There are records that sell well; there are records that sell better than well, and enter the national consciousness to widespread acclaim; there are records that find international success, and are enjoyed and referenced for decades, and then there are records that swallow the world. By any measure, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory is firmly in the latter category, a diamond-certified album that became a classic almost instantaneously. Its singles were inescapable and its impact crosses multiple genres to resonate with listeners the world over nearly two decades later, and now more than ever, following the suicide of Linkin Park’s co-vocalist and frontman, Chester Bennington.
It’s difficult to overstate the tragedy of his death. Bennington was by and large the voice of rock music for the generation of which all of us here at Metal Lifestyle are a part, and it’s no exaggeration to say that that voice and the person behind it, heard by literally hundreds of millions, shaped the music of the new millennium. We aren’t necessarily looking to examine the circumstances of his passing or speculate on his motivations, but to recognize Chester Bennington’s direct contributions to the music we love and celebrate his life through a celebration of his talents. This retrospective will not be critical, or at least not entirely, but a space for all of us who were affected by his death and touched by his legacy to share our memories, opinions, and thoughts on the body of work Chester Bennington left to us, with an emphasis on the band that brought him to global prominence.
Before we go further, we must address the elephant in the room. It is not speculation to say that Chester Bennington was a victim of mental illness, and of course, we do not intend that statement to be derogatory, belittling, or insulting in any way: depression is a mental illness that requires treatment like any other ailment or disease, but because the conversation around it still blinkered by stigma and myth, it is difficult to address it at all without polarizing opinion. We leave you with the following, a personal message from one of our staff, Alex Brown, to anyone with depression, or to anyone who knows someone struggling with it, in light of Chester Bennington’s passing:
Whether you like them or not, Linkin Park is undeniably a staple band for our current generation. Most people were introduced to rock music for the first time through songs such as “Numb” and “In the End.” Just being the music lover I am, it’s really upsetting to see someone who had such a huge impact on the industry pass away in a truly tragic way, and it only comes to show how terrible mental illness, and more specifically depression, truly is. You can have seemingly everything in the world and still battle serious demons--demons that Chester, as well as millions of people worldwide, thought he could defeat only by taking his own life. Nobody should live with that feeling.
I have been fighting my own battle with depression for some time now. There is honestly no way to understand it, even when you’re going through it. What I can say is that it’s more than just being “sad.” It’s more like having to deal with creeping thoughts of self-depreciation, wrestling with the belief that the world would be better if you just disappeared. It’s more like knowing that you have people who love and support you, yet constantly feeling alone; that you’re a nuisance when you bring up your issues. It’s more of a constant state of fear; that when you do see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s actually just an oncoming train. It’s unreasonable, unbearable pain that makes ending your life look like a good decision.
If you know anyone fighting depression, please help them out as much as you can. Everyone has a completely different set of symptoms and coping mechanisms, so you may not understand why they act a certain way. Please, don’t lose your temper on them. They’re going to take it the wrong way. It can, in some twisted way, justify their self-deprecation, no matter how well-intentioned the act. If you really don’t know what to do, reminding someone that they are loved and cared for really goes a long way. Encourage them to go to therapy and seek help. Just be as good a person as you can be to them, because they will need it more than anything.
If you are battling depression, please keep fighting. I know it doesn’t seem it, but life is worth it. I know how rocky the road gets, and I know how dark the night gets, but the dawn is always coming. Do whatever it takes to find your happiness again, because it is worth it. I’ll be fighting with you.
Rest in peace.
-The Metal Lifestyle Team
Hybrid Theory - Hybrid Theory EP
Before Linkin Park, Chester Bennington fronted Arizona alternative/grunge outfit Grey Daze. Their discography is probably best regarded as a stepping stone toward Bennington’s career with LP, but that’s not to say it’s bad so much as it is unremarkable in the midst of a then-oversaturated market. Although they were doing well for themselves, Chester jumped at the opportunity to audition for Xero when original co-vocalist Mark Wakefield decided to part ways with Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, Rob Bourdon, and Joe Hahn to pursue other interests. Legend has it that the band brought Chester aboard on the spot, blown away by his performance after a long line of duds; and rechristening themselves Hybrid Theory, the band set to work writing and recording their first EP (Xero only ever had a demo to their name).
