Two Decades Along, the Flatliners Are Still Taking On the World with 'New Ruin'
Published Aug 03, 2022Somehow, someway, the Flatliners are already celebrating 20 years as a band. It's a huge milestone for any group, but especially one that started playing shows before they were legally of age to enter most venues. Over those two decades, their sound has shifted from ska-core to blistering punk before landing at a more laid-back and softened approach on their most recent LP, 2017's Inviting Light. Regardless of the genre shift, the cohesion and chemistry among the four members has only gotten stronger, as made evident by their consistent ability to improve upon their songwriting and recognize what they do best. Five years on from Inviting Light, the foursome is back with New Ruin, an album that blends sounds old and new while highlighting their ability to adapt and build upon their strengths.
Influenced by an anxiety-inducing hellscape, New Ruin's opening track "Performative Hours" blows the doors off right out of the gate. Guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Cresswell screams, "Let me start by peeling back my skin" as his enormous riff — and fellow guitarist Scott Brigham's lead — wail in the background. Chaotic and ferocious, the Flatliners position New Ruin's opening as a reflection of current uncertainties and concerns. It's a sentiment effectively captured with a song akin to a hit of smelling salts, immediately reminding fans just how big and bombastic the Flatliners can be.
From there the album unfolds, revealing anthemic choruses and hooks that will linger long after their first play. "Rat King" and "Oath" are two standouts that feature seismic guitars and gang vocals, both songs exploding as they reach their apex. Either track feels like it could have fit perfectly into the band's earlier catalogue but are elevated by their refined dynamics, allowing for reserved valleys in the verses that juxtapose the crescendos of their peaks.
The Flatliners have become very comfortable letting songs breathe, and while they've never shied away from lengthy compositions, New Ruin highlights their ability to take the foot off the gas when necessary. Though they've established themselves with their distinctive brand of punk, they've found more room for groovier, knee-bending jams where leads slowly reveal themselves. "It'll Hurt" and "Top Left Door" demonstrate a band reveling in the quiet moments and enhancing the big payoffs. Cresswell's vocals do the same, allowing him to showcase his range as he swings between his harsh growl and smoother hum.
Six-minute album closer "Under a Dying Sun" is another great example of this newfound balance. The song slowly builds, driven by Paul Ramirez's rolling drums and Jon Darbey's steady bassline, before exploding. When Brigham's lead comes soaring in, the timing is perfect. Cresswell's textured voice is paired with beautiful harmonies in the song's final chorus, leading to an instrumental outro fitting to end the album.
While the sound of New Ruin presents a cohesive blend of the band's past and present, the album's lyrics are focused on the now. "Performative Hours'' examines narcissism through the lens of social media: "Worship for friendship in a digital age / just reminding you the exact shape of my face," Cresswell sings, capturing the inexplicable need for constant validation that's emerged as these platforms have become more prominent. In "Rat King", Cresswell sings "Modern freedom is a lie / and we're all caught in its flames," suggesting that those same shortcomings are likely a byproduct of those in power leading without regard for the well-being of those who are to follow.
Despite the criticism, "Under a Dying Sun" posits an opportunity to mend the wounds of the past. "From under a dying sun / caught in the middle of / escaping escapism" captures the sentiment that it's not too late to pull our collective heads out of the sand and acknowledge the actuality and severity of issues like the looming environmental crisis and the social and financial inequalities between races and genders. Once the collective acknowledges those disparities, perhaps then meaningful change can occur.
New Ruin serves as a testament to the Flatliners ability to mature and evolve collectively. It's a tall task for any band, and especially one that's been together since their teenage years. They've identified what works and what doesn't within the scope of their sound, and have still found a way to keep things fresh for fans who have been following along for the bulk of their 20-year career. The journey has been a long one, and from their ska-based origins, the Flatliners have cemented themselves as one of the most reliable Canadian punk bands of the last two decades. (Dine Alone)