This album is a wonder in that it manages to make some very angry punk music sound incredibly commercial without threatening the integrity of the artists or watering down the frenetic guitar backing and gravelly, anguished vocals. A sadly now-defunct hardcore punk act, the Nerve Agents were famed for dramatic and over the top live performances that seemed to cross the boundary between performance and brawling at points! They were very much the jewel in the crown of the SoCal hardcore scene and nobody has impressed me as much since.
Originally formed by lead singer Eric Ozenne and drummer Andy Outbreak, the group had a short but illustrious career and released this record and a later album, titled 'The Butterfly Collection', in addition to an EP and . 'Days of the White Owl' is a great introduction to the group and the aforementioned angry lyrics are mixed with excellent performances from dual guitars, bass and drums and some short (but memorable) piano contributions that add a certain funereal air to the intro/outro.
When it was originally released, the meaning behind the album's title and imagery were fiercely debated. Some commentators hinted that 'Days of the White Owl' referred to the dawning of a new world order of sorts, while others tried to find meaning in the occurrence of white owls in mythology and historical superstitions. I'm not going to throw my hat into the ring and suggest another origin, but both the piano contributions and lyrics can combine to give the album an enchanting, almost mystical air (at least when the band aren't screaming!)
The group make terrifying inroads towards exploding the myth of America, with lyrics referring to slavery, drug addiction, lies and deception and their disillusionment is played out with vocal contributions that range from a husky whisper to a full out cry of rage from Ozenne. There are also more than a few references to historical, modern and literary mythology (as seen on opener 'Spring Heeled Jack' and 'Jekyl and Hyde'. You can take the album one of two ways if you choose to do so - either a fantastic short release of shouty punk, or something meatier, with dark undercurrents of meaning and some very critical commentary on the state of the US in the year 2000. Either way it deserves repeated listens and I'd recommend reading the sleeve notes for the tracks where you think you're missing something.
The sixteen tracks represented here are very much the cream of their recordings and I think it works better as a collection than their later album. Those familiar with the genre will be aware that most of these tracks top out at two and a half minutes and won't be too surprised. It can, however, be just a little frustrating when a particularly enjoyable track is cut short as things move quickly on. Expect some swearing, these are angry young men! Some thoughts on tracks:
'Fall Of The All American' - Wonderful statement of intent, with yelled lyrics, huge chorus and brilliant riffs. 'Prey' - Brilliant punk song, with disjointed lyrics and fast tempo.
'Next In Line' - There's establishment-fighting talk on this record, with lyrics including: 'We are challenging your minds, erasing idiotic rules, the walls you've built are coming down, now!'
'The Invincible' and 'Dead Man Walking' - Listen like a pair to me, with the righteous lyrics of love and self-belief on 'The Invincible' diametrically opposing the waste of life that is drug addiction found on 'Dead Man Walking'.
'Just A Visual' - Short but ferocious, this song reminds us that the pursuit of the material isn't much consolation in the long run.
'Evil' - One of the few weak tracks on the album (a cover version). I'd probably skip this one.
'The Blue Lady' (Outro) - A beautiful but sombre piano section ends the record, leaving the audience a chance to catch their breath.
A catchy and visceral offering, this record would appeal greatly to fans of groups such as F-Minus, The Sons of Liberty (TSOL) and more modern bands such as AFI or even the Blood Brothers. A great record from a band at the height of their talents.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Spring Heeled Jack
2 Fall Of The All American
4 Days Of The White Owl
6 Off Come The Blindfolds
7 Your Warning
8 Jekyl And Hyde
9 Next In Line
11 Dead Man Walking
12 Out On The Farm
13 Sad History
14 Just A Visual
16 Blue Lady