With the help of a street team that would balloon into the LP Underground once the band took off, Hybrid Theory EP gained tract even amid the nu-metal explosion of the mid-nineties, streamlining the rap and rock influences to their essentials. It gave them an edge over the juvenility of Limp Bizkit and the darkness of Korn, but on Hybrid Theory EP, they’re still not quite radio-ready. Chester is raspier and more aggressive than on later recordings, and truer to his live performances (which you can hear on Live In Texas), but the boyish clarity that defined his voice for the majority of his career also intact. “And One” is the only song on which he takes the lead over Mike, offering an emotional performance that secured it as a fan-favorite of LP diehards since release. It features one of the first examples of his trademark scream, as well as one of his best, and the interplay between the two vocalists during the bridge of the song is natural and smooth. Most of his contributions to the EP, however, are in the form of wordless vocalizations (and he’s totally absent from “Technique,” a forty-second trial run for “Cure for the Itch” and “Session”). It’s frankly impossible not to find Chester’s presence on this album ghostlike, and in the wake of his suicide, harrowing. His pain feels all too real. He haunts these songs.
Chester’s death casts this unfortunate shadow over Linkin Park’s discography, and though the next three to four albums are their best-known, it looms largest over Hybrid Theory EP. “Carousel” is a song about drug addiction, with which Chester was known to struggle, and the single line he repeats as a taunt for the chorus--“I never know / just why you run / so far away / from me”--is told from the perspective of the addiction. The malaise of “And One” is a darker take on the themes of heartbreak and dejection that run through Hybrid Theory and Meteora. “Part of Me” is the closest the band ever came to addressing suicide head-on, and it’s lines like “Cut myself free / willingly, stop just what’s killing me” and “I feel it every day / I feel I’m in my way / I feel it swell up inside / swallowing me” that hit the hardest. “High Voltage” brings some levity, but on the whole, this release will be one of the most difficult to listen to as the reality of Bennington’s death sinks in over time.
This is not to say that it is ruined. Far from it. Although it’s an embryonic take on the sound they would grow into on Hybrid Theory and Meteora, Chester’s talent is undeniable. He embodies all the qualities of a good rock vocalist throughout, all the more impressive for his age at the time, and there are even flashes of greatness on “And One” and “Part of Me.” Hybrid Theory EP was the record that got the band noticed, making it both an indispensable piece of Linkin Park’s history and a touchstone in the band’s, and Chester’s, musical development.
Pyrrhon- “What Passes for Survival’
Stream and purchase the album here.
Pyrrhon is a New York technical death metal band that formed in 2008 in a subway station, which is probably the most New York way I’ve ever heard of a band forming. Between then and this brand new LP, the group has released five studio projects, all of which have truly revolutionized death metal. In a genre that is filled with bands either blatantly ripping off The Faceless’ Planetary Duality or trying to sound dense and atmospheric like Gorguts, Pyrrhon is doing something that I have never heard before: combining death metal with mathcore and harsh noise. There really is no other band I can think of with as unique a sound as Pyrrhon, and given how well they make this chaotic, angry, heavy sound work, I can confidently say they are the best band in modern death metal, even with competition like Artificial Brain and Cthe’illist. To say I have been looking forward to this LP since it was announced is a dramatic understatement. Pyrrhon’s 2014 LP, The Mother of Virtues, was something that very few bands in the genre could release. It’s without a doubt the most experimental thing I’ve heard in death metal in years, so I really looked forward to how the group was going to top themselves. Were they just going to get more experimental and expand their boundaries even further?
As soon as you start this record, you are introduced to what Pyrrhon has been known for all their career in the underground metal scene: their bizarre, almost schizophrenic rhythm. The introduction to “The Happy Victim’s Creed” is just absolutely insane, and this continues throughout the entire song, constantly changing rhythmic patterns, going from dissonant riffs to some of the sickest breakdowns to something even more bizarre. Drummer Steve Schwegler shows off the most on this track, managing to keep a steady beat through the chaos of Dylan DiLella and Erik Malave’s guitar and bass work, respectively. That’s arguably the most beautiful thing about Pyrrhon: they’re able to do all of this chaotic shit, and somehow make it effortless and beautiful. This concept is continued throughout the rest of the LP, actually getting stronger and more insane as it goes along. There some of the traditional Pyrrhon on tracks like “The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip,” but also tracks like “Tennessee,” which bring the band's sludge side to the table while keeping the technicality in check before becoming a super intense death metal trip during its latter half.
Death metal is a genre that I feel has a lack of variety when it comes to vocals. Even in the few bands I really like in the genre, I can only think of a few of them that stand out. I’ll go as far as to say that vocalist Doug Moore is tied with Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation as the best vocalist in death metal. Being a fan of Pyrrhon ever since I saw them open for Car Bomb at 285 Kent Ave in 2012 has shown me how amazing a vocalist this man is. The Mother of Virtues made the case for his prowess, but three years later, the man proves himself. He can perform standard death metal vocals as on “The Invisible Hand Holds a Whip,” but also pull off a blackened style on tracks like “Goat Mockery Ritual” and a mathcore flavor on the three-part composition occupying the latter half of the album, “The Unraveling.” New to Pyrrhon’s music are Moore’s clean vocals on “Empty Tenement Spirit.” They’re really gritty and sludgy sounding, adding another dimension to his range.
