Quinn - Give it a Go
Rating: 4.3 out of 5
Brand new Connecticut artist Quinn released her first single earlier this month, called “Give it a Go.”
It follows a number of obvious inspirations, including acts like Paramore and Tigers Jaw, to deliver a refreshing, summery statement song. In just a few minutes, it proves Quinn has found her musical calling in acoustic pop-punk, breezing flawlessly through a number of difficult high notes.
“Give it a Go” paints a vivid image of hanging out at a fairground on a warm summer night in high school, as timeless a feeling as now as in a 70’s rom-com. I don’t consider myself a pop-punk connoisseur, dabbling only occasionally in the genre, so as a skeptic, I can say that Quinn’s “Give it a Go” has won me over with a perfectly-crafted song featuring all the things I like about the genre arranged in a neat three-minute package.
I am very excited for more music from Quinn, if you are too, you can support her campaign to get her album funded here
- Dakota G.
Boundaries - My Body in Bloom
Boundaries is one of the few local bands I can absolutely never get enough of. With the shrill and eerie panic chords introduced on last spring’s demo, “Nightmare Machine” is so menacing it might literally cause nightmares. When I heard that the band had a new EP due out on Unbeaten Records this year, I was ecstatic to see what the band had in store. Rest assured, My Body in Bloom comes out swinging. It’s Boundaries season, and I’m strapping myself in for the ride.
“Kill Me Patiently” will make you fall in love with their take on late 90’s metalcore interspersed with the same crunchy, spastic breakdowns their fanbase loves. The song is jam-packed with dissonant, Converge-styled riffs that take a turn into one of the gnarliest mosh riffs you could ever hope to hear. “Kill Me Patiently” doesn’t pack just one (1) chance to beat your friends ass in the pit, but three (3)--a killer steal, especially with how popular mosh riffs are nowadays. This intro was super unexpected and a really good foot to start on for My Body In Bloom.
“Blush” is an odd track to me. It features some of McDougal’s best one-liners and some of drummer Kevin Steven’s best blasts right before the breakdown, but also some of the tamest and safest riffs on the bands part. It’s a slapper, but I feel as if this is something we’ve already heard from Boundaries, lacking the experimentalism of the rest of the EP. Then there’s “Hesitation Wounds.” Brendan Murphy--B R E N D A N M U R P H Y--is on “Hesitation Wounds,” and it packs the kinds of crowd-pleasing one-liners you’d expect from a collaboration like this: “where does love go when it leaves?” “What if I never get better?” This track shows off guitarists Zadak Brooks and Cory Emond’s punchiest riffs, backed by killer bassline support from Brandon Breedlove. All around, “Hesitation Wounds” is a remarkable track with a standout guest feature.
“My Body in Bloom” is a bombshell. It perfectly transitions from insanely violent riffs to depressing melody, easily one of the biggest surprises for me out of all of the tracks on the album. “Pain Medicine” focuses on bassist Brandon Breedlove (Ex- Limitless), who supplies a clean chorus section that meshes so naturally with the song, you’d never believe this was the first time they’d used cleans. I need more of this in the future. “Crxss My Heart” comes through with mathcore-styled dissonant riffs paired with crushing drumwork, but it’s a warzone the second a distorted audio clip of Elvis’s “Cross My Heart” starts playing. Just when you think it’s going to stop, the band whips out a reality-breaking outro, your final chance to knock yourself out.
Having followed these guys since Defector and getting to know them on a personal level, watching Boundaries’ ambition and excitement over this record has been a joy. They set out to craft the best record they could, and I think they’ve succeeded. I’m blown away. My Body in Bloom will see Boundaries take over the world.
This review will not spoil any plot that hasn’t already been revealed in the trailers. There may be other mechanics that are considered spoilers, so be advised.
It’s been thirteen years since Kingdom Hearts II dropped on the PlayStation 2. That was a game that for many, including myself, was absolutely groundbreaking. It did everything that its predecessor did better, and added some more elements to make a perfect game. The stakes were truly up for the third installment, yet what nobody knew was how long it was going to take. Instead, Square Enix and Disney Interactive put out an incredible amount of side games, even having the nerve to release one entitled Kingdom Hearts HD II.8: Final Chapter Prologue. When this title was announced, my patience turned into annoyance, and I sincerely thought the companies were toying with us. What was e next, I wondered? Thankfully, it actually was the third “main series” installment to the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and here we are. Edging twenty years since the first installment’s release, we are now at the endgame of this saga.
