2. Buried Inside - Chronoclast
Chronoclast is the counterpart to Jane Doe we didn’t know we were missing.
Yet, out of our six new metalcore classics, Chronoclast maybe the least obviously unique. A cursory listen or two might reinforce that impression: on their junior album, Buried Inside owes a clear debt to Converge and other chaotic metalcore acts, and that impression may even stick for the first few listens. Be patient. Chronoclast may be bent on destroying the very concept of time (more on that later), but time is exactly - ironically - what Buried Inside need to thrive. It doesn’t distinguish itself with technical flourishes or by playing dice with the time signatures. Instead, even in its densest, dirtiest moments, Buried Inside make sure never to lose sight of their sense of melody.
Astute listeners will pick right up on a number of motifs that surface and resurface over the course of the album, the most obvious instances of which are the openings of the album’s “Introduction,” “Reintroduction,” and closer “Time As Resistance,” which are all variations on the same melodic theme. These motifs, and this broader focus on melody, are right up front in the songwriting and the mixing without being obvious. This is partly due to a range of competing influences, including sludge, doom, and post-metal, with hints of Envy/Sika Redem-like screamo. It’s all the more testament to the band’s abilities that they can keep things so deftly melodic without resorting to chaos, giving the album the shape and direction that comparable efforts lack. Those same listeners (or those conducting a little research on the side - I know you’re out there!) will soon realize that Chronoclast is actually one complete musical idea divied up into ten movements, or “Selected Essays on Time-Reckoning and Auto-Cannibalism,” according to the album’s subheader.
Consider Chronoclast the “left brain” to Jane Doe’s right: as precise as Jane Doe is passionate, as measured as Converge is frenzied; calculated instead of combustible, specific where that album is universal. Not an opposite, but an equal and necessary complement.
Jane Doe precedes Chronoclast by nearly half a decade: the influence is inarguable, since Converge had already followed up with You Fail Me by 2004 (which still goes underappreciated simply for being its immediate successor). Jane Doe’s eye-wateringly sincere mix of grind, metal, and hardcore is the template for just about any metalcore band worth their salt since 2001. Plenty of bands skew the ratios, but Buried Inside are subtler than most: they dial down the grind and keep the tempo at a mid-paced simmer, but such that, like any good cook working from a tried-and-true recipe, the results remain recognizable.
This is the importance of Chronoclast: it’s intelligent, progressive metalcore lacking the “quirks” and add-ons that acts like Between the Buried and Me stuff into their music, allowing them to stay rooted in tradition while also advancing, and arguably improving upon their predecessors: because while Jane Doe is the reason the word “catharsis” exists for a sizeable piece of the heavy music community, it’s a breakup album. The breakup album, no doubt, but still one of many. Jane Doe is anyone. Even the woman on the cover is no one in particular, and the story of her genesis is one for another piece entirely. But the genius of the album, and of Jane Doe herself, is that she can be your anyone.
Your no one.
That’s not the case with Chronoclast. This album is very much about something in particular, and may not be for everyone. I fidgeted for quite a while trying to find a way to appropriately phrase the album’s message, but stumbled on it in someone else’s writing: reviewing for Punknews, “Six_53JM” calls Chronoclast “a study and analysis of time as an imperial construct for the regulation of capitalist economy and of time as the primary societal control,” and makes the rest of the point for me, too:
In the hand's (or voice) of a lesser vocalist, the lyrical content, while brilliant and masterfully written, might've come off as slightly pretentious or even self-indulgent, but Nick Shaw's impassioned vocal delivery manages to give his socio-political rhetoric great heft, weight and relevance….Ultimately, the band's message strives for a certain emancipation of conscience among individuals, for people to simply question and potentially critique this man-made paradigm, something that isn't anchored in fact, but merely taken for granted.
Think what you like, but of the innumerable bands that attempt this sort of highbrow intellectual gobbledygook, very few can back it up with the technical, compositional, and lyrical chops Buried Inside display on Chronoclast. And none, in my experience, have tackled a subject quite as daunting as this, or with such elegance: from the opening call to “let loose the clockwork dogs,” its indictment of time (or Time, with a capital “T”) as “the prosthesis to which we depend,” there is real poetry waiting to be unearthed here, and a philosophy just as raw and heavy as what’s presented on Jane Doe. What it doesn’t have, again, is that album’s universality: quite simply, a lot of people aren’t going to be able to make heads or tails of what it’s trying to say, and a lot of people who do aren’t going to care.
