An unrelenting, screaming guitar is the first thing to hit you. Next, the drum beat comes in, then quickly dissipates for a moment before roaring back with full force. A thumping bass line suddenly appears, creating the pulse of the song, bringing it to life. It’s followed by angry vocals, reminiscent of 1980s punk.
The song is called “Vandalize You,” off an EP of the same name by Lancaster’s Mid Rats, a classic punk band with a distinct style all its own.
Mid Rats is comprised of Chris Moss on guitar and vocals, Omar Cirilo on bass and vocals and Matty Campbell on drums. Though the band is only a three-piece, the sound never feels empty – the members of the band work hard to bring all of themselves into their music.
They are influenced by various forms of punk – from Green Day to Johnny Thunders to Teenage Bottle Rocket – but they’ve created their own unique concoction of music. Raw, yet polished – this is hard music topped with screaming vocals played against choruses of catchy hooks and unexpected harmonies. They have the rare ability to reach across the hard rock community to capture the attention of a wide range of fans.
To the members of Mid Rats, punk is a way of life, but they each have their own way of living it.
“Punk is about doing whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it,” says Cirilo. Campbell adds, “If you’re going to be against something, you should offer some sort of retrospect or maybe even a solution.”
Moss has another point of view: “It’s about thinking for yourself and going against the grain, but in another sense it’s being part of a community of individuals that are a collective and have shared values. And in a broader sense, it’s about conflict and your discontent and having the guts to say something about it.”
They all agree that punk is about honesty and staying true to one’s convictions.
Lyrically, Mid Rats tackles tough subjects that are relevant to the times we live in. From police shootings to drug deals to the violence caused by religious extremists, they don’t shy away from the serious nature of what’s going on.
This is clearly crystallized in such songs as “Already Know”: “Religious war is a part of our history / militant extremists in neon jump suits / Israeli aggression blocking a nation state / Moral detention in Christian court rooms.” The song addresses the failings of a broken political system: “Don’t want to be a part of – already know – war on women is your background theology / Don’t want to be a part of – already know – your enemy is humanity.”
In other songs, such as “Silver Spoons,” they explore the exploitation people in positions of power often use to cheat the masses: “The men in suits all dressed to loot with their silver spoons in the back of board rooms/I’m determined to find a better way.” The poignant words become even more powerful as the fast drums and bass set an angry tone and the biting guitar cuts in as the backdrop to Moss’s emotional screaming. Yet, before long, Cirilo comes in singing harmonies, adding a more nuanced dynamic.
The chemistry the bandmates share translates into their live shows, which are always high-energy. They encourage moshing – and no matter how big or small the venue is, there is never a crowd they play for that doesn’t form a mosh pit. Old-school punks may find it to be invigorating, if a little dangerous.
They band members don’t spend a lot of time talking in between songs, but there is almost always heckling from band to audience – not the other way around.
“For some reason, people like to be made fun of,” Cirilo muses. Through the banter, everyone always has a fun time, and no one leaves a Mid Rats show without being drenched in sweat. It’s all part of a classic punk rock show.
Looking ahead, the Mid Rats guys are excited to release their forthcoming album, “Never Coming Home.” The new record marks their growing maturity as a band. It’s still hard-hitting, but more calculating than before, with more strategy behind the songwriting.
The album was written as a complete piece, so it will be more congruent than their previous efforts, but it also brings some different styles into the mix. Songs like “S.O.S.” don’t depend as much on fast playing and thrash influence, but rather experiment with more melody. There is an epic feel to it, as it begins with a slower beat and guitar solo, complemented by a melodic bass line to create a suspenseful build-up before the real heaviness of the song.
Of course, “Never Coming Home” will continue to address social and political topics as well as personal experiences. The title track speaks of Moss’s experience living in a neighborhood where violence and crime are rampant. Though diverging slightly from their established sound, this record will surely be as unrelenting as their last one.
Mid Rats will continue to play live shows as much as possible, but they plan to branch out into places other than the greater Lancaster area. Their goal is to find audiences as far as they can reach.
Armed with a hard edge and relevant messages, they believe in what they do and have every intention of continuing to work harder than ever.
“We want to go somewhere where nobody knows us and we don’t know what to expect,” Cirilo says.
As long as bands like Mid Rats thrive, punk is alive.