Criminal Code from Tacoma, Washington, play an anthemic, sneakingly melodic mixture of post-punk and post-hardcore. Formed in 2011, they’ve just released their debut LP No Device on Deranged Records, a welcome shot in the vein (or kick in the teeth) to an increasingly ethereal genre.
Criminal Code’s first proper long-player deals twelve tracks of technical precision matched with brickwall power. There’s a barbaric impulse festering in the twisted hearts of this Tacoma threesome, but No Device unfurls with dynamic tact and structural intricacy, sating its every aggressive urge with surgical attention to detail. With a stark palette of grizzly grays and off-white stains, Criminal Code details a singular spectrum of punk both bleak and savage. Naturally, the hardcore camp digs it because No Device extracts maximal strength from a few instruments in a minimal amount of time, but taut brooding snaps into serpentine guitar leads on enough songs for your death punk beholden to break off a piece. At any rate, Criminal Code tears down your descriptors and brings its own on No Device. A fiercely present, assertive album that dictates its own terms, listeners will find their go-to snappy little tags utterly inadequate and reductive. In the age of vaguely negative-wave nouveau and post-punk pastiche, Criminal Code is a colossal outfit casting its own long shadow.
No Device harkens back to the raw, stripped down and primal intensity that characterized the early days of post punk, back when it was still considered just punk, only punk that was a little off and slightly more unsettling than usual. Criminal Code straight rip and rock with an urgency and rabid junkie unpredictability that was traded in long ago when post punk started investing wholeheartedly in synthesisers and chorus pedal collections and diverting down broodier pathways to goth and whatever-wave.
That isn’t to say that Criminal Code have forsaken all of post-punk’s preoccupation with subtlety and atmosphere, it’s just, for lack of a better word, more subtle than the usual midnight fog of chorus and bed of synthesiser shimmer. Throughout No Device chorus is used only as the slightest colouring on the already unsettlingly atmospheric guitar work, which switches on a dime between serpentine melodies, angular, trebly chord-work, and bouts of harsh dissonance, and unless I’m mistaken, there isn’t a synthesiser in sight.
Criminal Code’s drummer crashes with a force more befitting a hardcore band; there’s no mistaking these beats for a drum machine. Likewise, Criminal Code’s vocalist eschews the standard pallid moaning and mono-baritone for a full throated roar with a faint but pervasive melodic undercurrent, more indebted to 90s post-hardcore than any Ian Curtis or Peter Murphy.
Criminal Code are a perfect mess of contradictions, simultaneously full-bodied and forceful, and cold, distant and washed-out, like a hardcore heart in pale post punk skin, or vice versa. (cvltnation.com)