Death By Stereo's Into The Valley Of Death ..."kicks ass"

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There are few bands where you could simply write a review of "this record kicks ass" and it would suffice, but for Death By Stereo, that would work out nicely. We've beamed over this band on their first two records, the Indecision Records masterpiece If Looks Could Kill, I'd Watch You Die and their Epitaph debut, the not quite as good, but still pretty excellent Day Of Death. Unfortunately the new year has brought the departure of founding guitarist Jim Miner, but this band is anything but done - Into Of The Valley Of Death isn't quite as "hardcore" as their first record, and isn't nearly as melodic as their second, but probably is their finest mix yet of their broad range of influences - it's hard-hitting, and yet catchy as hell at the same time.

The really big difference between this record and previous efforts is the much-improved production - something that had been lacking before. The vocals are cleaner with more harmonies added, the guitar sound is bigger, the drums are more curshing... This album is much larger in scale. From the huge church choir intro to "Let Down and Alone" or just the huge breakdown ending to "Wasted Words," there is part after part that just makes you go "woah." Vocalist Efrem Schulz maintains one of hardcore's most identifiable voices, and the drumming, this time provided by Todd Hennig (the Death's third drummer in three albums), is maybe not as technical as before, but is equally as impressive, and incorporates some tasteful double bass (always appreciated).

Again, the political angst in this band adds to the music's power, and it's nice to see a political band exhibit a little intelligence in their lyrics - it's possible to be lewd ("I wouldn't piss in your ear if your brain was on fire") and still show that you know what you're talking about. I am convinced that this is Epitaph's smartest signing (outside re-signing Bad Religion) in the past five years. Fir those that are still looking for a gateway to hardcore, Death By Stereo is an amazing place to start. This is easily a top 10 record of 2003 for me.

- Kevin Wade