Wobblies and Communists and Charlie Brown, oh my! The references are varied but all equally powerful on Stick To Your Guns’ latest gem, Spectre. Three songs in and you’ll be hooked on the collection, which arrived on July 29, 2022, thanks to Pure Noise Records.
It is been a while since Stick To Your Guns (STYG, for short) graced us with new material way back in another lifetime, in 2017, when they issued their sixth album, the phenomenal True View. The Orange County, California quintet, fronted by the outspoken Jesse Barnett, is not shockingly known for its intelligent and impassioned lyrics. We learned this fact with their 2005 debut full-length, For What It’s Worth, though they provided strong supportive evidence throughout the following 12 years with the likes of 2010’s The Hope Division, 2012’s Diamond, and 2015’s Disobedient. A “band’s band,” the men of STYG mold their personal fire into words, penning songs that are meant to address many an -ism.
Their sixth full-length, Spectre, is no different. Produced by the inimitable Drew Fulk (Motionless In White, Lil Wayne), the 12-song record pulls heavy inspo from history with hopes that, one day, the endless cycle of ignorant repetition can be #canceled. To relay their message of love in the face of hatred, Stick To Your Guns—Vocalist Jesse Barnett, Guitarists Chris Rawson and Josh James, Bassist Andrew Rose, and Drummer George Schmitz—offer listeners a haunting yet dynamic collection that is as satisfying to the ears as it is to the heart.
Brash when necessary, with moments of carefully measured hope, Spectre provides a true view of our disconnected society. From the anti-capitalism anthem “Who Dares” to the straightforward disgust at the apathy and narcissism that are the “Instruments of the End” of humanity, their lyrics ring with passion for their firm beliefs. But they make it clear that this fire is one stoked by love, a theme that sits at the center of the earworm “Weapon.” With the infectiousness of Pop Punk but the raw nature of Hardcore, the quintet explores living in a world where “hate is choking the love . . . ”.
It’s enough to make Anti-Flag giddy, as is the ‘fight for tomorrow, today’ anthem, “A World to Win,” where Charlie Brown helps out with the lyrical content. Then there’s the bleak “Hush,” where the simplicity of the song’s structure places its emphasis on the promise that those who sew hatred in life will eventually be called to answer for their crimes. It is a brilliant offering, haunting in its truth, as it was inspired by Lepa Radić, a Serbian teen who was hung during WWII for hunting Nazis. Facing imminent death, she was offered a chance to spare herself if she would only turn in her allies but the strong young woman chose, instead, to remain firm in her fight against evil.
Without this backstory, this is history that less curious listeners might gloss over, hearing only a phenomenal banger. Yet, Stick To Your Guns is known for its ability to autopsy the guts of each issue they tackle, a fact that reverberates throughout the sucker punch of “Liberate” or the curious journey of “The Shine.” Of course, one thing that the quintet is not is a one-trick-pony, and they mix up their stylistic approach through Spectre, in tracks such as “Open Up My Head,” “Father,” and “No Way to Live.” This latter track is a phenomenal closer, experimenting with folksy acoustic vibes as Barnett and his comrades provide a beautifully moving assessment of patriotism, religion, and the fabrication of freedom in America.
While they end the album with a protest song, of sorts, the likes of “More of Us Than Them” would make equally powerful conclusions with their empowering sense of community amongst, not just Stick To Your Guns’ fans, but the like-minded in this world. It is a singular piece from the collection that encapsulates the message of the whole: With love, compassion, acceptance, and knowledge, all things are possible.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of today’s music is made to stroke someone’s ego, to inspire someone’s melancholy, or simply to fling expletives at those that an artist maligns. And, of course, to promote their brand. Sometimes, it’s a devil in a blue dress and we obsess, while other times we are able to see it for what it is. With Stick To Your Guns, the experience of listening to music is fulfilling on an entirely different level. In fact, there’s no need to feel guilt when these words escape from between your lips because there’s freedom in finding camaraderie with those that want more from life.
There is a value in sincerity, in passion, in chasing the hope of a world where we are all on equal ground when it comes to attaining our dreams. And there’s something special about finding those beliefs shared through Melodic Hardcore, on a record that is guaranteed to make Best Of lists in December. Say what you will, but Stick To Your Guns sure knows how to make a record! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Spectre 5 out of 5 stars.