There must be something in the water. In the past few years, emotional hardcore heroes of yore City of Caterpillar, Gospel, and Jeromes Dream have reunited after lengthy hiatuses to write new material. The punk and hardcore scene is no stranger to reissues and the occasional reunion show (usually a one-off for a fest or fundraiser), but rarely does a band come back the same way they left. If they do return, lightning rarely strikes twice. More often than not, new material is an aural approximation digested through age and differing musical sensibilities, and to mixed reception from fans, like with Quicksand or At the Drive-In.
The Gray in Between, however, sidesteps any expectations or pitfalls. It reintroduces Jeromes Dream to a contemporary audience with all the aggression and intensity which established them as a genre-defining band years ago. Within the first incendiary moments of listening, it becomes clear that the boys have not lost their edge. In fact, the argument could be made that Jeromes Dream has never sounded more refined. The band has proven throughout their tenure that they can play the hell out of their instruments, so it’s refreshing to hear a collection of songs from a band known for their dizzying compositions with minimal drum fills and all excess stripped.
Recorded with producer Jack Shirley, The Gray In Between comes in at just under the 25 minute mark with only one track, the closer “The Last Water Pearl”, lasting over three minutes. Aside from two palette cleansers in the middle and end of the record, the tracks hold no punches and never outstay their welcome. Billowing swells of feedback fill the void between staccato chord stabs on opener “Conversations in Time, On Mute” before fading to near silence and suddenly erupting back into action. The song doesn’t end so much as transition immediately into the stop/start drum gymnastics of “Stretched Invisible from London”. Amidst the tumultuous noise, vocalist and bassist Jeff Smith has rediscovered his scream. It is a much welcomed addition to the record which was foreshadowed by 2021’s revision of “Keep Those Bristles Clean and Closed” from their previous release, 2019’s LP. New guitarist and only non-original member Sean Leary particularly shines on “South by Isolation” with furiously syncopated notes and octaves in the verses culminating into a hauntingly beautiful chorus which is heightened by some of the only audible lyrics on the record, ‘I’ve got to get away / Just to breathe, I’ve got to get away / And then I know I’m safe.”
Those familiar with modern punk/screamo icons Loma Prieta will not be surprised to hear Sean’s influence on the record. The Gray in Between underpins primal punk ferocity with melodic sensibilities in much the same way as Loma Prieta’s modern masterpieces: 2012’s I.V. and Self Portrait released in 2015. Comparisons aside, Jeff Smith and Erik Ratensperger could not have found a more kindred musician to assume the mantle of guitarist after parting with founding member Nick Antonopoulos. The product of this new union is a perfectly synthesized concentration of the old and new, a sonic distillation of the history and ethos of emotional hardcore. All sonic space is either filled to the brim or left barren and spacious. There is no pomp or posturing from any one member, but rather the sensation that Jeromes Dream is a separate entity of its own; each element of the band plays to its strength devoid of any pretense or flair. The kings of chaotic hardcore are back, not as they left, but stronger and more purposeful than ever.