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Our critics' picks in new releases

Having wrapped up their second run at Van's Warp Tour, the Wrightsville Beach boys of ASG are tired, burnt out, and a little more in touch with themselves. The small van that carted them around the country 15 times in the last two years even inspired the title of the band's third album, Feeling Good is Good Enough--a common colloquialism that resonates as the band pulls their instruments from the back at the next bar or gig.

Although the road may have seemed redundant and tiresome, a different ASG began to show up in the various venues. The first two ASG albums--a self-titled debut and The Amplification of Self Gratification--had a Pantera-esque feel to them, a punk-metal sound with heavy guitar riffs and loud growls from Jason Shi. Shi, the band's lead guitarist, stepped up to sing vocals when no vocalist could be found, but his lack of experience and shyness, he says, had him resort to a more "sounding bad is fine" sound of oi-punk bands like Pantera or the Casualties.

But this new album is a far greater attempt at a unique sound than its predecessors.

"We just tried to be nitty gritty, to just be ourselves," Shi said. "We tried to make an honest record and I think we finally came into our own on this one."

With Shi becoming more comfortable as a vocalist, the tracks on Feeling Good have a lot more harmony and a lot less repetition. The latter can be attributed in large part to newly contracted producer Matt Hyde, who has worked with Slayer and Fu Manchu, two of ASG's big influences. Hyde did an extensive clean-up of the 11 tracks according to Shi, who admits to having trouble listening to the early stuff.

"Matt would take the songs we wrote and put them in a different perspective," Shi said. "He cut out all the extraneous bullshit saying something like, 'Hey, that's a great riff but you don't need to do it three times.'"

The band seems to have found a place for themselves just on the brink of their own faction of punk. The lyrics lack sentimentality, and the power riffs from Shi hyped by the fast-paced action from drummer Scott Key and bassist Andy Ellis give it the old punk feeling but--with the new melodies--without the old punk attitude.

While touring with Warp Tour, the three band member noticed the divide in punk fans, a scene, Shi says, which is being driven by image instead of musical taste. Shi and his bandmates want everyone from Mohawks to straight edges to metal heads in their pit. For this album, they've picked rock as the middle ground and, with the recent acquisition of another guitarist, Jonah Citty, ASG still has the potential to swell up their sound.

"The concept behind the album was to make a hard rock record that was dangerous and edgy," Shi says. "We're not punk kids, just punk influenced."

ASG plays CD release parties at Kings on Firday, Oct. 21 and at the Soapbox in Wilmington on Oct. 22.

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Latest in MUSIC: Soundbite

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