God forgives, but Never Ending Game doesn’t on ‘Just Another Day’
The band is Never Ending Game. The album is Just Another Day. The following are real reactions to the music found on the internet: “Music created by sentient neck tattoos,” “You must listen and punch at least three of your friends in the face,” “Definitely never wearing a shirt at a show again after listening to this one time” and the especially poignant, “Never Ending Game FUCKS.”
If such pleasantries don’t make you want to listen to this album, I’d like to offer my sincere apologies, but your tastes are out of whack. Never Ending Game, otherwise known as NEG, is composed of the former members of the bands Freedom, True Love, Detain and Breaking Wheel, a few of Detroit’s finest hardcore bands. In plain terms, the band has some serious pedigree. NEG’s brand of hardcore is for the purists: Anyone who wants it, as long as they can deal with the band’s sawed-off-shotgun energy. They do what they do, and someone doesn’t like it — well, too bad, they’re going to keep doing it. NEG crafts brooding, methodical, groovy, riffy, bass-heavy hardcore with lyrics filled with venom and cynicism, and on Just Another Day, they push the limits of that sound.
Lead single “God Forgives…” aptly prepares listeners for the band’s current mission. Looping guitar chugs and drum snaps provide a just backdrop to lyrics like, “Don’t crawl back / What we possess is what you lack.” NEG posits themselves as a band that has transcended the scene. They’re setting the pace for all other hardcore bands. In one of the best calls of the year, a robotic sample drops an ominous “God forgives…” and vocalist Mikey barks a fear-inducing “N-E-G don’t” in response. It could not be more perfect. The band makes it clear that no one can mimic their sound, and if they try, they will be sorry.
The first four tracks are an unforgiving onslaught of NEG’s best material, but then something strange happens. The brutality lets up, but just for a moment. A minute and 41 seconds, to be exact. On “N.E.G. Jams,” the band breaks down into a groovy garage metal set, free of vocals. It’s not much, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun — the perfect way to break up the violence.
Much of the same happens for the rest of the album, but that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a testament to NEG’s consistency and their mastery of craft. Late album highlights include “Bleeding,” a storm-siren track littered with quotable lines and gang vocals, and “Stolen Life,” a winding, haunting (almost medieval) track with lyrics like, “I learned at an early age / Life can’t be given back, only taken away … Only the faces change, it all stays the same.” The song in which Never Ending Game is at their best, however, is album closer “1 of Those Nights.”
“1 of Those Nights” finds NEG at their best, their most dynamic and their most earnest. On this track, the band metamorphosizes into a metal act á la Power Trip or Gatecreeper while still maintaining their hardcore roots. NEG isn’t trying to pummel listeners with this one. Instead, they’re trying to teach listeners a lesson in getting through hard times. Downtrodden early lines like “Every night, I close my eyes / I’ll give this life one more try / The tears I’ve cried have left me blind” are contrasted by later lines like “You brought me to the light / With you, I’ll make it through the night / Wish I had the words to thank you for opening my eyes.” It’s powerful, and especially given the hardcore delivery of the message, the record may well be the band’s best work.
Never Ending Game is obviously a good hardcore band, but their quirks are what make them great. They’re much more nuanced than many of their contemporaries, and Just Another Day does an excellent job proving that. They wear their influences on their sleeves, but it’s not just their influences within the genre. The soul samples and the movie samples demonstrate NEG’s ability to pull inspiration from other media and warp it to fit their needs in fresh, exciting ways. If Never Ending Game can keep up with the pace they set on Just Another Day, we may be talking about them in the same breath as Judge, Cro-Mags and Madball.