"Bro Hymn," from Pennywise's self-titled, full-length 1992 debut, ranks among the most singular songs in punk history. None of the group's peers could pull off such a staggeringly earnest ode to friendship: Bad Religion is too brainy, Green Day too wimpy, and Rancid too proudly purist. Like most powerful shmaltz, in the right setting "Bro Hymn" can melt hearts. When the group used it to cap 1997 Warped Tour sets after bassist Jason Thirsk died, even the jocks in the pit blinked back tears. Musically, Pennywise has changed very little since that definitive track. Anchored by drummer Byron McMackin, who ambitiously adds rolls and fills in the middle of breakneck backbeats, the group follows familiar progressions to fist-shaking refrains. Its songs are roughly 40 percent chorus, with single-syllable rhyme schemes of the "can/plan" variety. The act struggles when it steps out of its decade-deep niche; its slow material feels artificially sedate, and its staggered-riff hardcore lacks heft. Given such inability to evolve artistically, this isn't a band for fans to grow old with. But like earlier efforts, the group's latest disc, The Fuse, is an ideal primer album for young punks.
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