I am not very fond of death metal lyrics, but Pyrrhon really kills it on this one, writing a loose concept record around being controlled by external forces. “The Happy Victim’s Creed” shows the ignorance of the individual toward his controller with lyrics like “Prideful inmate sworn to stress” and “Make me the servant I was born to be.” As the LP progresses, we see the character become more aware of his issues, especially on tracks like “Tennessee” with lyrics such as “They held you down and peeled ripelike back/ The curl-crested crown of a child planted their alien seeds / cruel furrows in trusting clay.” On “Free at Last,” instead of seeing the character break free, we get a glimpse of them succumbing and committing suicide, along with the shout of “What wild spirit could thrive on such pain? What primal will would cling to this place?” on “Empty Tenement Spirit.” Analyzing and understanding these lyrics, the title of this LP makes a lot more sense. What Passes for Survival is about the struggles of living a life according to something that isn’t you. It passes for survival, but in reality, is something far worse than death.
Back in 1998, Gorguts did pretty much everything that could be done with death metal on Obscura, so the only way an LP in the genre could surpass it was if it thought way outside the box. What Passes for Survival is that album, and I can say with full confidence that this is death metal at peak perfection. This LP is everything death metal has been leading up to since its inception in the 1980s. Instrumentally, this album is completely bonkers in the way it incorporates multiple genres but still maintains form, and every performance is absolutely incredible. The production work, done by the one and only Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice), is absolutely perfect for the intense, atmospheric sound of the LP. Each song connects to the concept of the LP, but they’re all strong enough for standalone listens as well. If you’re a fan of extreme metal music and want something completely otherworldly, look no further. Seriously. It’s a bold claim I’ve made, but What Passes for Survival justifies it and then some.
- Alex Brown
Hundred Suns - The Prestaliis
Less than a year ago, Cory Brandan of Norma Jean announced his new side project Hundred Suns, along with its IndieGoGo for The Prestaliis. The band was lucky enough to exceed their goal by a few thousand after some other promising acts down even meet theirs. If I had to credit the success of their campaign to something other than Brandan’s legacy, I’d say it was the premier of “Fractional” that propelled them past their goal of twenty thousand dollars. It’s essentially the perfect single for a semi-progressive post-hardcore act. The song slowly grows from this foundational beat and riff, joined by Brandan’s undeniably infectious clean vocal work, and explodes into a soaring chorus. Brandan is at the limit of his register, teetering into screaming territory, creating a euphoric experience. The song drops you back into a head-nodding verse and you’re ready for that ride again. I was beyond convinced that this was going to be another home run for Brandan, and almost went in for a package myself. Now hearing the whole album, it looks like they might have just had the one good song.
The album is bookended with the two-part title track, starting with a eerie acoustic guitar playing under Brandan’s whispers, and abruptly kicks into an overlong section that plays till the end. The djenty tone of the strings bending with almost every other chord is cool, but it's overpowered by some really unfitting vocals. I couldn’t help but think of a lesser Uneven Structure, another band with subpar cleans but a far more cohesive sound. It's harder listen when Brandan dwells on the boring line “Burn us, burn us, we are the effigies.” “Partner / Predator” is a song that doesn’t ever find a proper flow, switching between large, brooding chorus moments, the closest thing you’ll get to a true metal breakdown, and some weird ethereal transitions. At least “Bedburnder” is similar to “Fractional,” giving me some hope moving forward. It has one of the most exciting progressions of any song on the album, and its riffage feels a lot like one of the mid-paced B-sides of Wrongdoers like “Sword in Mouth, Fire Eyes.” What comes next is just outright dull. “Last Apology” tries to be radio-friendly, but in reality, it's not adventurous and barely memorable. Then we get a really slow song, which I mistook as a ballad. I’m not entirely sure why, but “December” is solid. The reverb and echo on the guitars are pleasant, and with Cory’s actual attempt at singing, the song is kind of beautiful, but at the end of the day, it's nothing special outside of the album and predictable. At least “Fractional” is next. Skipping ahead is “Hellelujah,” which is just annoying--not only does it bring more ill-fitting vocals, but it sees Brandan taking a moment to speak about the political climate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, and his political affiliations don’t really come through, but the fact he thought it was a good idea to voice his politics on record is just an invitation for people to hate him, and hate him louder. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
To be honest, I could go through the rest of the album, but I’d be repeating myself. It's not fun to write or read.
