Stray From The Path are not ones to mince words. The lyrics “Thinking like everyone else is not really thinking” open the hardcore boundary-defiers’ new album, Internal Atomics, and it’s an immediate declaration of intent: the world as we know it isn’t working, and it’s time for something new. In every way, the album is Stray From The Path unleashed; it’s punishingly heavy yet loaded with memorable hooks, universal and accessible yet caustic and outspoken, socially conscious and political yet deeply personal, furious yet constructive—an audacious testament to the power of aggressive music and refusing to fall in line.
Over a decade into their career, Stray From The Path have achieved a kind of longevity rarely seen in hardcore. With each successive release and relentless touring, longtime members Tom Williams (guitar) and Drew Dijorio (vocals) have taken the band from scrappy Long Island locals to powerhouse globetrotters. Anthony “Dragon Neck” Altamura (bass) joined in 2011 and Craig Reynolds (drums) in 2016, solidifying the lineup and helping the band evolve into their current incarnation: a behemoth of groove-laden, metallic hardcore riffing and hip hop-influenced vocal cadences. For Internal Atomics, the band teamed with producer/engineer Will Putney (Every Time I Die, Body Count, Vein) for a fifth time, recording at New Jersey’s Graphic Nature Audio and building on the trust and collaborative spirit that informs Stray From The Path’s writing process. The album pushes the band further into pummelling sonic territory than ever before, but it’s their attention to rhythm and catchiness that truly makes the heaviness impactful. Songs would often start with a drum part from Reynolds providing the perfect inspiration for Williams’ trademark Tom Morello-meets-Kurt Ballou riffs. But the instrumentals aren’t the only part of songwriting that Stray From The Path approach as a unit. The band also writes lyrics together, often spending hours in the control room endlessly looping parts and throwing out ideas. Dijorio explains, “We’ve really learned to take constructive criticism from each other, you just have to understand that everyone is trying to make the song the best it can be.”
This concerted effort might not be the norm for most bands, but for Stray From The Path it’s a natural extension of their worldview. “We want to collectively have stances, we don’t write about driving in the car with the top down,” Williams says. “We just try to shine a light on things that maybe aren’t always covered in the mainstream.” The band sees their position as an opportunity to plant seeds for change in an increasingly dark socio-political climate, and playing to ever-growing crowds of young music fans is a responsibility they don’t take lightly. “When you’re a kid, you can only go off of what you’re exposed to and we’re a good gateway to a lot of things like hardcore, metal, hip hop, and on top of that we try to use the band as a platform to highlight things we think are important,” Dijorio says. “I remember being that young kid and finding out that this whole other world existed, and it’s really cool to be able to offer that.”
Stray From The Path broadened their lyrical scope on Internal Atomics and aimed for a more universal tone without losing an ounce of their vitriol towards injustice. “The album title is about the idea of using energy to create power from within, that everyone has this energy they could use to help others,” says Williams, continuing, “We don’t have some perfect outlook on life but we try to speak from our experiences. We have a front row seat to America and we’ve been to something like 40 countries, you just see so much that makes it clear that we need to treat each other better on a societal level. You see places where people are being taken care of and then you see places where basic human rights are labeled as outsider ideas.”
One of the most pivotal experiences that informs Internal Atomics is the band’s 2018 trip to Kenya. Teaming with Hardcore Help Foundation and Actions Not Words, the band raised enough money to provide water filters for one hundred families and deliver them to villages outside of Nairobi. The band even capped off the visit with a show. “We started this band in an arcade hall in Long Island and it brought us all the way to Africa,” Dijorio says, “That was just us doing our small part, but HHF and ANW have dedicated their entire lives to helping people. It really changes your perspective.”
That strong sense of empathy runs throughout Internal Atomics. “Ring Leader” is the album’s explosive opening salvo, with Reynolds’ intricate drums building to a gigantic chorus that’s sure to incite shout-alongs and headbanging alike. The song wastes no time indicting the rampant complacency and selfishness that permeates modern America. “There are things that shouldn’t be a struggle to determine if they’re right or wrong,” Williams says, referencing everything from police brutality and flagrant corporate greed, to healthcare reform and environmental protections. “But a lot of people don’t care unless something directly affects them. They aren’t willing to sacrifice any small part of their own comfort for the greater good.” Tracks like “The First Will Be The Last” and “Fortune Teller” lash out at that myopic outlook and the priorities of past generations that fostered it, while “Something In The Water” asks what has made people so numb to the suffering of others that they’re willing to turn a blind eye to everything from mass shootings to immigrants in need.
While much of Internal Atomics explores 2019’s harsh political and societal realities, it also finds the band getting closer to home. “Kickback” features guest vocals from Counterparts’ Brendan Murphy, and uses a mind-bogglingly heavy chorus to rail against the kind of personality that only see others as stepping stones. “Holding Cells For The Living Hell” finds Dijorio at his most vulnerable, opening up about a family member’s struggles with mental health and coming to terms with not always being able to help the ones we love. “The hardest part is accepting that you can offer as much support as you can, but you can’t fix it.” he says.
Compassion blends with frustration throughout Internal Atomics, as the band veers from unrepentantly provocative (“Double Down”) to encouraging of deeper understanding (“Beneath The Surface”). The album ends with “Actions Not Words,” a hardcore epic inspired by HHF and ANW activists, and the many people the band met throughout their trip to Africa. “It was such a sharp contrast to people living in suburbia, who have so much but refuse to give anything,” Williams says. “It’s not about wanting more, it’s about wanting people to have enough.” The times we live in don’t have easy answers, but if Internal Atomics is about refocusing energy towards a better world, Stray From The Path has that energy in spades and aims to use it. “It’s a snowball effect,” Dijorio says. “We talk about it on stage, maybe a kid talks to their friends, their parents, they start to find the things they believe in, and then they make a difference in their own lives and communities. That’s what all this is about.”