Aside from the inky black-and-white shots of the group on the back of their clean, cryptic album packaging, it’s hard to tell where Cloak/Dagger’s allegiances lie. You might guess from the label, Jade Tree, which in the past few years has been a haven for artists like Fucked Up who maintain the punk formula while trying to push it forward, getting experimental without losing the simple pleasure of smashing away on a few power chords. Cloak/Dagger, however, aren’t nearly so ambitious. To paraphrase a wise man– Anthony Kiedis in Point Break– that would be a waste of time. They just wanna fuck you up.
The trebly, in-the-red production may quickly become exhausting to some ears, but this record will sound punishing out of any stereo imaginable, be it iPod, PA, car, or ham radio. I admire that. While they clearly have one foot in early hardcore, they also make moves similar to purists like Hot Snakes, though they’re more uniform in tone, and without the tunes. There are more shifts in dynamics than hooks, and even those take a few spins to really distinguish.
The first four tracks blow past without taking a breath: "Bended Knee" dispenses notes at such a rapid pace, they’re barely discernible, collapsing over each other like a cartoon locomotive crash. The consistent frenzy of "Suburnt Mess" still builds a certain tension that fades straightaway into "Runways", where the guitars find a few empty corners to stretch out as singer Jason Mazzola chokes through lyrics where you can make out the words "victims" and "suburbs," but not much more. The uncertain minor chord that ends "Kamikazes" might be the first moment of pause.
We Are lacks a balance between melody and thrash, something to get across more than just the impression of being pummeled, but there’s plenty here to suggest the band may find it in the near future. In the record’s best moments, there are fleeting moments of stunning musicianship that never get in the way of the perpetually-in-5th-gear rhythms, like the arch ringing notes in the chorus of "Red Hair" that precede a scant few moments of lightning-fast rhythmic guitar picking, while "Walk the Block" adds some fine distractions– an upper-string riff here, an octave there– that sound completely epic in the center of a uniformly ugly, spittle-soaked debut.
While they cop to influences like Black Flag and D.I., and there’s more than a few fist-pump chants over staccato chords in tracks like "Walk the Block" and "J.C. Pays the Bills", Cloak/Dagger aren’t strictly punk just because they’re comparable in the speed and consistently choked, angst-ridden delivery. You could just as easily call it no-frills rock, dedicated to dirty minimalism and with delivered with a modicum of taste– really, what more could you ask for?