The story behind Kingdom Hearts is one very much in the vein of good versus evil, but there’s been so many twists and turns that it has gotten quite confusing over the years. The basic gist is that an old man named Xheanort, whose appearance just screams “villain,” is trying to find a perfect balance between light and dark to conquer Kingdom Hearts and recreate the universe as he pleases. Throughout the story, many incarnations of Xehanort appear, from his normal one to his “Ansem” form to his “Xemnas” form, and more. With this comes the summoning of the Heartless, beings formed when a heart becomes void of emotion; the Nobodies, strong-willed people who lost their heart; and the Unversed, beings that are spawned by negative emotions. Our heroes are faced with the task of fighting these beings and trying to foil Xehanort’s plans, and all of this comes to a conclusion with Kingdom Hearts III. This, of course, is an incredibly simplified version of the story behind the games, and all of this is coming from someone who’s only played the main series games and a small part of Aqua’s story in Birth by Sleep. Most of my knowledge of the story comes from watching videos that try their best to explain the huge timeline with this series, and I suggest that you get an understanding of the story outside of the “main series” games before going into this one, because it will certainly make-or-break the cinematics for you.
Playing through this game made me realize how far behind I was with gaming outside of the Nintendo Switch. I knew video games were starting to become a lot more cinematic, but Kingdom Hearts III is more than I could have ever expected. I felt like for every ten minutes of gameplay, there were thirty minutes of cutscenes. Even as someone who gets some level of entertainment out of the story (whether or not for the reasons the developers had intended), this gets to be a bit much for me--especially in the Frozen world, where they pretty much just paste in scenes from the movie and add Sora, Donald, and Goofy. I would just watch the movie if I wanted to see those scenes at full capacity. It feels more like the developers flexing the Unreal Engine than a meaningful addition to the story. That said, the game certainly looks nice. It’s not the best looking game on the planet, but as someone whose been pretty much playing nothing but Nintendo for the last decade, that isn’t a huge worry of mine.
The controls are absolutely phenomenal. One of my biggest troubles with the first installment in the series (the PlayStation 2 version) were the clunky, messy controls. Kingdom Hearts II improved on that with some of the best controls for the time. Kingdom Hearts III managed to take it up a further notch, with Sora responding the second I push down on a button. Especially when you begin to level up and are allowed more space in actions, the controls are fair. I also love how there are “Attraction” attacks now, which pay homage to the Disney parks around the world. As someone who had grown up going to these parks, it was a nice nostalgic touch. It is actually quite hard to die in KH3, at least compared to the other three that I have played, as the game gives you multiple chances to win in battle. If I die or fail, it is usually my fault, though it can sometimes be blamed on the one thing Kingdom Hearts never seems to address: the camera. I really don’t understand how the team never got around to fixing it. It was more forgivable in the earlier entries, but now we are two systems ahead and the camera is still incredibly clunky and unresponsive.
I had completely forgotten about the Gummi Ship sections from previous “main series” games. These are your ways of getting to new worlds, and while never a favorite part of previous games, I did have fun with them in Kingdom Hearts II. In III, these are the sections in which the game accesses its most “open-world” segments, but honestly, I’m not a fan of them at all. I wish the worlds you visit felt as open as this, but these segments feel too open for something most players aren’t going to spend much time with. It gets especially confusing when you are trying to get to a world, because the world you're trying to get to is marked with a yellow flag, whereas the world you didn’t plan on going to has a green spot on it. I had to embark on the Gummi Ship a few times because I was confused as to how it worked. I literally spent no time in the space section if I didn’t have to. The boss battles to get into three of the worlds were also annoying--I wish they were simply updated version of the Kingdom Hearts II battles, because those made an already great game incredibly fun.
Outside of the overwhelming amount of cinematics I mentioned in Frozen and Tangled, I had no problem with any of the worlds. Some, like Toy Story, introduce new actions to the game that enhance the experience, but that specific world does begin to drag a bit because of it. My favorite of the Disney worlds has to be Big Hero 6. It’s fast-paced and action-filled, which, given the source content, makes sense. But goddamn is it exhilarating--Baymax’s special attack alone gets my blood pumping. My biggest complaint is that there are only seven Disney worlds, compared to how many worlds previous games offer. Consequently, Kingdom Hearts III feels a little emptier; but given the climax the game offers, I mostly understand.
