Direct Hit! has come a not-so-long way since its 2009 debut, EP #1. That record was more or less offered up as a rough demo for a Box Social side project—with emphasis on “rough.” But the band’s essential pop-punk aesthetic hasn’t changed much over the years; the 2011 compilation Domesplitter features polished-up versions of a few of the early tunes, but only the increasingly bestial screaming would clue you in as to which tracks originated in what year. The new Brainless God traces the same basic template carved out by NOFX and the Fat Wreck Chords stable and then streamlined and dulled by Blink-182 and its ilk, only Direct Hit! retains somewhat of a guttural hardcore edge while crafting bratty anthems that are memorable and singable without being cheesy.
Despite the “Auld Lang Syne” motif that begins and ends the album, there’s no hint of forgiveness or renewal in the lyrics. This is relentlessly bleak, violent stuff; every song except “Bank Of Elevators” makes specific reference to the world blowing up. The dizzying maze of vague religious imagery is so oppressive that it almost seems earnestly self-righteous, but it‘s all so unfocused that it‘s not convincing of anything in particular. In the end, “A Message For The Angels Pt. II (Brainless God)” makes singer/guitarist Nick Woods’ general position pretty clear, though: if he’s got any sort of spiritual agenda, it’s anti-God. Still, there’s at least a hint of humor in lines like “Your brainless god should take some time / Climb off his throne and give us all an explanation of his own / We want our whiskey bottles back now, our guitars and amplifiers / Because this night ain’t over until we say it’s done.” Right?
Musically, the album remains very ’90s. “Back To The Tower” is reminiscent of Television City Dream-era Screeching Weasel, while “I Told You A Lie” might’ve squeezed nicely onto Green Day’s Insomniac if only it featured more palatable singing. But Woods isn’t interested in serenading anyone. His voice cracks and breaks mid-roar throughout the album, and it makes the whole endeavor more believable than your typical kitty-pettin’ emo crooner. There’s also no sense that Woods is angling for a record deal. Despite the pitch-perfect harmonies and slick, precise riffs, Brainless God is ferocious and raw even if its lyrics are ineffectual. It’s really only pop-punk because a bunch of other bands got famous playing a watered-down variation of the same style (and screaming has become radio-friendly in the past decade or so). For an apocalyptic concept album, this one is mercifully unambitious, the way punk ought to be.