I was really looking forward to this. I may not have enjoyed Polar Similar, but I was hoping this would be different. The Prestaliis may be just that, but that doesn’t save it from being dull or incohesive. Some people will probably see this differently. I’ve disagreed with public opinion before, and I’m used to it, but I just can’t find much enjoyment beyond “Fractional” and “Bedburner,” which I still find confusing after three complete listens. Maybe it's the Norma Jean sound leaking through those two songs, or maybe it’s just that they were written first to be released alongside the album campaign, but it seems like Hundred Suns put their best foot forward too soon, and what came next wasn’t worth the wait.
- Alex B.
Trapped Under Ice - “Heatwave”
Trapped Under Ice are a band that I hold very dear. I discovered them when I first began listening to hardcore when I was about 15 or 16 years old with their then-latest offering, 2011’s Big Kiss Goodnight. The loud and groovy instrumentation, heartfelt lyrics (that one wouldn’t typically expect from the “tough-guy” style of hardcore that they play), and Justice’s throat-shredding vocals all managed to draw my attention right from the get go. Their 2008 7”, Stay Cold, is also without a doubt one of the finest 7”’s in 21st century hardcore, bar none. “Skeleton Heads” still gets me going. When the band announced that they had reunited in 2015 after a hiatus to focus on other projects (namely the catchy Angel Du$t and a small-time band called Turnstile that never really went anywhere as far as I can recall), I was immediately excited at the prospect of new music from the band. Two years later and six years after their last offering, Trapped Under Ice have returned with a brand new full length, Heatwave.
The band cuts straight to the chase with “Backstabbed,” and most of the classic TUI repertoire of fast riffs and angry vocals is here, leading into “XL.” The first things anyone will notice with this track is that there appears to be an Angel Du$t influence on Justice’s sung vocals at the beginning of the track, and the more punky instrumentation of AD and Turnstile. This sets it apart from the band’s earlier catalogue and has proven to be a point of controversy amongst fans of the band: a lot of the album sounds more like the aforementioned bands than TUI. On a personal level, this isn’t a huge deal - I love both AD and Turnstile, and frankly, it’s rather silly to expect a group of five individuals who have all grown as musicians and people to take a six year break from a band and pick up right where they left off without any changes. That being said, it is a little disappointing that there aren’t as many mosh-worthy riffs as on the band’s previous outings.
That doesn’t mean that the album doesn’t have its bangers, though. “No Relief,” “Oblivion”, and “Move” would fit right in on Stay Cold. These are ultimately the high points of the record, with groovy stop-start riffs that will send dance floors across the country into a frenzy. Lots of hand-clap, windmill, etc. fun to be seen and heard here. Unfortunately, these songs are over almost as quickly as they began, and the same can be said for the record, really, since it only lasts 14 minutes over 11 tracks. Compare that to Big Kiss Goodnight, which had a runtime of approximately 33 minutes over 13 tracks, or twelve if you don’t count the remake of “Reality Unfolds.” It just feels a bit underwhelming.
The production is also nothing special either, with typically stellar producer Will Yip (Citizen, Turnover) at the helm. I’ve made a lot of comparisons to Angel Du$t so far, and I feel this is the area where most of the comparisons can be drawn. While the riffs are definitely written for a Trapped Under Ice record, the production sounds like it was done for an Angel Du$t record. The guitars don’t cut through the mix as they should, and Justice’s vocals don’t sound as powerful as they used to.
With all that being said, however, Heatwave is a very fun, albeit short, 14 minutes of no-bullshit hardcore. It’s not like their previous material, but if one can look past that, they’ll find a good record that manages to deliver the goods without overstaying its welcome.
FFO: Angel Du$t, Turnstile, Expire.
The Crooked Sound- “Lotus-eaters”
Listen to the EP here
If you’re active in the Connecticut hardcore scene, you’ve probably seen the name The Crooked Sound pop up quite a few times. Hell, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve seen their name twice within the last few months in our concert reviews, which can be viewed here and here. Forming this year out of the ashes of Map the Mind, the band decided to take a much more metalcore approach toward their sound with a bit of a rock-n-roll vibe, sort of like what Every Time I Die does with metalcore and southern rock. This would come to a surprise for anyone who knew them as Map the Mind, a djent band in the vein of Volumes and Structures. The band has been playing quite consistently this year, from lineups stacked with local favorites such as Lucretia and Kidnapped, to bigger bands like Capsize and Born of Osiris. All of these shows, along with a few single releases, have been in order to promote the impending release of their debut project, Lotus-eaters.
I dig The Crooked Sound most when they take a hardcore approach to their sound. Tracks like “Mock” are so aggressive and punked out that it’s impossible not to want to mosh around and scream at the top of your lungs. It’s a perfect example of The Crooked Sound’s rock n roll take on hardcore and a template for what they should try to do more of in the long-run. This is also seen on tracks such as “Dizzy (My Worst Enemy)”, where the rock n roll influences may be more prevalent than the hardcore, but the breakdown at the end remains undeniably sick as fuck. When they play like this, The Crooked Sound succeed in making fun, mosh-worthy songs on both the rock n roll and hardcore ends of their spectrum.
