Retrospective: Boysetsfire’s “After the Eulogy” and “Tomorrow Come Today”

Delaware hardcore band Boysetsfire aren’t exactly usual Decibel fare, but with the impending re-release of their seminal After the Eulogy and Tomorrow Come Today albums (through Craft Recordings, who are releasing both on CD, as well as on vinyl for the first time, on December 6), we thought we’d take a minute to look back at these game-changing releases and offer up at least a few column inches’ worth of praise for a band who deserves it.

After the Eulogy came out in 2000 on Victory Records; the lame band name (it was the thing at the time to combinewords, justdon’tworryaboutit) and it being on Victory at that time were two serious strikes against this album, and the opening title track isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but, hold up, what’s this second song, “Rookie,” all about?

Boysetsfire’s screaming hardcore songs were never that interesting. But, when they suddenly did a 180 and became a swooning, melodic hardcore band, as on “Rookie” (where they absolutely nailed it), things changed. This is why BSF deserve some of your time, even though their best material is their least-Decibel-friendly. Still, you’re not heartless: crank up “Rookie” immediately and feel the power. By the time the song comes to its climax, man, it was already obvious the very first time I spun this record when it came out—and I’m not exaggerating—that this was something special.

The incredible “Pariah Under Glass” threatens to be another dull boneheaded hardcore stomp, but instead goes totally in the other direction, a dichotomy no other HC band did—or does—as well as BSF. Good cop/bad cop is boring as hell these days, but in 2000, BSF had it on lockdown, and not in a predictable manner, either. This song is incredible.

Then there’s “When Rhetoric Dies.” If pressed for a single song that makes this album so great, it’s this one. Vocalist Nathan Gray delivers some of the best lyrics of his career here, along with one of the best vocal performances. This song gives me goosebumps every time, even 19 years later. And Gray’s words hit harder than ever: “Where is the food that used to cover the table?/Where is the sense of pride at the end of the day?/To the face of the thriving corporation/What could a dying family possibly say?” This song is a hardcore classic.

“Still Waiting for the Punchline” is another in a string of classics here, the band moving along at a brisk, post-hardcore tempo, showing that their songwriting strengths had improved drastically since we heard from them on their debut album. This song’s driving melodies are so captivating I’m surprised I took time off from listening to it to listen to anything else in the past two decades.

“The Abominations of those Virtuous” carries the sort of melancholic-yet-optimistic melodies that BSF do better than anyone, this song another vocal showcase for Gray, the band laying down another absolutely perfect piece of melodic hardcore here, the music and vocals with tons of punch, bite, and bark, despite it all sounding quite sugary sweet, really. Another song I totally love; except for the title track, we’re six songs in and every one is a genre classic. Not bad at all.

We’ve got two albums to get through, so let’s point form the rest of this album: “Our Time Honored Tradition of Cannibalism” falls more to the uninteresting heavy hardcore side of things (where Gray really does not shine as a vocalist, and the band is far less interesting musically); “(Compassion) As Skull Fragments on the Wall” is the most-metal title and continues with the melodic hardcore sound nicely after starting off with heavy hardcore groove; “My Life in the Knife Trade” is, if I may, the best non-ironic post-hardcore power ballad of all time, and an album highlight. See for yourself:

“Across Five Years” rules. “Twelve Step Hammer Program” rules. “Unspoken Request” rules. “The Force Majeure” is kinda boring. There, done and done, almost every song more or less essential for fans of brainy, melodic hardcore. Nothing short of a classic album.

2003’s Tomorrow Come Today was met with much uproar as it was on Wind-Up Records, a label no one remembers that was distributed by Sony. And the sounds on it were even slicker and glossier than on After the Eulogy, which actually meant I liked it even more, as I always preferred this band’s smoother side. (Also, check out the great stopgap EP Live for Today, from 2002.)

The album starts strong, with “Eviction Notice” coming out heavy but also adding in lots of melody and a strong, memorable chorus for the ages; our concerns that the band had softened their touch for their kinda-major label debut were washed away pretty quick here.

“Last Year’s Nest” is where the album really takes off, though, Boysetsfire taking full advantage of that perfect, huge, clear production sound to lay down one of their greatest choruses ever, all soaring vocals and huge melodies on this fantastic post-hardcore anthem. When the band takes it down a notch halfway through, it really shows how they were able to command sounds both loud and quiet perfectly at this point: this song is a band at the top of their game, and it sounds incredible.

“Full Color Guilt” then takes it up one more notch; it’s one of the band’s most powerful melodic songs. “Bathory’s Sainthood” has a chorus that has been stuck in my head for, oh, 20 years or so, and “Dying on Principle” is solid, with an impressive how-to on getting good cop/bad cop right.

“Handful of Redemption” is one of my favorite Boysetsfire songs ever: the band hits everything just perfectly here. The tempo, the structure, the way the song builds, the delivery… this songs sums up everything amazing about the band at this point. These two albums are full of songs that I can’t say enough good things about—clearly—but if you’ve only got four minutes to not listen to spelunking DM or frostbitten BM today, make it this song and report back. “Release the Dogs” is unbearably catchy heavy hardcore, and “Foundations to Burn” is unbearably catchy melodic hardcore with a huge release and build at the three-quarters mark… this album is just winner after winner.

“Management Vs. Labor” makes no bones about the subject matter with that song title, and has one of the most triumphant-yet-melancholy choruses I’ve ever heard. The last 30 seconds or so of this song? Forget about it. “High Wire Escape Artist” was on the Daredevil soundtrack, and it kinda sounds like a song that would be on a record like that; it’s okay but taken out of context is alarmingly active rock.

“White Wedding Dress” is the hit single that never was, one of the album’s strongest tracks hidden way deep into things, the band locked in together so tight and writing another song I’ve listened to an absurd number of times in my life. This song just builds and builds and releases so perfectly. “On in Five” is actually quite an anticlimactic way to end the record, but I get the Boysetsfire formula: start and end records with the heavy hardcore cuts, presumably to baffle those who just want it loud and louder, but by this point they couldn’t resist adding in a good amount of melody to the heaviness. Stick around for bonus super-mellow track “With Every Intention,” which showcases the band’s songwriting smarts in a big way, despite the restrained nature of the song. This was the glory era of hidden tracks on CDs, a trend that got super exhausting but songs like this made skipping through all that silence after the last track (sigh) worth it.

And there it is, two hardcore albums that I really can’t suggest strongly enough, and albums that sound just as good today as they did then, Boysetsfire having cemented their legacy with these releases as being one of the greatest hardcore bands of our time.