The music of Kingdom Hearts always captivated me, through not typically that belonging to the Disney worlds. The music made for the game itself has always been top-notch, and it’s no different here: some of the boss themes are beautiful. It’s just the Disney worlds that tend to feel pretty half-assed. The music does its job adequately, but I never feel the urge to listen to these tracks outside of where they appear in the game. It’s a shame, given that Disney’s brand is partly built on matching music to visuals, but at least the original content sounds as great as ever.
After completing the seven Disney worlds is one longest epilogues to a game I’ve ever seen. It will definitely get Kingdom Hearts fans emotional. Some argue that this ending is clunky, but given how long it is, it is able to flesh out every last detail to make sure this arc in the Kingdom Hearts series has a breathtaking conclusion, while also setting things up for the beginning to the next arc. Even I got a bit teary-eyed myself, which is crazy, considering how unseriously I take the story. It’s also worth collecting the lucky emblems throughout the game (another appreciable addition to the game that started in the Disney parks) to get the secret ending that’ll give you even more insight into the “new” saga than the regular ending.
Kingdom Hearts III is not my favorite entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. While it definitely has its advantages, it isn’t the masterpiece that was Kingdom Hearts II. That’s fine. Given all the games that have come out between the two “main entry” games, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a longer game or some masterful improvement on preceding titles. What the game does for the series, in terms of closing off its first saga and how it plays, is more than enough. It is a wonderful game full of the imagination that I expect and love from the series, and it makes sure to tie up every one of its predecessors’ loose ends for a finale worth the thirteen years. It had given me the spark I need to play the other Kingdom Hearts entries, and then return to this one later down the line.
VERDICT: It took thirteen years, but Kingdom Hearts III starts gaming in 2019 off on a very high note.
Me Stage-diving at The Fever 333 performance at The Webster Underground, which did not make my list. Photo credits to Brandon Antoniak.
Well, here we are again. After another 365 days, we’ve come to the new year! 2018 might not have been so great for some things, but the music was as solid as ever. We got some stellar new music and a ton of phenomenal concerts. Being the first year without The Dillinger Escape Plan in the picture, this opened the top spot on the list up to virtually anyone this time around, but I have to say that narrowing this list down to ten performances from 200+ I’ve seen this year was fucking hard. I think it is fair to just run off a few honorable mentions:
10. Lorde at Barclays Center: April 4th
As you may recall, Melodrama was my Album of 2017. It was everything I wanted in a pop record. Fast forward nearly a year since its release, and I finally got to see the young pop icon perform all but one track off this record, as well as a few off her debut project. This show was extravagant, and Lorde herself is such a natural live performer. I danced and screamed my heart out to easily the best arena show I’ve seen this year.
09. Scarlxrd at Baby’s All Right: July 30th
Since the first time I saw this UK rapper’s video for “Heart Attack” late last year, I knew he was an act I had to catch live. When he announced his first-ever New York performance in the summer, I jumped on tickets right away and was treated to one of the most intense live sets I’ve seen yet, and probably the most intense hip-hop show isn’t Death Grips. The crowd acted as if they were at a hardcore show, moshing and stage-diving all through his roughly hour-and-fifteen minute set. Not for a second did the energy stop or slow down. If anything, it got more intense as it progressed, with groups of people stage diving simultaneously by the end of it. An unforgettable night.
08. Kero Kero Bonito at Elsewhere: October 17th
Kero Kero Bonito is the best artist I discovered this year. I fell in love with TOTEP instantly, as I did with Time ‘n‘ Place. I was so worried I wasn’t going to be able to witness their performance this year after it sold out, but I was able to snatch some tickets for list price and attend the show. Being a fuller band now, the group did some different renditions of older tracks, most notably the incredible metal version of their hit “Trampoline.” The entire was magic. The band gave an incredible performance, feeding off the energy of the crowd, which was also not shy about moshing and crowd-surfing.
07. Meek is Murder at Brooklyn Bazaar’s Cellar: April 14th
I wrote a review for their performance that you can view here, but to summarize, picture your favorite local band performing their final show ever in the cellar of a moderately-sized venue with two other amazing local acts (Wreath of Tongues and Mary Todd, the latter of which also disbanded this year). This night was bound to be bloody, sweaty, and a little teary. Even with a broken leg, Mike Keller managed to perform for what was easily the best local show I’ve ever attended, and I don’t think that’s is something that will change for a very long time. I am sad that Meek is Murder is no more, but I could not think of a better way to send them off.