Fortunately, Buried Inside aren’t seeking converts, or at least not in quite so sociopolitical a sense. This is genuine, edge-of-your-seat music with as many moments of gut-wrenching catharsis and seething darkness as Jane Doe, for opposite and equal reasons. You can happily coast on the oceanic tension of Chronoclast without needing to understand a word of it, as I often do. The album ebbs and flows with the cohesion of a single piece, cresting with the last four songs: beginning with the “violent revolt of being” that ends “Time As Abjection,” swelling through the anxious minute of “Time As Automation,” erupting with the gang-shouts of “Make way!” on “Time As Commodity” and its wide-eyed revelation that “to the power brokers of hypercapitalism, our lives are on the auction block!” before, finally, carrying us out to sea on the uplifting surge of “Time As Resistance.”
It’s always a comfort to know that there are bands like Buried Inside capable of spinning hope out of so many traditionally negative genres. For all its lyrical, compositional, and melodic tension, the release of “Time As Resistance” is some of the most inspiring stuff in the genre, nevermind the subgenre. Calculated to the end (and, depending on the listener, perhaps to a fault), Buried Inside doesn’t offer a solution to the philosophical quandaries it raises. Answerable questions aren’t really questions, after all, and to that end, Chronoclast and Jane Doe are utterly the same.
But Chronoclast’s words are Chronoclast’s words, and that’s just as valuable as quality as any.
Time politics are power politics.
No denial, no exception.
The fallacy of science and tech is its complete objection.
All technologies are biased, this the Decadists knew:
bringing a revolutionary backwash that flooded power turbines for the clockmakers, the foremen, the officials, and the megamachine.
But the seams will split.
The myth will spoil.
The monolith will crack.
The soil will turn.
Death comes in time.
Death comes with time.
1. As The Sun Sets - Each Individual Voice is Dead in the Silence
What happens when the sun sets?
Night falls, and all the monsters come out.
We’ve been talking darkness. Come face to face with it. This is the ugliest side of metalcore, where acts like Destroyer Destroyer, December, and the Sawtooth Grin come crawling out of the sludge: the pallid faces in the window, the capering ghouls, the blood on the walls and the broken teeth. Album titles don’t get much more telling than Each Individual Voice is Dead in the Silence, as just about every extreme voice in metal - black, death, and grind most prominently - cries out amid the toxic sounds of As The Sun Sets’s debut. Although the album features a number of creepy excerpts from Jacob’s Ladder, what always comes to mind when I put this album on is ’Salem’s Lot: both the 1971 movie’s depiction of the vampire Kurt Barlow, and a specific passage from the novel, which I’ve alluded to:
His hand found the paperweight - the glass globe that had been with him since his boyhood in his nighted town - grabbed unknowing in a dreamlike visit to a monster's house. Shake it up and watch the snow float down.
He did it now, holding it up before his eyes as he had as a boy, and it did its old, old trick. Through the floating snow you could see a little gingerbread house with a path leading up to it. The gingerbread shutters were closed, but as an imaginative boy (as Mark Petrie was now), you could fancy that one of the shutters was being folded back (as indeed, one of them seemed to be folding back now) by a long white hand, and then a pallid face would be looking out at you, grinning with long teeth, inviting you into this house beyond the world in its slow and endless fantasy-land of false snow, where time was a myth. The face was looking out at him now, pallid and hungry, a face that would never look on daylight or blue skies again.
