Five Bands To Explain One Step Closer

There is no One Step Closer without Turning Point. Discovering the band as a teenager was an inciting incident for vocalist Ryan Savitzki, leading to the formation of One Step Closer. It showed a different lens through which to view hardcore. The music could be more than just stage directions for moshers or empty platitudes for a crowd to sing along to. You could use the trappings of the genre as a way to express whatever personal turmoil may be weighing you down.

Turning Point’s influence is clearest on the band’s self-titled debut from 2017 almost to a fault. It’s to be expected for a band this young though. Musicians need a space to fuck up and find their own voice that’s divorced from their influences. Even Title Fight took six years to become the band that everyone knows them as now, releasing The Last Thing You Forget in 2009. No longer could Punknews call them a Can’t Slow Down tribute act. Those first few seconds of “Symmetry” make it apparent that this is now something entirely else.

The difference between One Step Closer than its Wilkes Barre predecessor is how quickly they have progressed in a few short years. Their 2019 EP From Me To You is their introduction to many, coming out on Triple B Records. It is a very classical example of a level-up, with the band settling into their own voice. One Step Closer will of course always have a thread of a Turning Point running through their songwriting. But they add their own flairs, updating a sound that could easily have just died away in the 90s. The guitar work adds extra depth and propulsion that most acts don’t have. Savitski’s vocals are a bit clearer and are smartly the centerpiece for many of the songs. Taken in totality, It builds a solid framework to build from for a band who until this year built a solid fanbase off of only a couple of short releases.

At this point everyone reading this is familiar with the origin story of emo, so I’ll try not to bore you too much here. Hardcore in 1984 was still a very young movement and was growing exponentially each year. But by then many had become tired with what it had become, especially as straight edge came to be the predominant form of expression for the scene. Instead of trying to lean into the trends, a group of bands from DC decided to tap into a little bit more emotionalism, coining this period revolution summer. It’s here that we would get a lot of the classic texts that would build the framework for a genre that would persist — even if its originators would continually deny its very existence.

That same urge to break free of the chains of hardcore has never really wavered. In the 90s it would result in an explosion for the genre into various fragments, resulting in what we now call emo’s second wave. Sunny Day Real Estate is one of the clearest examples. They are less tethered to the regional DC sound and are instead bringing their pop sensibilities to emo without totally extinguishing their hardcore roots. It results in this satisfying quiet-loud tension that is apparent throughout Diary and makes a song like “Song About an Angel” worth its runtime.

The influence of Sunny Day Real Estate on One Step Closer is really apparent if you pay a little attention to the guitar work. Just like Fugazi, SDR uses guitar riffs as a way to link separate parts of a song together. Using this technique makes sure the listener will not totally tune you out because you're always in constant movement. You can hear One Step Closer use it on “Lead To Gray”, which uses these huge sounding chords as its intro before the lead guitar weaves in and out during the verses.

It is very easy to only talk about Wilkes Barre in the context of Title Fight. They still loom over their hometown and the music community at large. Singer Ned Russin even memorialized the city recently with his novel Horizontal Rust. If we want to be accurate, the history of Wilkes Barre and modern hardcore really starts with Cold World. Even if bands in their scene didn’t try to create the rap-rock that they were playing, Cold World showed you didn’t need to have a certain virtuosity to play hardcore; anyone can do it.

The Place You Know is very pointedly about Wilkes Barre. It takes the “I got to leave my hometown” trope without playing into clichés. Savitski seems to realize that living in places like his hometown past a certain age can be stifling. It’s why so much of the last generation eventually left for Philadelphia and other places on the east coast. But One Step Closer still retains a reverence for the place that made them and their debut record is essentially the documentation of that, hopefully inspiring the next generation to try to make music of their own.

Magnitude is one of several bands carrying straightedge into the modern-day, taking the best parts of the 90s boom in particular without being too grating. Instead of turning a show into a ten-minute debate, they let the music talk for them. One Step Closer exists on this same continuum, even if they are even less vocal. They take a tact that is closer to Songs To Scream At The Sun, the second Have Heart record. Savitzki uses his own personal experience instead of speaking in generalities. It ends up leading to a more nuanced portrait that is so much more compelling than what you may hear on a typical youth crew record.

After Take off Your Pants & Jacket where could Blink 182 go? They had essentially taken their syrupy pop-punk as far as it could go. To try to recreate their last two records would have the band competing against themselves, a conundrum that so many others past and present have been unable to conquer. Trying to write the perfect pop song begins to lose its charm. Blink’s next phase had to have a different tact and Box Car Racer was the start of it. The change that happens is a slight one but is an important distinction, leaning into the post-hardcore of Quicksand and Jawbox. The end result is essentially their own version of arena rock, which Tom Delonge would explore even further with Angels & Airwaves.

You only get little peaks of the influence of Box Car Racer on One Step Closer. They lean into indie rock on “Hereafter”, placing a piano part at the end of the track. “Chrysanthemum” has a very slow build, starting off with a reverb-drenched introduction for the first 30 seconds. Even if these parts seem minuscule, it does at least hint at where the band may transition to in the future. The Place You Know is then just the start, with the rest of the story still yet to be etched.

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