All that said, a huge issue that I do have with this EP is that it is obvious the band is still trying to let go of what they did as Map the Mind. This can be seen on tracks like “Road Soda” and “Sick Spirits.” “Road Soda” sounds more or less like a Map the Mind demo, and “Sick Spirits,” while a song I dig for the most part, has these flashy parts that leave a kind of sour taste in my mouth. These moments also appear on tracks like “Nothing Is as it Seems,” which is a little too long and has a sung chorus that doesn’t fit very well with the rest of the EP. The clean vocals also appear on “The End of All Good Things Prt 1,” and feel just as awkward. Even the breakdown on “Mock,” my favorite track on the LP, is djent-y. These growing pains are to be expected, but it’s an issue the band needs to address before moving on.
The Crooked Sound’s talent cannot be ignored. They have an obvious passion for music, and there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t respect them for that, but they have a way to go in the studio before they match their live show, which is one of the best live bands in the local Connecticut scene. When they get there, I am certain that The Crooked Sound will be one of the biggest bands in the Connecticut hardcore scene, if not the biggest, but they’ll have to fully commit to The Crooked Sound to get there.
- Alex Brown
Wage War - Deadweight
Wage War, a metalcore group formed out of Ocala, Florida, rose to the top of their genre with their debut record Blueprints in 2015. Now the group is back and ready to take the crown again after two consecutive years of touring with bands like A Day to Remember and Every Time I Die and last year's run on the Vans Warped Tour. Their sophomore album, Deadweight, released on Fearless Records, marks some serious evolution for the band.
Deadweight starts off with gorgeous intro track “Two Years,” which seamlessly blends into the second track, “Southbound.” “Southbound” not only has insane breakdowns and grooves, but some of the best clean vocals from guitarist Cody Quistad on the album. The appear at the perfect time following some crushing vocals from frontman Briton Bond, who has learned some new techniques since Blueprints and showcases more of his high scream than we saw on the first record, especially on second single “Don’t Let Me Fade Away.” It’s unusual that after “Southbound” you’re greeted by all of the singles in a row with “Don’t Let Me Fade Away” followed by “Stitch” and then “Witness.” They’re amazing, groovy tracks front to back and are not to be skipped, and as soon as “Witness” ends, you’re tossed into the absolutely brutal title track “Deadweight.” The ambient guitar riff in the background absolutely makes the song (as do the breakdowns), and it’s a perfect bridge track into the second half of Deadweight. No promises you won’t break something in your vicinity listening to it.
It’s always great when a band offers a little bit of variety here and there, and “Gravity” is that: one of the more melodic and mellow tracks on the album, it features emotional clean vocals and closes with some light heavy riffing to prepare you for “Never Enough,” which is easily one of my favorite tracks on Deadweight. The harmonized gang vocals prior to the chorus on “Never Enough” are something special. “Indestructible” has some absolutely crushing drumming, which the guitars struggle to keep up with, and “Disdain” almost sounds like Iowa-era Slipknot with its “nu” vocal patterns and faster-paced segments. It’s a nice surprise and it really shows how far Wage War can stretch their sound and still absolutely kill it. “My Grave to Dig” features several musical callbacks to “Youngblood” off of Blueprints, a nice nod to fans, and the ballad-like “Johnny Cash” leaves things on a high note as both a closer and another successful experiment in Wage War’s discography.
Wage War are bound for success: Deadweight is a flawless sophomore album, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s an emotional, ambitious, and destructive metalcore record in a year without a lot of them, so go see Wage War on their album release tour with Varials and Gideon and pick up a copy of Deadweight for yourself.
- Dakota G.
Ev0lution - Uprise
From the start, Ev0lution seemed like a dream come true for fans of EDM and metal, combining the best of both worlds with your favorite deathcore vocalists and metalcore singers, but Uprise proves otherwise. In 2016, Ev0lution dropped “Horror on Park Ave” featuring Dan Watson (Enterprise Earth) and Devin Barrus (In Motive). It was unique, but not necessarily good, although Barrus does make the song forgivable. Before I dive into the album, I want to make clear that I used to listen to a ton of EDM and I still do sometimes, which sort of qualifies me to say that this is not good EDM at all.
Right off the bat, “Fallout” features Dickie Allen (Infant Annihilator,) CJ McMahon (Thy Art is Murder) and Jack Simmons (Slaughter to Prevail). This only seems like a godly trio of deathcore vocalists. I personally think that Dickie’s vocals can improve any song, but I can’t say that about “Fallout.” The beats are weak, the drops are weak, the vocals are muffled, and it rarely shows potential. “The Greada Treaty” features Adam Warren of both Oceano and Surge. One, I had no clue that Adam Warren had pipes and could belt some of the most beautiful clean verses on this record, which almost saves the track. Unfortunately, the beats are lackluster and the good is outweighed by the bad.
