The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist: The Blamed
Label: Grrr recordS
Length: 13 tracks / 37:52 minutes
You never know what to expect from the ever-changing Blamed, and Forever is no exception.  They've pulled a switchback, slamming to a halt somewhere between the basic East Coast hardcore of last year's Against and the thrashfest of 1995's Frail.  And it's their best yet, a perfect fusion of classic hardcore shout-singing, updated '80s thrash riffing (check the slowed-down old-skool Metallica moves in "Satori"), and thrash-punk moshpit breaks all over the place.  "Reason Escapes" sounds like a long-lost Everdown song, with that hypnotic, crushing, bounce-groove style of hardcore riffing that just keeps going and going.  This is no frills, veteran hard music.

What really gets them over the top this time around is something that was promised for the last album but never really materialized:  the double-team semi-Sepultura tribal drumming of Jim Chaffin (regular for The Blamed; formerly of The Crucified) and guest Lance Garvin (Living Sacrifice).  The resounding poundings reign supreme here.  Also promising is final track "4/20/99," which borrows Hilde Bialach from The Crossing to provide cool Celtic chick vocals to go with the building storm of tribal beats and doom-doom distortion.

Only problem is, you can barely make out her voice in the mix, a production party-pooper which plagues the entire album.  The vocals are just mixed too low, not separated enough for you to make out more than an occasional phrase or two when there's a lull in the musical whirlwind.  And there's no lyric sheet.  With guest lyricists like Andrew Mandell (Ballydowse) and Dave Canfield (Cornerstone Magazine), that's a big frown-maker and really takes away from the whole album. Forever is left as merely a riff and drum monster with no brain.

Josh Spencer      9/4/99


Josh Spencer, contributing senior associate editor for The Phantom Tollbooth for over two years, is also publisher and editor-in-chief of spiritual pop culture webzine Stranger Things.  Reviews and articles by him are usually simultaneously published in some form at

The Blamed has added a new member for this Project, Matt Switaj. Like frontman Brian Grey and bassist Jeff Locke, Switaj is a member of the Jesus People USA community in Chicago, and he plays guitar and handles much of  the lead vocals on this project. Someone new on lead vocals could have been a disaster, but Matt and Brian mix rather well. The Blamed's longtime drummer, Jim Chaffin (who also pounded the skins for Mortal's "Intense Live" EP and "Wake" CD), is still with them, and still as awesome on a set as ever.

Lyrically, this is not an album to be taken lightly. The Blamed pulls no punches in getting the message across:

The Blamed isn't afraid to tackle issues either, with a song about Matthew Shepard, the young man brutally beaten to death for his homosexuality, in "Pistol Whipped," and another about the death penalty, "Beyond Your Passion is His Passion."

Production is very tight, as I've come to expect from the Grrr Records team. The only gripe about this disc is production of one song. The female vocal on "4/20/99" isn't bright enough in the mix, rendering it somewhat hard to understand. The song is clearer on headphones than it was on a full stereo.

Bottom line: The Blamed is not now, nor were they ever, a pop-punk band. This album is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But if your ideal disc is brutally honest old-school punk, then The Blamed's "Forever" will fit nicely into your mix.

Josh Marihugh 9/5/99

One of Christian music's more prolific acts, The Blamed are back with their fourth album, and the familiar hardcore sound is back, with a few new metal riffs and some awesome drumming moving The Blamed closer to new-school hardcore. While the music is fast and furious, the lyrics add even more punch as they speak on subjects as diverse as the beating death of Matthew Shephard and as controversial as the death penalty. Take a look at "Pistol Whipped":

        You never learned right from wrong
        Ignorance is a much easier recourse
        I refuse to ignore the hostility marked by injustice...

        You made a martyr from a broken man...

and "Beyond Your Passion In His Passion":

        In this land of eye for an eye no one sees
        Who I've become the one they want to kill
        Died long ago I am just an image to them
        Far beyond their penalty they say they're innocent
        And I am guilty a liability in their economy...

While The Blamed's lineup changes almost as fast as Van Halen's, you have to admire them for continuing to put out music, longevity being almost nonexistant in the Christian music market. New vocalist Matt Switaj handles the mic well, his throaty shouts melding with the fast pace of the music. Songs such as "To Change" showcase the intensity of the band perfectly, from the gang vocals to the meant-for-moshing guitar groove. The song "4-20-99" could have been a standout song, except the metallic riffing drowns out the Celtic sounding female guest vocalist.

Equiped with solid production, wide-ranging song topics, and good musicianship from all involved, The Blamed have yet again put out a solid CD. While the songs aren't all that different in structure from one another, they're all tight. And the drumming of Jim Chaffin and Lance Garvin is so good, they could carry the album by themselves.

Joe Rockstroh    9/5/99