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Ambitions - "Stranger" (CD)

Ambitions - "Stranger" CD cover image

"Stranger" track listing:

1. The Habit of Despair is Worse Than Despair Itself
2. The Illusion
3. Sinking
4.Fact Remains
5. Calamity
6. Rapid Succession
7. Overstep
8. Postscript
9. Stranger
10. Losing Control
11.Culmination(of my life's work)
12. Between Breaths
13. Redemptive Soul

Reviewed by on November 15, 2007

"[This] is no exercise in hardcore nostalgia or trendy fashioncore."

It must be difficult to be a band in a genre which is as strictly defined as hardcore. Witness some of the negative reaction to Throwdown's latest release, "Venom and Tears," which brings to the fore influences like Pantera and Machine Head. It's not 1982 so you can't expect things to sound the same as they did twenty years ago. In my opinion, a slavish devotion to "loud fast rules" put a stranglehold on creativity in the hardcore scene. When bands like Husker Du were criticized for being sell-outs because they began to experiment with complex song structures, different instrumentation, and concept albums as well as committing the cardinal sin of signing to a major label, it became clear that hardcore was in deep trouble. "You aren't a non-conformist like we are so you must not be one of us."

Which brings me to "Stranger," the latest release from Ambitions. Brothers Jay and Jeff Aust came out of With Honor, an energetic hardcore band from Connecticut which combined the best of old-school with modern influences. They played spirited, positive hardcore in the same vein as bands like Comeback Kid, Rise Against, and XLookingForwardx.

Ambitions is Jay Aust (vocals), Jeff Aust (guitars), John Ross (drums for With Honor, bass), Jake Woodruff (guitars), and Keith Maddog (drums). They caught the attention of Bridge Nine Records while touring with bands like Have Heart, Bane, Verse, and Modern Life is War. They joined the Bridge Nine roster in 2006 and began writing the songs which would be their full length debut, "Stranger."

This thirteen track album released on November 6 is no exercise in hardcore nostalgia or trendy fashioncore. The album opens with "The Habit of Despair is Worse Than Despair Itself," a short instrumental which starts with some restrained feedback that gives way to guitars and drums and then segues into "The Illusion." Jay Aust's expressive vocals are nicely complemented by the guitars and rhythm section. There's real singing here, as opposed to the shouted vocals so common in hardcore. "Calamity" shows that Ambitions have not turned their backs on their hardcore roots but aren't afraid to mix in a healthy dose of melody. The mix on "Rapid Succession" highlights nicely interlocked guitars and some tasteful bass playing. The title track, "Stranger," is a mid-tempo instrumental which gives way to the up-tempo, anthemic shout-outs of "Losing Control." "Redemptive Soul" closes the album with a guest appearance from Pat Flynn of Have Heart.

This is a strong debut from a band who mixes their hardcore heritage with solid, guitar-based songs.

Highs: Good, strong vocals

Lows: A couple of the songs could've been shorter

Bottom line: Strong hardcore which doesn't merely rehash the past

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)