06. Daughters at Brooklyn Bazaar: November 3rd
This show was unreasonably tight--figuratively, as it featured the incredible duo Street Sects, but also literally, given that the entire audience pushed onto the stage as Daughters played a career-spanning set, from Hell Songs up till their latest work of genius, all performed with the perfect balance of hectic energy and elegance you expect of Daughters. Seeing these guys perform at the final Dillinger shows, while great, did not do them justice. They work best in an intimate space and without a barricade to stop them from interacting with their audience. Seeing them play “Daughters Spelled Wrong” in this environment is something dreams are made of. This is certainly a show that will stick with me for a long time, and also made me love their new record even more than I already did.
05. Cult Leader at Saint Vitus Bar: December 8th
I saw Cult Leader twice, back-to-back this year. With God Mother and Primitive Weapons on the bill, I figured I had to. I saw them at Boston’s Great Scott on the 7th, then came back down to New York for the Vitus show on the 8th. Truthfully, both of these performances were incredible, but the one at St. Vitus is that teensy bit better, thanks to the audience participation. I guess that’s par for a sold-out show, but the energy in the room as soon as “I Am Healed” started in New York was off the charts. Don’t even get me started on “Mongrel,” which had the audience pressed against the stage, frothing every word. Having the chance to stage-dive to “Great I Am” was a personal highlight. I hope I get to see this amazing band again sooner rather than later.
04. American Nightmare at Market Hotel: February 17th
I am lucky to say that I have seen both of Wes Eisold’s projects this year. If this list was longer, I would also include his performance with Cold Cave. While I think Cold Cave is better musically, American Nightmare is more memorable live. The music and shows were very different, but this was one of those crazy, exhilarating hardcore shows that stays fun all the way through, without fear of getting knocked out. This was another shows that I lucked out on getting tickets, and I am so glad I spent the night partying hard to classics like “AM//PM” and “Love American,” as well as some of their new self-titled record. It was all the best of hardcore.
We’re down to my top three live performance of the year. As mentioned, this list was hard to make, but I knew from the getgo that these three had to be on it. All video credits to Frank Huang of Max Volume Silence.
BRONZE. Hivesmasher at Brookyln Bazaar: August 18th
When Hivesmasher broke up in 2015, I thought I had blown my chances to ever seen them. But in July, Hivesmasher announced that they would be reuniting to open for underground grindcore legends Enemy Soil. I bought my ticket instantly. This was the grindcore equivalent of the Meek is Murder show for one of the most underrated grindcore bands in the business; and after this glorious preview of Hivesmasher’s strength, I know for certain is that 2019 is going to be the year they raise hell in the scene again. Your extreme metal band should be worried.
SILVER. Wormrot at Saint Vitus Bar: May 24th
I’ve been a fan of Wormrot since Dirge dropped in 2011. At 15 years old, I could not believe its raw aggression, and it inspired me to dive headfirst into underground metal, as well as to form my own grindcore band (shameless self promotion). After all these years, I finally got to see Wormrot perform. It was worth the wait and then some, a 40-minute blast of pent-up aggression that became a work of art all its own. The audience could not contain itself, and I was all for it. It was like meeting that online friend in real life for the first time, and realizing that you are a perfect match. Hopefully, it doesn’t take another seven years for this grindcore trio to return to the States.
There is only one band that could possibly top at this point. I’ve seen them six times in 2018, first as openers for Harms Way, then upgrading to Code Orange. They headlined Amityville Music Hall and came back to Brooklyn to open for Ghostemane. I saw them open one last time for Every Time I Die before this fateful night:
GOLD/PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR. Vein at Saint Vitus Bar: December 22nd
Even after six shows, I wasn’t prepared to see them go from opening a half-sold show at St. Vitus to headlining a completely sold-out concert with Planning for Burial. In a half-hour, Vein tore Vitus to shreds. I scored a black eye and wouldn’t want it any other way. The endless stage dives, the frantic moshing, the lyrics screamed at the top of a room full of lungs was absolute perfection. Honestly, in a world where The Dillinger Escape Plan no longer exists, we need more bands and audiences with this kind of energy. No other show this year came close to the passion with which Vein play songs like “Doomtech” and “Errorzone” live. Without question, Vein put on my favorite performance of the year.
Concerts have always been the highlights of my year. I go to as many as I can and always have them to look forward to. I cannot wait to see what 2019 has to offer--in fact, I’ve already secured tickets to Ulver’s first-ever set in the United States. Here’s to the new year!
