it to a screeching halt — mostly so they can jam in one last knee-buckling mosh attack. "Evil Finds Light" executes the formula perfectly, with the majority of the song bolstered by a blistering progression that rides and bounces along, fitting in half-time choruses and a devastating, slow-as-molasses conclusion that serves as the cherry on top.

While that formula works, the album is so repeatable because DRAIN know how to deliver massive sounds (in partnership with Taylor Young, who produced the album) in a variety of ways. They can blaze through a ripper like "Imposter" or deliver a mostly palm-muted, springy track like "Watch You Burn" and make both feel huge and dense. 

But perhaps the most significant aspect is just how fun the album is. Sure, there's still plenty of calling out the proverbial 'they' and challenging those who turn their backs on the scene (see "Run Your Luck" and "Imposter"), but it really feels like DRAIN are set on making music that'll get people moving. Their sets have been consistently chaotic and hilarious, featuring people whaling on each other with inflatable sharks and beach balls, as well as their spin-kicks. Mid-album breather "Intermission" does well to capture that essence — a two minute interlude featuring a verse from hip-hop artist Shakewell on a four note piano lead, before the band comes in with that same lead in breakdown form. Even their decision to include a cover of the Descendents' pop-punk classic "Good Good Things" feels right. Harmonies be damned, DRAIN are unapologetically themselves, and the decision to include a vulnerable love song proves they're down to get melodic, even if they risk confusing fans by subverting their expectations.

Lyrically, Ciaramitaro continues to explore the duality of the happy-go-lucky stage presence he's become known for by touching on the anxieties and struggles to find hope amidst the uncertainties of life. "FTS (KYS)" delves into an inner struggle with alcoholism, identifying the issue and prioritizing changes to improve a life that is difficult enough as it is. "Find the strength and kill yourself / Reinvent the new you / Find the strength and kill all the parts that you don't love" is quite the juxtaposition, but the positivity is what rings true the most. Same goes for the title track,  which features a cowbell-laden groove that closes the album and leaves listeners with a blunt reminder of the band's ethos. For those who turn to hardcore as a means to escape or cope with whatever personal, societal or political pains they're dealing with, Ciaramitaro claims "And when I'm gone I hope you know / That I do it all for you / So if you need a little help / Here and now / This is living proof." Straightforward certainly, but DRAIN are well aware of the platform they have, and delivering that sentiment to close out the album will only make them more endearing to fans.

In a year with so many hardcore heavyweights releasing new music, fans will be hard pressed to find something that tops this. DRAIN have cemented themselves as one of the best bands doing it right now, both in the studio and on the stage. Living Proof may be considered an ambitious title for a group's second LP, but it's fitting for a band that continues to raise the bar and exceed expectations at every turn. 

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