There’s something curious about the picture sleeve to “Life Support,” the new single from highwater hardcore unit American Nightmare. The photographer grabbed a shot of some spiky-haired dude from behind who seems to have a thick-gauged chain around his neck, the kind you might see on a pitbull.

When asked about the sleeve, AN frontman Wes Eisold does confirm what this writer is thinking. The image—taken by respected photographer Virginia Turbett—is in fact John Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious, the controversial bass player of British punk icons the Sex Pistols.

“It’s a licensed photo of Sid Vicious sitting out in front of a club,” Eisold explains. “There’s a picture on the back of the very first American Nightmare seven-inch that strangely resembles that. It’s somebody sitting on a curb. I liked the relationship between the first seven-inch and this new era.”

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Depending on who you talk to, Vicious was a glorious fucked-up trainwreck, or he was truly a tragic hero who was exasperatingly naive. These are two schools of thought that no one would ever file American Nightmare into. So it’s kind of interesting why he was chosen for the front cover of AN’s new Deathwish single, “Life Support” (which also features a cover of the Lemonheads’ “Left For Dead”).

“I would’ve never wanted a photo of Sid Vicious on the cover face forward so you can tell who it is,” Eisold says. “I think it’s post-modern. It’s not glamorizing the parts of him that people tend to. I think it’s a kind, sympathetic photo of Sid Vicious or just a person. I think it fits the title, and it fits this post-modern punk song that we made.”

Twenty years in, American Nightmare are still a fortified beast. Guitarist Jim Carroll (formerly of Suicide File and Spiral Heads) has joined the ranks alongside Eisold, guitarist Brian Masek, bassist Josh Holden and drummer Alex Garcia-Rivera. (The single is Carroll’s first recorded work with the band.) In addition, respected hardcore label Bridge Nine will be reissuing the band’s compilation album of their first two EPs, Year One, in time for AN’s anniversary tour in February.

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But while AN are devoted to hardcore, they do have their own voice. The melodic fury of “Life Support” brings more hard-hitting velocity to the table than the loading-dock tough-guys contingent armed with half-stacks and Boss pedals. The song also has more resonance than the legion of dudes insisting on amplifying their heart strings than moving the genre forward. 

What’s interesting is that while hardcore seems to replenish its audience in various strains, there seems to be a level of prejudice involved. Younger listeners want their culture and tend to be a bit cynical toward respected institutions. The old-school types are (at times) infinitely more jaundiced about what the “newbies” bring to the table.

“I think we have a good mix of the two,” Eisold says about AN repopulating their audience. “I’m seeing the same faces from the 2011 reunion period, as well as people from 2000.

“I think when you’re in music and you get older, you see the number of music listeners dissipate where you’re almost the only people left,” he continues. “We used to play these shows where there would be 500 to a thousand people at every show. Those people are mostly gone: So who are these new people here? They have to be new people. It just doesn’t work like that. As you age, careers take over, family takes over, abuse takes over, addiction takes over… The number of people who are coming are virtually the same, but it’s just not possible for it to be the same people.”

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Eisold understands the dichotomy of generations but feels that his band’s creative merits will always find ears for the enriching. When news of the anniversary tour were made public, Eisold heard/read responses along the lines of “American Nightmare are still a band? Cool!” This despite having released a self-titled record on Rise last year

He tells stories of how he’s gotten hate mail from former fans who have accused AN of “not being the band I once loved anymore.” Then the same people write back months later to Eisold, apologizing for projecting their personality shortcomings on to his band. 

When it’s all said and done, Eisold and his crew exist only because they’re inspired to exist. And their fans come to them for culture and catharsis they simply can’t get from anyone else.

“AN feel like a state of liberation where we’re able to keep making music but keep making music for us,” Eisold resigns. “We have a trusting relationship with our fans. We don’t feel that, at this point, anyone has any expectations of the band. You either like it or you don’t. I think the majority of our fans trust us and like us and can tell that the sentiment is the same no matter what.”

02/13 – Boston, MA @ Royale *
02/14 – New York City, NY @ Brooklyn Steel *
02/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of the Living Arts *
02/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom *
02/20 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick *
02/21 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall *
02/22 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Hall *
02/25 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater *
02/26 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex Grand *
02/28 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne *
02/29 – Vancouver, BC @ Imperial Theatre *
03/01 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox *
03/06 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
03/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda

* with Ceremony