- Alex Brown
HAHA TIME FOR LOW QUALITY AND EASILY PRODUCIBLE CONTENT
I feel as if 2018 has been an odd year for music. A lot that appears on this list comes from bands I had little-to-no previous knowledge of. After digging into their discographies, I found these albums to be their best work. There are also a few returning names that shouldn’t come to a surprise if you’ve followed my listening.
List is in alphabetical order because ranking them is too difficult.
Conjurer - Mire
I stumbled across Conjurer late 2017 with their I EP and boy do I love my blackened hardcore/black metal with hardcore influence/whatever (this isn’t the last time an album like this will appear here). Mire takes that concept and runs with it in a direction that helps separate them from their peers, opening up their sound to large soundscapes and slowburn pieces that sink deep. “Thankless” stands out after every listen since March, and is probably my most-listened-to track of 2018. The large chorus begging “Is it a sin to curse the life I'm blessed with? To let it all fade?” hasn’t failed to leave me awestruck.
Convulsing - Grievous
Errata was a solid effort from the one-man-band Convulsing, and while it kept me on the hook enough to watch for his work, I would never have expected it to lead here. While the album certainly has a level of polish his earlier work didn’t, and has a larger scope, what makes it one of my favorites of the year comes from a commitment to his style and realizing all he's capable of. The reach of the album is insane between the opening track “Beaten,” which feels exactly like a black metal bludgeoning, and “Relent,” which features a choir (still just himself) and hollow, eerie passages that feels like being stuck at the bottom of a ravine.
Cult Leader - A Patient Man
MY OPINION HASN’T CHANGED, READ MY REVIEW (oh and Brain and Alex Brown’s section too). The only thing I’ll add is that seeing Cult Leader play “I Am Healed” through “To: Achlys” and “Broken Right Hand Of God” is a highlight of the year.
Joy - No Light Below
I feel like I’m already getting some perspective on the album, having had unreachable expectations for No Light Below. A chunk of my review reads more negatively than I feel about it now.
A Needle Under The Nail - The Third Impact
Having only read the Evangelion manga (I know, I’m fucking up), I feel like the EP makes some overt allusions. Just take a quick look at the track list: “Event Horizon,” “Umbilical,” “Celestial Victim Mentality.” It just feels like a crazy, metaphorical alien, sci-fi property. That’s not the only cool thing about the EP. It's also a massive metalcore record in a style that’s been left behind. Most importantly, its’ a big improvement over their demo.
Nightmarer - Cacophony Of Terror
This falls into the same category as something like last year's Mirror Reaper. It didn't get as much playtime as the rest here, but not because it's a lesser release. It's a record that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to be: a nightmare. I want to listen to it as much as possible, but I know I'll oversaturate myself, and I fear it losing its edge. I bring it into my playlist occasionally to ensure that it's always a crushing experience.
Street Sects - The Kicking Mule
I feel like it's becoming almost standard to have an electronic/synth record on my end of the year lists. To put it simply, Street Sects are one of the most interesting acts of the past few years, blending high-octane electronic warfare with a lot of metal influence. Terrifying all the time. While I don't think it's too different from the rest of the discography, it brings an appreciable level of refinement to their sound.
Svalbard - It's Hard To Have Hope
Punk-infused post-hardcore tackling subject matters from dead-end jobs, abortion, and revenge porn. Biting all the time. Also one of the stand out moments of the year was spinning this while finishing Watch by Keith Buckley, and the end of “For The Sake of the Breed” closing out my final moments of the book with a heavy feeling. It was lit.
Vein - Errorzone
Is there anything that I can say to add to the conversation about this album? No fucking way. Anything to get you to listen to it? Well, if you haven't taken the advice from better-spoken people than me, you're fucking up. A non-conformist and all-encompassing metal/hardcore record.
Wolf King - Loyal To The Soil
Another blackened hardcore record. While on paper it seems to follow the same trajectory as Joy’s on No Light Below, I feel it’s much more consistent, and while it takes on more black metal influence, it keeps the hardcore grit. Loyal to the Soil has tons of passages that make perfect calling cards for shows.
Currents - I Let The Devil In
CT boys hitting their stride after The Place I Feel Safest.
Echo Beds - Buried Language
Frontierer - Unloved
It's just more Frontierer.
Kaonashi - Why Did You Do It?
Why am I back in high school?
Night Verse - From The Gallery Of Sleep
I liked the vocals on the previous effort, but it was all for the best that they dropped him and let themselves flex the entire run time.
