The Phantom Tollbooth
 

More Than Conquerors
Artist: Dogwood
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Length: 13 tracks / 34:03 minutes
 
It's been a few years since I went through my surf-punk phase, every morning cranking the speedy rhythms and off-key harmonies to whip me into an energetic state suitable for surfing at 6 A.M.  No Use for a Name, Pennywise, NOFX, Face to Face...those were the days.
 
Dogwood's fourth album, More Than Conquerors, brings it all back. They've been one of Christian punk's most mature-sounding bands in recent years, known for their variety-conscious mixing of hardcore and rock sounds into the fray. Their self-titled last album was released independently but sold more copies in their native San Diego than simultaneously releases by more well-known hometowners like Blink 182, Unwritten Law, and Sprung Monkey.
 
That probably helped earn them a spot on Tooth & Nail's roster with More Than Conquerors. Their opportunity to reach a much larger audience, however, finds them streamlined and solidly in the pop punk pocket. They've sacrificed their uniqueness for a tried and true formula. Dogwood still sounds a bit more manly and muscular in the vocals and guitars than the likes of MxPx and Slick Shoes, and they're still mixing it up with variations on tempo, vocals, and guitar tones; but it would have been nice to hear something other than extremely competent semi-imitation of popular punk sounds. After a few listens, though, you tend to forget any complaints. These guys are tight.
 
The lyrics are serious and mature, fulfilling the album's title with imagery-laden tales of personal struggle. The album begins with downtrodden songs like "Suffer" and "Feel the Burn" but progresses to Christcore positivity with "The Pain is Gone" and the title track at the end. Solid.
 
I would have expected more creativity and musical experimentation from Dogwood's "big" label bust-out rather than the safe road they've taken, but at least they drive it fast and drive it well. This is one of the most authentic Christian pop punk records made to date.
 
 
Josh Spencer (6/25/99)