Concert review: Retox

VIENNA, Va., July 5, 2012 —The members of Retox probably would scoff at the idea of being called a “Screamo” band. The genre classification has different toothless connotations in their native Southern California than it does here on the East Coast. This band plays with hardcore aggression combined with early ‘80s punk brevity and earnestness. Screamo is just the easiest way to describe a band like Retox, and their recent show at DC9 further backs up this claim.

Agreeing on the appropriate genre classification for a band like Retox is beside the point anyway. Everything Retox does during their show is all about release. This has always been a truism within this vein of music, whether it’s hardcore, early punk, screamo, or whatever label gets foisted on bands of their ilk. But not only does the release motif apply to this band, it extends to their audience as well. Every scream, every blast beat, every power chord is like a rush of adrenaline lofting its way up and out of the venue. 

The Retox brand of release is best characterized by the sustained blasts of controlled noise the band doles out. It contrasts dramatically with the almost immediate silences that occur between each song.  The amount of aggression that encompasses each song is rendered all the more shocking when compared to the absolute absence of noise as Retox reloads for their next barrage masquerading as a song. It’s the norm for them, though, as is vocalist Justin Pearson leaving everything on the stage.

This isn’t exactly the kind of show people expect, although this kind of music used to be the norm at one point in clubs the size of DC9. Bands often try to push songs to the breaking point, but that usually means they’re pushing out the song length further and further while searching for some new angle to take. Retox slams the door pretty violently on this approach.

A quick glance at their discography reveals that none of their songs even reach the two-and-a-half minute mark. Even then only one song breaks the two minute barrier. It takes a certain kind of confidence for a band to essentially release full-length album that clocks in at less than 20 minutes, but Retox pulls it off with their 2011 release, Ugly Animals. In a live setting, the shortness of their recorded material gets even tighter as Retox pushes brevity of their songs to the limit of existence as recognizable individual songs.

It’s easy to overlook or even be dismissive of the complexity of a band like Retox. They’ve become a niche band in a niche genre, but their brief bursts of energy shouldn’t be thought of as taking an easy way out. Instead of laboring through long progressions to emphasize their point, they blast out their message as simply and quickly as possible. Yet there’s also complexity to be mind here, if the audience has the patience to get beyond the obvious.

Getting too caught up in the message of Retox could be seen as another issue, but that might be better left for the too literally minded. Retox’s very premise is theory in practice. It’s not important to exactly focus on what Retox is singing about. That would likely be a waste of time. It’s far better to focus on the emotional content the band is toying with, using it as a way for everyone to exorcise the various frustrations they might be bringing to the show.

Simply stated, Retox is one band that brings back that elusive, aggressive release point for audiences that barely remember or might even have forgotten.

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener. Read more of his work in Riffs at the Washington Times Communities.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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