From around the late 90s to mid-2000’s, CKY seemed like they were everywhere if you were into the alternative scene. Whether you found them through the Bam Margera led skateboard videos of the same name, connections to Jackass, or their inclusion on video game soundtracks, the group served as a significant influence for many and their groove-laden riffs channeled the heaviness of metal with the hooks of rock. As is sometimes the case with long-running groups, changes occur and founding singer/guitarist Derron Miller left in 2011, ultimately going on to form a new band named 96 Bitter Beings. Their first effort Camp Pain was self-released in 2018 and seemed to go under the radar for those outside of the CKY fanbase, but this year’s follow-up Synergy Restored brings the backing of Nuclear Blast and larger production values with it. Miller and company may not be straying too far from their past exploits, but with hooks this good that’s hardly a bad thing.
Synergy Restored is one of those albums that invokes a strong sense of nostalgia for the early to mid-2000s without sending things forward, and as soon as the groovy, booming lead riff of “Vaudeville’s Revenge” kicks in anyone that spent time with CKY is likely to feel that nostalgia. 96 Bitter Beings treads a similar path, finding that fine line in tonality between rock and metal and offering a variety of tempo changes and transitions that shake things up in between room filling choruses. There’s still a punk edge to the sound, but the huge sound and bluesy edge gives off a feel that’s somewhere between CKY and Clutch while still having some nuances of its own. Tracks like “Fire Skyline” and “Throw Yourself Inside” nail a perfect balance of heavier, lumbering riffs with soaring melodies that dance around your speakers in a truly infectious fashion. This may be fairly familiar territory for Miller, but there are nuances that showcase that he’s not merely repeating himself and exploring some slightly different textures. Plus, the best songs here have hooks that are likely to stick with listeners for days on end. But even with these positives Synergy Restored does come off as a bit front loaded, with the second half having some diverse but not quite as memorable moments. It doesn’t hurt the overall impact that much, though the last two tracks do seem like they could’ve been flipped.
Those of you who have spun CKY’s albums over the years will feel right at home on Synergy Restored, as Derron Miller’s voice is recognizable, and his melodic pitches still soar over the recording during the choruses while the verses have some added grit. With album number two having a fuller sound and increased production value the singing benefits from this as well, as you’ll notice right from the start that there are a lot of layered vocal harmonies and everything about the performance just sounds huge. There’s quite a bit of variety to the material, and even towards the end you get chanting and other unexpected details on songs like “Taken By Surprise”. It may have been several years since some of you have heard Miller on a record, but he clearly hasn’t lost any of his energy in that time.
This may be album number two for 96 Bitter Beings, but with the increased production values and label support Synergy Restored feels like a new beginning for a band that deserves to get additional exposure. The first half is flawless with one hook after the next and a big booming sound that has just the right blend of heaviness and melodic elements, and while the second half doesn’t come off quite as strong this album still remains consistent as a whole. It’s a great foundation for Miller and crew to further build off of in the years to come, and if you’re a CKY fan from years past this is a must have. Even if you’re not, if you like some catchy bottom heavy hard/alternative rock that has the occasional hint of punk and metal, 96 Bitter Beings may come as a pleasant surprise. Synergy Restored is available from Nuclear Blast.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg