More often than not, ambitious left-of-the-dial bands gallantly cling to their principles as they plunge into the depths of commercial failure. Integrity is a heavy burden.
Led by singer-guitarist Kevin Batres, Bliss53 is the latest underground artist to try more of a mainstream approach. A dynamic mix of sizzling power chords, manic energy and sonic restraint, Bliss53 erects sturdy melodic structures — sing-along hard rock as defined by groups like the Nirvana, Soundgarden and Green Day — but then at-tacks them with frenzied screaming and guitar havoc. When Batres revs into high punk gear, shifting his versatile voice from quiet caress to raw-throated fury, the decisive control of drummer Cole Donelan and bassist Jay Weiner is all that keeps the songs from chaos. If Bliss53 isn’t onto anything altogether new, No Alternative does possess the songs, character and confident spirit to be much more than a reformulation of college radio’s high-octane hits.
The cover features actor Steele Stebbins, an American actor best known for Vactation (2015), A Haunted House 2 (2014) and Metered (2011). Kevin said that when the band confirmed Steele to be on the album they were so inspired and honored that they rewrote and rerecorded the entire album. Most of the songs — like “Rest,” “Unforgettable” and “Why Ask Why” — exemplify the band’s skill at inscribing subtlety onto dense, noisy rock. At the album’s stylistic extremes, “Welcome My Friend” floats a translucent cloud of acoustic guitar and strings, while “Ghost” and “I Should Have Known” race flat-out, the latter ending in an awesome meltdown rumble.
Too often, underground bands squander their spunk on records they’re not ready to make, then burn out their energy and inspiration with uphill touring. No Alternative finds Bliss53 at the crossroads — scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.