ARTS

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October 5, 2001

Rival Schools burn bright in the fiery pits of hell

If I really am the bad person that my friends say I am, I guess I'll wind up in hell. And while I'm burning or pushing a rock up a hillside or both for an eternity, Rival Schools' United by Fate will be playing very loudly on the devil's PA system. I say this not because United by Fate is truly evil. I mean, I'm sure its makers had only the best intentions and never meant to cause this reviewer any agony or anguish. The four men who crafted it certainly committed no crime. But to my ears, this is pure, unadulterated pain.

I've always maintained that the worst albums are the ones that show absolutely no backbone. I can forgive albums that set out to suck and succeed with flying colors, but albums that are so generic and willingly mediocre receive no pity from me. The Rival Schools project fits very nicely into the burgeoning emo/post-punk scene. And I'm sure some middle management creampuff over at Island/Def Jam thought that with The Promise Ring and Sunny Day Real Estate and others of their ilk selling so well that maybe the genre was ready to be accepted by the masses. Hey, maybe the man would have been right, but I guess we'll never know because instead of a clever pastiche of all things good about the genre, we get this hastily packaged and utterly forgettable half hour of power chords.

What's even more distressing is that the mastermind behind this record is an accomplished — even somewhat respected — musician. You may know singer/lead guitarist Walter Schreifels from his days as a member of Quicksand, a fairly competent hardcore outfit. But all considerations for past efforts and inventiveness seem to have gone out the window with the birth of the Rival Schools project. United by Fate is amped and jacked up in all the wrong ways. The production, if it can even be referred to by that name, is reminiscent of any other current pop-punk flavor currently on the airwaves. The producer and engineers were probably so bored that they fell asleep at the controls. The guitars sound like those unwelcome mosquitoes at sleepaway camp that buzz in your ear when you're trying to sleep. And everything and anything resembling a musical nuance just seems shoved to the back or forgotten altogether.

Some will undoubtedly defend this musical atrocity on the grounds that “it rocks." Hell, I've witnessed it myself in a number of reviews and on more than a few message boards. But don't let these mentally infirm people lead you astray. Plenty of albums “rock," and do so without cutting off oxygen supply to the brain. If you value originality and/or smart hooks, I strongly urge you to look elsewhere. In the meantime, I guess I should go someplace holy this weekend to confess my sins. Eternal damnation just got a whole lot worse.