Track three, “Uprise,” again features CJ and Devin, but what’s crazy is that this track is miles better than “Fallout” in every aspect. If the album had sounded more like this song, it could have made for some of the best EDM I’ve ever listened to. Unfortunately, it’s immediately followed by “Horror on Park Ave” with Dan and Devin, and some dude named Blast. It’s pretty wack, unless you dig the “Spooky Scary Skeletons” type of beat. “Unhallowed” has some amazing features from both Ben Duerr (Shadow of Intent) and Colton Bennett (Angelmaker), making this another somewhat stable track amid the jumble of weirdness that is Uprise. Ben’s vocals over the ambient beat are a surprisingly good match, and Colton’s riffs add a respectable aspect to the proceedings, but then “Take Me Away” is, simply put, just bad. For once, the album uses live drums courtesy of Josh from Emmure, and Andy Cizek (WVNDER) delivers some competent cleans, but it’s as forgettable as anything else on the record. “Conquer” starts cool, but then a rap verse from someone named Drew Gates ruins the song so completely that it almost doesn’t matter that Tyler Shelton (Traitors) is on the track, although his contribution is easily the the highlight of the song.
“My Nightmare” is far and away the best song on the record because it follows the methodology of a simple EDM track and feels like it belongs on the album. “Roar” is carried by Devin Barrus’s range. His talent shines through the track, and Andrew Patterson deserves mention, too. “The Algorithm” is another song Devin carries, and ultimately, he makes listening to this album bearable. “Treego” has probably the best integration of heavy vocals thanks to Casey Pearce of Angelmaker, who is a beast, and although I used to love Luke Griffin (Human Error), he feels misplaced on the title track.
This is easily some of the worst music I’ve heard this year, which is a shame since most of the features are technically great. Ev0lution is a mistake, and I feel as if it never should've happened. Uprise, without a doubt, is one of the worst albums to ever emerge from the deathcore scene.
- Dakota G.
Tyler, the Creator- Scum Fuck Flower Boy
You can listen to the LP here
Back in 2007, Tyler, the Creator started the music collective known as Odd Future with Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean, among others; underground rap and R&B stars that are now much-beloved by their communities. Since then, the collective has released a few compilations and Tyler himself has a few releases under his own name, starting with the 2009 mixtape, Bastard. Two years later, Tyler released his debut LP Goblin, where he made a name for himself thanks to some absurdly offensive lyrics. Historically, hip-hop can get pretty grotesque lyrically, but I am talking about a man who literally rapped the lyric “Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome.” This is someone who truly doesn’t give a fuck who he offends, which certainly brought him a long way with some. However, there were also those, I among them, who saw these lyrics as very tryhard. When Goblin came out, I was just getting seriously into hip-hop, listening to more “classic” artists like Nas and N.W.A., but had room for more modern artists such as Cage and Danny Brown. When I heard about Goblin, I was really stoked. It seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, it turned me off, and I ignored the follow-up album Wolf. I wanted nothing to do with Tyler’s music,because I saw it as bait for controversy and nothing more.
In 2015, Tyler dropped Cherry Bomb out of the blue, and on my first listen, I enjoyed it. However, a few more listens in, I realized that he was just ripping off Death Grips and did not care to hear more. Live videos of these tracks are pretty entertaining, but the content itself is just not very satisfying. I thought this was where I was going to hop off the Tyler train forever, but in spite of myself, I was interested in this LP. Virtually every hip-hop music outlet has zeroed in on the fact that Tyler seems to be using this album to come out of the closet.. I never really dived deeper than the headlines of these articles, but there have been hints of Tyler’s sexuality for some time now. I decided to give the man one more chance. After all, who could pass up an album title as good as Scum Fuck Flower Boy?
Right off the bat, I need to mention how much I love the production on this LP. “Foreward” opens up with a minimalist beat and a bit of guitar. It’s super chilled out, which is a good way to describe most of the production on this LP. It’s a surprise from someone like Tyler. This idea continues on “When the Flower Blooms” and “Garden Shed.” There are some songs where the beat absolutely bangs, such as “I Ain’t Got Time” and lead single “Who Dat Boy,” which starts off with an eerie intro before breaking into a bass-driven beat that could get anyone hyped as fuck. It sounds like the best track left off of Cherry Bomb--hell, the track even references the previous album.
