It’s 1982 and the setting is an arcade in a suburban town. A kid named Harry finds himself in the arcade that was modeled after ‘80s movies. After that, stuff happens. That's the basic premise of the punk inspired rock opera entitled Don’t Turn Back by Rivers For Eli.
I’ll be honest, I listened to this album a number of times and the story is vague at best. I guess that’s fine but I was hoping for a little bit more of an arch. There are a couple things Rivers For Eli might want to do so their audience knows that this is a concept album. They might want to mention that on their Bandcamp page so people will actively listen to the lyrics. On top of that they may want to add the lyrics as well because I for one had a hard time understanding what was being said at least fifty percent of the time.
Rivers from Eli is a three-piece band comprised of Steve Balletto, Billy Otto and Rich Suzano. The band is bit scattered in terms of style but mostly falls under the umbrella of punk. I thought the band sounded their best when they went for the fast BPM, NOFX and Rancid type style with lots of vocal harmonies and chord changes.
The music is pretty tight ninety-eight percent of the time but there are a couple of transitions that were a bit sloppy. Overall, it is something most people won’t notice. I think it's fair to say people will have an ambivalent relationship with the vocalist. He has a high pitched, nasally voice that almost feels hyperbolic and doesn’t always stay in key. His performances were varied from song to song.
After a short forty-two second intro the band launches into on the highlights of the album entitled “Night Driver.” This is really the style the band excels in and should continue to explore. It’s fast, raucous and fun. The blistering fast guitar solo was good and the vocal harmonies were an integral component that the band should implement as often as they can.
The next track falls in line more with ‘90s Green Day and contemporary pop punk than NOFX. It’s a bit slower and has less energy. “River Raid” is a solid song but further deviates in terms of style. The song starts with inventive guitar picking patterns, which is reminiscent of a band like Death Cab by Cutie. As the song progresses it gets more intense and even contains moments where it sounds like metal.
“Yars Revenge” is another highlight because it feeds their strengths, which is playing fast and implementing vocal harmonies. Good stuff. As the album progresses it really is a mixed bag of songs. “Berzerk” is an ambient, minimal piece that would have worked better if it were about thirty to sixty seconds long instead of over four minutes while “Riddle of the Sphinx” is another highlight, which contains a lot of energy.
At fourteen songs with the majority of the songs being over four-minutes long Don’t Turn Back almost feels like a double album. For a punk album, it’s an incredibly long journey. The album is far from perfect but gets it right when it sticks to an early ‘90s punk aesthetic.
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