Alkaline Trio’s iconic Heart & Skull symbol has come to represent more than the viscerally creative band, their deeply connective albums and the label imprint partnered with Epitaph Records that releases their music. While it does symbolize those things, the instantly recognizable logo tattooed on the bodies, hearts and minds of supporters worldwide also denotes a diverse but decisive lifestyle equal parts passion and dedication. It’s a commitment to the triumph of the outsider.
Those who display the emblem do so as a badge, a show of unity in individuality. Like the skeleton-with-a-martini attached to Social Distortion, the Crimson Ghost associated with the Misfits or the “bars” intrinsically linked to Black Flag, Alkaline Trio’s logo is representative of subculture itself; a type of victory, through longevity and purpose, that transcends arbitrary commercial appeal and celebrity groupthink.
Now more than 15 years into their career, the dark punk trio has cemented their legacy with their ninth studio album. Feverishly determined to never make the same record twice, Alkaline Trio nevertheless have preserved the most electric elements of their collaborative songwriting abilities, as their most diehard listeners have come to expect, while ever broadening their palette with new colors and extremes.
The raw energy of ‘70s proto-punk, the darkly romantic sensibility and tongue-in-cheek wordplay of ‘80s new-wave, the upbeat melodicism of the underground power-pop movement of the ‘90s and the eclectic individualism of the new millennium all have a home in the Alkaline Trio sound, which is stunningly contemporary in execution yet as timeless as the hook-infused Top 40 of Midcentury America.
The downtrodden, the dispossessed, the ill-at-ease; they have all found something to identify with in Alkaline Trio’s creative output, vociferously declaring their dedication and the life-preserving encouraging power of the songs across social media. The new material furthers the building story, adding new twists to the diverse elements strewn throughout 2010’s intimately reimagined collection Damnesia with the energized promise befitting a band whose continued position in the fabric of the underground community has been assured since their 1998 debut.
Recorded with Bill Stevenson of punk legends The Descendents (and Black Flag) at the drummer/producer’s Blasting Room Studios in Colorado, Alkaline Trio’s latest offering exhibits the hard-won anthems of an album made while sequestered away from home surrounded by the inspiration of desert sunsets bright nighttime stars.
Alkaline Trio formed in 1996 in the Midwest, looking for neither fame nor fortune, but instead working toward a potential future where their music would be meaningful to likeminded and/or disenfranchised people. Once, on tour, they optimistically imagined someday averaging crowds of 300 people from city to city, never dreaming that they would, in fact, someday hit #11 on the Billboard charts.
An early “trio” of albums comprised of Goddamnit (1998), Maybe I’ll Catch Fire (2000) and From Here to Infirmary (2001) steadily built the Alkaline Trio story, connecting with people on levels much deeper than the sounds of fly-by-night pop-punk bands more concerned with tabloid culture than authentic expression. Good Mourning (2003) songs like “Blue in the Face” further explored the darkness while Crimson (2005) tracks like “Mercy Me” greatly expanded upon the band’s past, as did the entirety of Agony & Irony (2008). What began on indie labels and flirted with the twists-and-turns of the corporate majors returned to its roots with the band’s own imprint through Epitaph in 2010 and the release of the powerful This Addiction, which ably used the drug heroin as a metaphor for love in its title track.
Band co-founder Matt Skiba (vocals/guitar), Dan Andriano (vocals/bass) and drummer Derek Grant have established a chemistry together that is uniquely their own. There’s a combustible magic in the room when they perform on stage, when they collaborate in the studio and when they interact with fans at their shows.
The band may sometimes celebrate the dark, the macabre, the reckless; they may tackle the underbelly of modern existence and the tragedy of man’s inhumanity to man; but there’s a light in the darkness, much like the heart that surrounds the skull, to be found in their expression. Alkaline Trio represents strength from adversity, armor from scar tissue, and the resolve to overcome. No matter how dark times can get, there’s a sinister smile, a sly twist of phrase and a sweet melody to survive with.