I would have never expected Tyler to take his lyricism as seriously as he does on Flower Boy in my life. This is the man who would rap anything to get a rise out of people. There are still some questionable lines, such as “I never had a dog, so I've never been good with bitches” on “911/Mr. Lonely,” but even that is preceded by one of my favorite lyrics on the entire LP: “There's more fish in the sea, but I never had a goldfish to begin with.” The first time I heard this lyric, I was so moved that I didn’t even notice the mediocrity of the following lyric. Generally, the album conveys a mood of isolation. We see repetition of lyrics from this track on “Glitter,” specifically the line “Mirror mirror on the wall,” followed by either “the loneliest of them all” (as on “911/Mr. Lonely”) or “the brightest of them all” (as on “Glitter”).
Of course, it’d be hard to discuss the lyrics without addressing their biggest theme. On some tracks, it’s obvious that Tyler is coming out. On “I Ain’t Got Time!” he literally raps “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004”. There are also songs like “Garden Shed”, which talk about the topic, and then are referenced later on “November,” when Tyler discusses his fears that people may drop him after realizing he’s gay. “Where This Flower Blooms” sees Tyler encouraging people to be who they are. It’s incredible to think that this is all written by the same edgelord that wrote Goblin. I truly applaud him.
Tyler’s rapping has improved alongside his lyrics. His flow is even more technical and varied, although he doesn’t rap nearly as often as he does on other albums. In an interview, Tyler has stated that he wanted to sing more, which is why he “kept his verses short.” This makes room for in many, many vocalists to carry these duties, such as Odd Future’s own Frank Ocean, Kali Uchis, Anna of the North, and Tyler himself. All of these parts work well, especially because of the more relaxed production. Of course, we have some rap guests also, such as A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne. The A$AP Rocky sections on “Who Dat Boy” are pretty sick, but I am really not a fan of Lil Wayne’s interlude on this LP. It’s far from the worst thing both Tyler and Wayne have done, but it also just really doesn’t add much to the LP, especially so close to the end.
Flower Boy closes with a sweet instrumental piece entitled “Enjoy Right Now, Today.” While I wouldn’t really listen to this track outside of the context of the LP, I think it’s a really nice way for Tyler to wrap up what is truly a masterful LP. It summarizes everything Tyler meant to do and say with the album: be happy with yourself despite what others may think of you. Love every day that you live, despite knowing how lonely and scary life can get. This is the sort of LP we needed, especially given the bleak political climate of the current year. It’s an LP that, despite a certain social agenda, steers clears of political talk and focuses on the individual.
After eight years, Tyler has finally won me over. Scum Fuck Flower Boy is absolutely beautiful in its presentation, and I am really happy that Tyler took a moment away from his usual controversial persona to take himself a little more seriously. This is a project I would suggest to anyone who really wants to dive into some really good hip-hop. I went into this thing as someone who HATED Tyler’s music, and I came out in love.
Khemmis - Hunted
Listen and buy on their Bandcamp
Doom metal and stoner metal don’t do much for me. In my experience, they’re insular genres resistant to change, sticking to the sluggish bpms that defined it in its infancy. I can appreciate a crushing doom break or a fuzzy riff, but without some contrast, a change of tone or tempo, I tune out. There are bands that transcend the limitations of their genre--Warning and 40 Watt Sun spring to mind, both fronted by Patrick Walker, and Elder released a very cool album earlier this year--but they’re exceptions to the rule. What elevates these bands is the way they dig into and project emotion, using the tools of the genre to enhance it rather than the other way around. To that list, I’m officially adding Khemmis as my undisputed favorite based on the strength of Hunted, a record so flat-out awesome that it has motivated me to reevaluate my position on the genre.
From what I understand, Khemmis’s first album is a more niche effort that was lauded in doom and stoner circles for its fusion of different doom and stoner subcategories I won’t even try to identify, while Hunted takes a more “classical” approach, discarding a lot of the stoner influences in favor of more twin-guitar harmonies. That’s fine with me, and totally apparent from the album’s killer opening track “Above the Water,” which lays out almost every trick Khemmis will use on Hunted. The riffs are intricate but not overly complicated, favoring mournful leads (think a bedraggled Iron Maiden) over downtrodden hard rock riffs for an atypically accessible blend. But it’s the vocals that seal the deal, covered by Ben and Phil (I’m unable to find last names for either). One’s strong bass voice soars over the music, anthemic and forlorn, utilizing simple and powerful melodies to stir the heart, but “Candlelight” shows the album’s true colors. It rides its heart-on-sleeve melodicism for a while before cutting the tempo in half and dropping the listener into a chasm of rattling low chords and the other vocalist’s death growls, making for quite an introduction to the heavy side of Khemmis.
