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Bayside’s new album is a powerful display of resiliency

Considering that Bayside drummer John “Beatz” Holohan was killed in a car accident in 2005, as well as the fact that the title of the band’s new album is “The Walking Wounded,” one might assume that the Long Island, N.Y.-based emo/punk-popsters’ latest effort is a mournful affair driven by sorrow and anguish.

However, “The Walking Wounded” is an upbeat self-portrait of a band that is looking to move forward while sticking to its trademark swift and melodic sound (think Victory labelmates Hawthorne Heights combined with Alkaline Trio after a few therapy sessions).

Many of the key elements of Bayside’s first two records are evident on this album, including catchy major chord progressions, Anthony Raneri’s sincere and pleading vocals and Jack O’Shea’s underrated forceful-yet-restrained guitar work.

However, there is a more palpable sense of optimism here than on those earlier albums, although hints of melancholia remain scattered throughout the record.

This atmosphere is immediately established with the title track, a driving rocker that features a wicked solo by O’Shea yet also manages to incorporate piano and waltz-like (yes, waltz-like) interludes. Lyrically, it is a declaration of resilience in which Raneri and I Am the Avalanche lead singer Vinnie Caruana provide somber vocals yet bring enough energy to sound convincing when they sing, “But who would want to die as a cowardly little child?/When our time is up, will we be ashamed or proud?”

“Head On A Plate” is a delicious pop confection that also serves as Raneri’s rallying cry against overzealous scenesters who simply look for the next up-and-coming band to put on a pedestal just so they can knock it down.

The band even examines questions of faith and spiritual longing on “Dear Your Holiness,” an uptempo track that is musically reminiscent of past Bayside songs such as “Masterpiece” and “Kellum” yet distinguishes itself through the use of subtle-but-effective harmonies. Raneri also sings with so much earnestness and passion that when he asks, “Hey God, I’m out here on my own/So now will you save me now?” it sounds like he really means it.

If there’s one major flaw with “The Walking Wounded,” it’s that Bayside sticks a bit too closely to the musical template of its previous records and does little to change this formula other than on the aforementioned title track. This adherence to the tried-and-true may deny the band access to rock critics’ year-end best-of lists as well as hurt its chances of achieving emo-pop superstardom a la Fall Out Boy, but the diehard fans will certainly savor every moment of this album.

As for comparisons to other Long Island bands that have made good such as Taking Back Sunday and Brand New, they’re irrelevant because these three bands differ from each other in sound and approach despite critics’ tendency to lump them into the same genre. It is true that “The Walking Wounded” is not musically or lyrically as rich as Brand New’s latest release “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” and Bayside may never achieve massive commercial success on the level of Taking Back Sunday.

Still, this album shows that the boys from Bayside are able to bounce back from tragedy and deliver some pretty damn catchy rock in the process.

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