In the film version of ’Salem’s Lot, Barlow’s design evokes F.W. Murnau’s Count Orlok in a conscious rejection of the sophisticates of more recent vampire outings. The novel’s Barlow is actually one of these types, but rather than swept-back hair, “full, sensual lips,” and a “heavy mustache,” the miniseries opts for a hairless, death-white bat-thing incapable of closing its mouth around its overgrown fangs. A yellow-eyed, old-world abomination. So, too, do As The Sun Sets invoke older, uglier ancestors: with its unmistakable tremolo-picked riffs, relentless blastbeats, and an overwhelming atmosphere of dread, Each Individual Voice frequently treads black metal waters and seems hellbent on dragging the listener down into its neurotic depths. Clean tones make rare appearances, but they operate as moments of tension between waves of dissonance and off-kilter rhythms rather than as real calms. Where other metalcore acts would take these opportunities to showcase some clean vocals, As The Sun Sets warps convention by overlaying clips from Jacob’s Ladder, and wind up warping conventions that didn’t even exist yet! While Eighteen Visions was also littering Until The Ink Runs Out with movie clips around this time, they were using them for isolated intros and outros. As The Sun Sets incorporates them into the songwriting. Consider the near-acoustic build-up underneath the lengthy sample on “Such Words Were Upon the Tongues of Demons,” and how it matches the ebb and flow of Jim Robbins’s paranoid rambling. Plenty of metalcore bands use spoken-word passages, but this is a subtle, spooky, and brilliant twist on the trope that you're not likely to hear elsewhere, and hardly done this well.
The Kurt Barlow of ’71 doesn’t do much more than hiss and grunt - it was one of those controversial adaptational choices on the part of the writers to keep Barlow mute, rendering him that much more primal and inhuman. It worked. But if he had been allowed to speak, I don’t think he would. I think he would shriek and growl, and it would sound an awful lot like this: bat-like, tortured, and absolutely chilling. You’ll be hard-pressed to find such an unsettling vocal performance anywhere outside of the grimiest death metal. It’s certainly possible to find vocalists with higher highs and lower lows, but it’ll be a long time before you encounter a performance as textbook rabid as this. Alexis S.F. Marshall fronts Daughters now, who were quick to form in the aftermath of As The Sun Sets’s demise. Their Canada Songs is an extension of the grind sound they adopted for 7744 and 8949 while they were still As The Sun Sets, but Marshall’s style on Canada Songs is closer to the straightforward screams of those last As The Sun Sets efforts, meaning not at all like the hellish shrieking of Each Individual Voice. It sounds as if he’s hitting two pitches simultaneously. If it were studio trickery, their live show wouldn’t have held up; but by all accounts, he was once capable of performing these vocals and just hasn’t touched this ability since.
Lyrics are almost secondary to Marshall’s sheer tone and power, but I hold that they’re appropriately vampiric, dealing with an overarching theme of intense heartbreak leading to violence against self and others. It may sound a little generic, but generic isn’t As The Sun Sets. While death metal was lightyears ahead in terms of repulsive subject matter from the get-go, the diction and grammar of these lyrics recalls that of the following decade’s deathcore acts: sometimes clumsily specific, sometimes weirdly hyperbolic (“My halo burns out a million mournings ago!”), they are nevertheless cohesive in their single-minded nihilism. As you might expect of a band named after sundown, the passage of time and the struggle with mortality is a pretty recurrent issue: there are plenty of longed-for “yesterdays” and doomed new “days,” feeding into the album’s unspoken vampirism.
At bottom, Each Individual Voice is about exhaustion, abandonment, hopelessness; of attempted escape and inevitable failure, all in line with the vampire's existential crisis. It’s early on, in “Such Words Were Upon the Tongues of Demons,” that Marshall acknowledges: “You can separate yourself from the truth, but when the sunset dies, so will you.” We can interpret this any number of ways, depending on what angle you buy. This wonderful line could just as easily refer to a release sought in the act of dreaming as it could vampires, and for what it’s worth, I secretly suspect that dreams are the vampire, here. Dreams are invoked over the course of the album as a means of escape, fitting snugly into our main interpretation, and “Unfulfilled Dreams Are A Burning Utopia” is all about transitory moments; the inaccessibility of the past. In whichever sense one chooses to interpret Marshall’s “dreams,” whether as the REM sort or the life-goals sort, he makes it a point that “pretending won’t fulfill” them, and “dreams that will never be are not easy to cope with.” On the very next song, he admits:
I’ve exhausted dreams and aspirations.
I have failed myself and those that I love.
And I dream no more.
The dreams end here, abruptly. We listen as “Utopia’s” prayer for “the sweetest of unhappy endings” comes to fruition, and our protagonist gets “down on his knees” midway through “Carpathian” to beg some unnamed other:
Tear my throat with anticipation!
