REVIEW: By the Grace of God – “Above Fear”

By the Grace of God
Above Fear
State of Mind Recordings

My first show and one of my first introductions to punk, indie, and DIY was Endpoint. Coming to their music by way of a mixtape, the teen currency of the times, I made my way to the final Endpoint show, which featured my then favorites, Sunspring, and my soon to be favorites, Crain. Growing up in the suburbs and later northern Bullitt County, it was a magical opportunity for me to see that there were other folks like me, engaged and engaging in the same kinds of stuff that got me going. So when By the Grace of God took off just a few years later, I was all over it.

Now at the end of my high school career, I hit all their shows, skipping funerals for relatives and staying out all night. Not only did their music and message resonate with me then and now, but as a burgeoning musician myself, singer Rob Pennington and guitarist Duncan Barlow, both pretty much the coolest of the cool in my mind, they never ever made me feel like an outsider. Even as I drifted from hardcore and got into other things, that stuck with me, those values and approaches to life, and just seeing that a little kindness goes a very long way. I’m better for knowing the people I knew in BTGOG and better still for their music.

Hearing that they were staging a comeback album seemed a little old hat for me. That’s not meant to be cynical -I’ve always found inspiration in the clear joy they take from their music- but rather a reflection on the fact that the band has had many last or reunion shows, kind of taking the wind out of the sails of any kind of finality. While that pulled at some OCD spot in my brain, consumed with organizing things into this or that box, I’ve since come to let go, and just get into it. And there is a lesson here about finality: if you’re having fun and adding a little light to the world, go for it!

Getting down to brass tacks, Above Fear is not only welcome, but needed. It’s just as likely that I’m just out of touch in some very real way, having strayed from my punk roots, at least musically speaking, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough directly political messaging in music. There is no one better equipped for this than Pennington, who for my money is far and away the voice of my generation. Of course, that’s not part and parcel to the entire record, coming in at the entirely too short six songs.

Opener Skinnerian Dilemma seems to touch on the very themes that I opened with here, an almost Taoist approach to life in general that reflects (at least to my mind) the idea of letting go and working within your natural state, while taking furtive steps to self-improvement; as a superlative ranking “best” does not “better,” and the dilemma in question here seems to push against these to philosophies, what is and what could be. It’s the perfect opener from a rhetorical position, given that the album only continues to deliver from there.

These are absolutely the kind of jams that you crank out, crunchy guitars and the kind of bombastic rhythm section that only Brian Rountree and our top ace Thommy Browne can pull off. There are some righteous anthems here, from the sort of throwback hardcore blast of (Drowning In) White Tides to their modernized take on the genre with Ann(e). If you were looking for the soundtrack to your distaste for that rotten turtle that’s served as a pestilence to Kentucky for decades, then Spikes to McConnell, which features an almost Judas Priest meets indie metal vibe. A Forever Pledge is the perfect closer, an optimistic reminder that we need one another, and that, even as corny as it may read, love wins. It may seem trite in lesser hands, but this is well earned. These are your friends, that voice in the dark, reminding you that you aren’t alone now or ever, and that we can find one another, whether that’s platonic or romantic love.

Above Fear is an incredible album from start to finish that illustrates a band that needed to exist on virtually every level. This is that rage and anxiety that many of us are experiencing externalized and given fresh life by some of the best out there. They’re dropping the album this weekend at Spinelli’s. Will there be kids running in circles and pointing to the sky? I fucking hope so. Scream your heart out and don’t get discouraged, because you aren’t alone.

Listen to Above Fear in its entirety below.