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Legacy acts putting out new albums is de rigueur now, but an album that sounds fresh and exciting? That’s rare. Surgical Steel and At War With Reality are ultimately just a couple of decent melodic death metal records [Well, one of them is only decent- ed.]; serviceable, but nothing to get overly excited about. There’s a stark contrast between material which pushes a band along and which pushes a band forward. Portland hardcore punk lifers Poison Idea will never get tagged as “progressive” in any way, but new LP Confuse & Conquer maintains their signature sound without getting bogged down by stale genre tropes.

For a band heavily influenced by the California punk scene, Poison Idea never had the unhinged manic qualities one found in Black Flag or the Circle Jerks. Their song structures and musicianship were much more hard rock-oriented, and that continues on Confuse. “Bog” opens the album in classic PI style: fast hook-laden riffs, go-for-broke drumming, and Jerry A doing his best Darby Crash-on-steroids impersonation. The piano intro on “Psychic Wedlock” recalls the epic “Plastic Bomb” from 1990’s Feel The Darkness, but halfway through slows down to an uncharacteristically doomy psychedelic passage before shifting back into high punk gear. It’s an unexpected but welcome move. “Hypnotic” has a Social Distortion rockabilly vibe, replete with gang vocal “Hey! Hey!”s and “WhooaaOOOooaa”s. “Cold Black Afternoon” brings the circle pit home with a relentless hardcore energy, leaving only enough room for a ripping tap-happy solo before slamming into the equally fast and furious “Rhythms Of Insanity”. A respite comes in the form of “Dead Cowboy,” awash in spaghetti Western worship down to the twangy Telecaster tone and bullwhip cracks.

Confuse & Conquer is the first Poison Idea album since the 2006 death of longtime guitarist Tom “Pig Champion” Roberts, but also marks the return of Eric “Vegetable” Olson after 25 years away. Pair that with a significantly younger rhythm section, and it might help explain how the album can sound so classic yet invigorated in equal measure. As long as Jerry keeps winning the battle with his underwear, we’ll be OK.

—Chris Rowella

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Confuse and Conquer is out now via Southern Lord. Follow Poison Idea on Facebook.

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