And judging by the album’s last three tracks, a devastating trilogy of closed eyes (“...Shed For You As For Many”), burned flesh (“A Thousand Falling Skies”), and open wounds (“Everything”)…
“There shall be no more death. Neither shall there be sorrow. Neither shall there be anymore pain. The former world has passed away.”
If you happen to be familiar with some or all(!?) of the following bands or albums, or if you’re determined to make yourself familiar with them (since the majority can be found on Bandcamp and YouTube), you’ll notice right away that these collectively represent a darker, uglier, and more violent breed of metalcore than what you may be accustomed to. What we have here is by no means definitive, nor would I argue that these are even the very best metalcore in our “alternative” history. More often than not, my criteria comes down to two very simple, overarching premises: bands that were playing ahead of their time, and bands that created something that has gone, as of yet, unduplicated.
It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to six. Believe me: as difficult as it is to assemble a list of classic metalcore albums, at the very least, I have a number of sources and cemented opinion on which to fall back for support or to remind me of what I’ve missed or neglected. No such safety net here. Metalcore is one of the most elastic subgenres in metal; it’s capable of accommodating some of the widest genre-hops and strung-out inspirations, the maddest flights of fancy and the most baroque performances. The sheer number of unique metalcore visions with the potential to revolutionize the subgenre is well beyond my ability to catalogue or to even acknowledge.
So I’m not going to try!
These six albums that we do have are highly creative, idiosyncratic - what are “quirks” for other bands typically wind up as full-fledged songs here - and, as mentioned, were often way ahead of the curve at their times of release. While I will dive in for more in-depth looks, I want to point out that each of these is as much of an anomaly within the artist’s discography as they are within the scene, except for Drowningman’s Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline, which is only the first gem in a career’s worth of them. Again, they’re here because they were doing what others weren’t, years in advance. The emphasis As The Sun Sets places on their grind influences, as another example, is a shockingly sleek precursor to what Converge were only just perfecting in 1999. Training For Utopia’s Plastic Soul Impalement, with pre-Demon Hunter alumni Don and Ryan Clarke, is a stunning merger of late-90s metalcore, noise rock, and straight-up noise almost too evil to stand alongside its Christian themes. And to bring up Drowningman once more, those familiar with Every Time I Die’s Last Night In Town will come to realize it sounds an awful lot like an embryonic version of Busy Signal’s armor-plated, emo-injected hardcore. It’s about as sugary as metalcore gets without compromising its ferocity.
Without further ado:
As The Sun Sets
Each Individual Voice is Dead in the Silence
Busy Signal at the Suicide Hotline
Transfer Trachea Reverberations From Point: False Omniscient
Kiss It Goodbye
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
Training For Utopia
Plastic Soul Impalement
Most of these albums are debuts, and if there were follow-ups, they were often radical departures. It’s almost as if the bands themselves hadn’t quite realized what they’d made. I suppose that’s more accurate than to presume that they simply didn’t know where to go with the sound they created, but that may well have been a factor in a transition like that of Buried Inside’s progressive and deeply melodic Chronoclast to the straight Neur-Isis sludge of Spoils of Failure. I think it’s more likely that the boundary-pushing nature of that album, and of the other five, too, led their respective bands to pretty logical results: since the music rubs up against so many other extreme metal subgenres, the jump to sludge, grind, or even more conventional styles of metalcore wasn’t such a long one. I don’t think it reflects poorly on the bands at all - in the long run, it’s a smart move.
Outsourcing for a moment, I want to refer to a comment made by Roderic, drummer of Swiss metalcore titans Knut, during an interview. I will be pulling from a transcription posted to ilma.orgfree.com. Asked whether he could ever see Knut becoming a full-time occupation, his response is illuminatingly honest:
i'd like to state that these answers only reflect my personal opinion. no, i don't see us doing the band full time cause although it pretty much takes all the free time we have beside our jobs, living off it would mean playing music that appeals to a lot larger bunch of people (which i don't imagine us doing with this band). or it would mean touring all the time like some bands do, living on the road and not having a place of our own to live and well, i doubt that's the kind of life any of us wants to have.
