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Cipher puts ethos, politics, street smarts and shock value back into punk rock.

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Punk isn’t dead, but it’s close. It’s a shambling stitched-up zombie now, hungering for intelligence but often settling for mindless, juvenile statements. Or artful glamour. Sometimes it has a hint of relevance, but rarely does it have the will to mean something.

What was once a righteous youthful rage against the establishment is now a commodity, a shuffling parade of shopping mall rebellion ripe for a George Romero parody. Of course, all things are eventually bought and sold, but punk’s commercialization seems the most antithetical to its original spirit. It has become a mockery, a halfliving shadow of its former self.

But some still carry the torches (and occasionally the pitchforks) of insightful, indignant philosophy in punk. Cipher is one of them.

The New York punk band gloms on heavy elements of doom-and-gloom metal and activist hip-hop, using punk as a medium for their political and social ideas (as it should be).

Vocalist Moe Mitchell is not quite an anarchist, but he advocates dramatic social upheaval in order to achieve the equality he envisions for all people. His goal is to produce a “provocative, probing treatment of race, gender and class.” His voice — seamlessly transitioning from call-and-response shouting to growling and rapid-fire flow — is not always as coherent as one would like, but his insights are trenchant and he never pulls a punch. Mitchell writes about the African slave trade, institutionalized misogyny and a total political liberation of all people.

Behind him, guitars crunch like colliding glaciers, epic and seemingly natural forces buoyed by a frenzied barrage of drums. Occasionally, it’s too much; thankfully, the moments when the music distracts from the message are rare.

Cipher is always about the message. In their own words, the band is “committed to opening critical spaces in underground music to reawaken the legacy of dissent in today’s hardcore scene.” Their intent is clear: Cipher wants to make their music the incendiary medium punk used to be. It’s a platform for their political message, a way for their revolutionary desires to spawn and spread. But unlike the undead, zombie-like tendencies of modern punk, this plague’s a good one. Cipher is an epidemic of ideas.

Cipher plays with I Apparatus, Miles West, and Jaycee Dugard at the Cretin Hop on Saturday, July 24 at 7 pm. Tickets: $8. All-ages. Call 327-7195.

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