If you listen back objectively to ‘Under The Radar’ some 16 years after its release, it’s difficult to say whether it has aged well. It provides such a concrete snapshot of that particular era in hardcore, it risks being lost on anyone who wasn’t there; memories of playing the album loudly at house parties come flooding back and it’s the exact same sensation as reconnecting with a lost friend.
For Grade, the science was simple: take the raw energy of metallic hardcore and sweeten it with some heartfelt emo. The result is something that other bands have tried to pull off but without the same level of authenticity as these Canadians. Perhaps it was the punk pedigree of the band members that allowed Grade to tap into two of the biggest underground movements and make them their own.
Lead singer Kyle Bishop was previously the guitar player in doom metallers Acrid and later the founding member of The Swarm – aka Knee-Deep In The Dead, a straight edge band that quickly became the toast of the Canadian hardcore scene. Joining Bishop in this seminal group was Grade bass player Matt Jones and former Left For Dead vocalist Chris Colohan (who went on to front Cursed). All these players were devoted to the DIY punk community and well respected in the scene. It makes perfect sense, then, that these individuals understood the DNA of hardcore better than others, allowing them to mix and match their musical ideas with ease.
On 1999’s Under The Radar, the music leans towards the emo rock of bands like Jimmy Eat World, rather than the metallic riffs they’d written for earlier releases, such as Separate The Magnets two years previously. With this album, the guitars are less aggressive and extremely catchy, and tracks like A Year In The Past Forever In The Future offer hints of pop punk as they bounce in time with the drums.
Against the calming influence of the instruments sit Kyle Bishop’s vocals. Much of the time, he sounds like a man being doused in petrol and set on fire. When Bishop launches into his signature deathly scream over upbeat guitar riffs on the opening track The Inefficiency Of Emotion, it really shouldn’t work – but it does.
On Under The Radar, Bishop’s lyrics adhere to the rules of emo and deal largely with the pain of break-ups. When he screams the line ‘Do you love me?’ at the end of The Inefficiency Of Emotion, it’s his way of purging. It’s raw emotion and that’s why it works; we feel his sorrow. But when the moment suits, Bishop can deliver gigantic choruses such as in Triumph And Tragedy and it’s then that you understand that Grade’s dynamics lie more in the vocals than the combination of bass, guitars or drums.
In the late ‘90s, the same kids who slam danced at hardcore shows were also front row for The Get Up Kids. Grade’s brand of emotional hardcore bridged the gap perfectly and Under The Radar is the sound of these two united scenes. Over the years, emo drifted further and further away from the underground, but in 1998 Grade captured the energy and emotion of punk’s most prevailing cliques. Under The Radar may be rooted to a certain time but the love for this record will last forever.
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