It’s easy to forget that these bands consist of people. That’s true of any artist or entertainer working in just about any genre. Roderic goes on to describe the day jobs of some members of Knut, making a clear point of the fact that they have responsibilities outside of pioneering and advancing obscure subgenres of a relatively unpopular style of music, just as the majority of listeners, casual and committed alike, probably have better things to do than trash someone else’s work. That sort of thing is manageable in doses: let’s not underestimate the role of the disenfranchised, the misunderstood, and the outcast in the origins of both punk and heavy metal. Alienation is our lifeblood.
But before going much further, I do want to highlight this issue, because it is an issue. I mentioned that the metal and hardcore communities can be stubborn and hostile, and I think that bears repeating more than once. Maybe several more times than once. Innovation can be accidental, and contrary to the opinions of some, the folks that write, record, and perform the music we love don’t have all that much of an obligation to cater to the whims of its fanbase, and they have even less reason to start customizing their art to the complaints and “fixes” of “experts.” I bring this up only because the maligning of metalcore, worse in the past than at present, is half the reason it’s still maligned: some use the term “bandwagon,” less-approachable people “sheep,” but the fact is that once a certain style is designated outré, the scene is quick to keep it that way. Let’s stop that!, I can say from atop the little soapbox I’ve built for myself here, but even Henry Rollins gets tired of inspiring people.
See, inspiration requires a focal point. A motivator. I’m offering you six, with the possibility of many more. The you I’m addressing here is still very much you, doubtful/curious/converted reader, but recognize that there is a larger emphasis on you with a guitar leaning against your bedroom wall or a drum kit sitting in your garage, your basement, maybe right next to that guitar. Most out of all, it’s you who have played a show or put out an album and heard the term metalcore bandied about, and balked at it. Maybe you use the term freely, in reference to yourself. Even you - all of you yous - can find something to admire in these albums, some whacked-out chord progression or experimental tangent dropped all too soon, amid a flurry of others, that you want to hear more of; that you want to learn; that you want to play. Like those folks who wanted out with Jacob Bannon, whose shit was thoroughly rocked by the mere idea of a song like “43% Burnt,” who never thought they’d see synchronized rollerblading metalheads in a music video for a song named Ebolarama, no less: there is something for you here in the dark. A new motivation. A new personal classic.
A new mentality.
Going forward, you’ll have to forgive me some cheesiness - deep down, all metal is a little silly, and it’s hard not to give in every so often - but I’m going to let Arrow’s mission statement for the American Horror Project reiterate some points for me, with adjusted terminology:
Everyone knows the classic metalcore bands: Botch, Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Every Time I Die, and Killswitch Engage, to name but a few. But we want to tell you a different story – a story of the unsung musicians of American metalcore… Whether it’s a band that has languished in obscurity, or an album that’s at risk of being lost due to a lack of physical copies/working download links, American Metalcore Project is here to ensure that these unique slices of the American metal scene are brought back into the public consciousness….Newly contextualised, with American Metalcore Project we can re-evaluate an alternative history of American metal and metallic hardcore heritage.
Although the abovementioned bands are listed in alphabetical order for convenience’s sake, it’s interesting that they also wind up organizing roughly by their importance to American metalcore. It’s impossible to argue the far-reaching effects of We Are The Romans, Jane Doe, Calculating Infinity, Hot Damn!, and The End of Heartache on each major epoch of metalcore, which is generally held to have come in three “waves,” like black metal: the pioneers, the refiners, and the rest.
The term metalcore itself gives away its parentage. Initially a fusion of thrash and hardcore punk, prototypical metallic hardcore bands like Earth Crisis, Starkweather, and Rorschach first found success in fast tempos, slow breakdowns, and shouted vocals before Coalesce and Shai Hulud upped the metal and doubled down on their (sometimes opposing?) messages of brotherhood and community, misanthropy and individualism. Metalcore didn’t come into its own until the mid-to-late nineties, when it experienced its first and largest renaissance. High-speed tempos and breakdowns remain staples of the subgenre, but the template has taken on some nuances: melodic death metal mostly replaced thrash as a base around the turn of the century, and black metal, death metal, and grind have all gotten their fingers into the metalcore pie, gradually eliminating the punk influence.