“Three Gates” a great mid-album rocker, capturing the band at their most infectious, and it’s this song that may tip the listener off to the fact that they’re listening to a concept album. Although it’s not necessary to understand the story to enjoy the music, it’s fun to imagine how the album’s wizards-and-warhorses artwork sync up with this song’s medieval-horror lyrics and how they relate to the seafaring tales of “Above the Water” and “Candlelight.” The song then thrusts into the nine-minute behemoth of “Beyond the Door,” a plunge into some of the album’s most oppressive material, while we’re riding high on the catchiness of the previous track. The opening lead sways mesmerizingly from one note to the next, setting us up for the long game as the track phases through passage after seamless passage of quality doom, some galloping and warlike, some clean-strummed and vulnerable. These nine minutes go by much faster than they should, a testament to the band’s deft songwriting, which makes the closing thirteen-minute epic of “Hunted” seem even grander in contrast. You feel every moment of this track, its ever-evolving structure guiding us through adventurous technical detours toward a downbeat climax of resignation, one that feels at once new for the album and consistent with its emotional direction. Hunted ends without a lot of fanfare, in line with the genre, and yet leaves such an impression that the only way to follow it up is to play it again.
It may just be my inexperience, or I may be jumping the shark, but I feel that Hunted, along with Elder’s Reflections of a Dying World (as well as Pallbearer’s three full-lengths, although I don’t enjoy them to the same extent) represent something of a turning point for the genre, a pivot toward a more accessible style that remains true to the core tenets of the sound even as it maps new territory. Clocking in at forty-five minutes over five tracks, Hunted is counterintuitively digestible, and exciting despite its depressive atmosphere. If, like me, you’ve had trouble getting into the style, this could be the album (and the band) that changes that for you as it’s changing it for me. Against all odds, Hunted is a doom record that leaves you smiling.
Integrity - “Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume”
You can stream the album in full on Youtube
There’s not much to say about Integrity that hasn’t been said countless times before. Arguably the first ever metalcore band, their first three releases, For Those Who Fear Tomorrow, Systems Overload, and Humanity is the Devil, are some of the most important and influential records within the context of heavy music as a whole. Soon after the Humanity, however, lead vocalist and Holy Terror icon Dwid Hellion decided to get weird and didn’t really care what anybody else thought about it. In the time since, the band has seen its share of ups and downs: Seasons in the Size of Days couldn’t follow the mastery of the first three records and since then, only 2003’s To Die For has been able to somewhat stand shoulder to shoulder with the band’s early material. The less said about Integrity 2000, the better. This brings us to 2017, where Dwid and co. have decided to give us yet another Integrity album, Howling, For The Nightmare Shall Consume. Impressed with the pre-release tracks, namely “I Am the Spell,” I was eager to finally listen to a new Integrity record. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Opening tracks “Fallen to Destroy” and “Blood Sermon” employ the epic, lead-driven sound that has become synonymous with the band throughout their existence. The latter contains a distinctly black metal tinge to it, which feeds directly into the apocalyptic nature of the record. Dwid’s vocals are as powerful and monstrous as ever, and tracks such as “Burning Beneath the Devil’s Cross” and “Hymn for the Children of the Black Flame” are direct throwbacks to the band’s early material.
So far, so good, right? Well, through much of the mid-section of the record, the band decides to take influences from a variety of genres, and for the most part this move manages to pay off. “Die With Your Boots On” (which is not an Iron Maiden cover, by the way), pays homage to the NWOBHM movement of the early 1980’s, with soaring guitar melodies that would be right at home on something like Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance. The same can be said for “Serpent of the Crossroads,” which evokes Sad Wings of Destiny. The first half of “7 Reece Mews” is distinctly Western, while “String up my Teeth” sounds like 80’s hair metal mixed with hardcore - yes, you read that right. Much of this influence can be attributed to the addition of Domenic Romeo, formerly of Baltimore crossover band Pulling Teeth, on lead guitar: from the thrashy “Hymn…” to the slow-burning sound of “Unholy Salvation of Sabbatai Zevi,” his influence is certainly familiar to fans of his old band.
Unfortunately, the album drags a little. Tracks 6-8 are all past the 6:30 mark in length, bringing the album to a bit of screeching halt, which might turn some listeners off. The middle child of these three tracks, “Unholy Salvation…,” isn’t really anything to write home about either. In addition, the only breakdown on the entire record is at the very end of the aforementioned “I Am the Spell.” To some, this might not be a big deal, but this is the band that wrote “March of the Damned,” so it’s slightly disappointing.
Otherwise, Howling is remarkable. Dwid and co. have managed to put together a record that is equal parts homage to their heyday and a tribute to genres otherwise foreign to the realm of hardcore. Arguably their best since Humanity is the Devil, this record is definitely worth a listen for any fan of heavy music, whether hardcore, metal, or anything in between.
- Cesar G.