Nonetheless, Botch, Converge, and The Dillinger Escape Plan persist as a damn-near Holy Trinity in the church of metalcore (with Coalesce sometimes included, although their situation is analogous to Testament’s in the so-called Big Four of thrash). Their output from 1999-2001 is its foundation, and just about any great metalcore band can trace their lineage back to what these acts were doing at the time. Hundreds of bands still ape the mathy plod of We Are The Romans. The broken-heart-on-tattered-sleeve sincerity of Jane Doe still goes unequaled. The batshit technical skill and madman compositions of Calculating Infinity are the gold standard. These are unassailable classics. Then Hot Damn! swaggered onto the scene and changed it, almost on the spot, with its southern-fried New York groove and ferocious sarcasm, and The End of Heartache broke metalcore into the mainstream with acoustic guitars, accessible melodies, and a production style that defined the “sound” of the 00’s and beyond.
And so: metalcore as we know it.
This is all orthodox, the history of metalcore as it happened, with each major shift accounted for. The shadows of these classics loom so large over it all that it simply wouldn’t make sense to not acknowledge them, even if our goal is, in some ways, to do just that. But we're not here to split so many hairs. What we want to look at, and more importantly to uncover, is an alternate history of American metalcore, one that unfurls in the shadows of the greats. We can make arguments for Poison the Well’s The Opposite of December, for Cave In’s Until Your Heart Stops, Shai Hulud’s Hearts Once Nourished With Hope and Compassion, maybe for Overcast’s Reborn to Kill, Integrity’s For Those Who Fear Tomorrow, and possibly, if we truly wish to do away with metal’s elitist habits, Norma Jean and Underoath. It is absolutely true that each of these bands and albums added something to the metalcore pot, but rest assured, each were left off for good reason.
We’ll get to that. Now that we’ve acknowledged the darkness in which we’ll be working, it’s time to name our new classics.
Arrow Video launched the first volume of their American Horror Project box sets with the truly ambitious goal of re-evaluating an “alternative history of American horror and film heritage.” The plan is to rescue, restore, and put back into the public consciousness a number of American horror movies overshadowed by the big names - Arrow identifies Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and A Nightmare on Elm Street - and to take a look at an alternative horror history that played out in the shadows of those recognizable names, just outside of the public eye.
It’s an eyebrow-raising endeavor, to say the least. As a diehard horror fan, I was thrilled by the idea of the American Horror Project as much by its scope as by its sheer guts. At the time of this writing, I have yet to see any of the three films in the first volume, but I’ve heard exciting things about Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, and The Premonition - all titles I had never heard before, all ripe with promise. With an industry-wide horror renaissance on our hands allowing films like The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch to prosper, and with companies like Arrow Video, Synapse Films, Scream Factory, and others catering to the collectors, it’s really a wonderful time to be a diehard horror fan.
The downside is the flack one still gets for admitting to horror fandom to those who aren’t. It’s the same flack that metal fans put up with, and it’s not too hard to find folks like myself with a foot firmly planted in both graves, taking flack from both sides and finding that both communities are stubbornly unyielding in what’s considered orthodox. Reactions can be hostile. It’s an awkward position. So-called “torture,” “torture porn,” or “gorno” horror, popularized by the Saw and Hostel franchises, persists as the whipping boy of the horror genre (you can decide for yourself whether the pun is intentional) despite mold-breaking efforts like the original Martyrs and Inside (À l'intérieur). Similarly, although things have begun to settle, metalcore remains a bad apple on the heavy metal family tree. It may never have had the shameless commercial ambitions of nu-metal, for instance, but many metalcore bands continue to struggle with being identified as such, and the response from the metal community at large is still pretty lukewarm.
And I don’t see why that should be. In regards to myself, I will always be a nu-metal apologist - there are bands that got it right that were unfairly overlooked, and perhaps further down the road, I’ll do for nu-metal something like what I hope to do here - but I see very little reason for anyone to have to be a metalcore apologist. For those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and internet connections, it should be pretty obvious that there are plenty of bands that got it right, and still do, to justify the legitimacy of this unfairly-maligned subgenre.
Apparently, it isn’t so obvious. So, working from a little cross-disciplinary inspiration, my aim is simply a metalhead’s version of Arrow’s: an American Horror Project for the doubtful, the curious, and even the converted.
Call it the American Metalcore Project.
Wherein Brian hilariously overanalyzes a subgenre of metal!