Primitive Man - Steel Casket
The perfect noise EP complement to their last full-length, Caustic.
Sectioned - Annihilation
Its Frontierer, but more hardcore.
Sumac - Love In Shadow
This is the album they’ve been attempting to make for years now.
Vitriol - Pain Will Define Their Death
I GET TO PUT IT ON HERE AGAIN BECAUSE OF THE RERELEASE! I WANNA PUT IT AT #1!
- Alex Bugella
Currents - I Let The Devil In
Currents are one of first bands I ever got into upon entering Connecticut’s vast music scene a few years ago, when they released their EP Life//Lost. I vividly remember sitting down with that record and falling in love with the depth and integrity of the band. Fast forward three years later, and I’m still absolutely blown away by seemingly everything this band does. I find it hard to believe that Chris Wiseman will ever write any riffs that don’t completely shred, or that Brian Wille will ever put to page a lyric that won’t sit well with any mood.
Coming off their debut full-length, The Place I Feel Safest, released last year, it was hard to tell what the band would do next. Would they go back to the destructive and immorally heavy themes featured on past records such as Victimized and Life//Lost, or would they keep moving in the direction of a complete emotional rollercoaster, compacted with speed bumps of diabolical riffs and crushing melody?
It’s apparent that the band are just starting to show what they can do as soon as you start I Let The Devil In. “Into Despair,” being the first track and only single, proves the band have taken a heavier approach than any other record they have done, while adding in components of the previous record, a rewarding feat on their end. I saw Brian debut a few more pigsqueal-styled vocals firsthand at the band's holiday shows, so hearing him show that off immediately on the new album wasn’t a surprise. It’s just one example of how every member has varied their approach to this record. I cannot even imagine being Ryan Leitru and producing “My Disguise.” The song has some pretty awesome callbacks to Life//Lost’s title track while providing the catchiest chorus I’ve heard in metalcore all year. Saying “My Disguise” is the biggest highlight of I Let The Devil In would be an understatement. I cannot get enough of this song. “Feel The Same” is a melodic dream, achieving a euphoric state of metalcore Currents share with Architects. It’s one of the most welcome surprises on the record. I went into “The Rope” expecting something blatantly heavy in the vein of “Hanging by a Thread,” and while it does pack that same punch, it also comes layered with more emotion and creativity than the band ever exhibited on Victimized.
My only complaint is with “Forever Marked,” which feels almost identical to “Feel The Same,” making it a somewhat disappointing closer. That’s not saying the song is bad; it just feels misplaced on the track list. Overall, Currents is proving to be one of the best melodic metalcore acts of the new wave, up there with Wage War and Silent Planet. I Let the Devil In isn’t shy about its ties to Currents’ past output, but they only serve to show have far the band have come since those early recordings. If you haven’t caught the wave they’re riding in on yet, you’re going to want to, soon.
- Dakota G.
Joy have been making waves in North Carolina and some (like me) have been spreading the word as much as they possibly can. Their self-titled EP boasted two tracks ripping listeners and leaving them begging for more. Thankfully, Of Nothing helped satisfy that hunger with five tracks; some like “Tear Me Down” are bound to remain staples of their set. Although only twice as long as the first at seven minutes, there was a need for something lengthier. My first glimpse at No Light Below was well over a year ago, at a house show in New Haven, with the song “Calloused.” It’s hard to judge a song you haven’t heard before in a room that was never meant to hold such an event, but it checked all the boxes of a Joy song: hardcore fervor, a black metal tinge, a groove, a breakdown, and most importantly, a keg.
Fast forward a year and a few months, No Light Below slips under the radar onto streaming services after many roadblocks. Unfortunately this dropped on the same day as Cult Leader’s A Patient Man, which I had been preparing to review, so I missed the hype window. But at least we’re here now.
Joy come in as if they never missed a beat. “Hurting My Soul” sets the tone with a constricting grind both familiar and unique to this record, setting it apart from previous material. Lyrical content doesn’t stray from personal strife (“Life’s cold fingers wrapped around my throat / Constant searching for some relief”) and the blistering instrumentation continues. Where the album differentiates itself from previous outings is in style of production, like bringing the bite of steel guitar strings to a less-defined buzz and pushing the vocals a bit back on the mix, harkening back to the low-fi era of black metal as a rebellion to the shackles of the overproduced norm. It's a continuation of the downward slope that start with that self-titled EP. The change makes sense given the message, but there is an argument to be made that it doesn’t benefit sonically. For instance, highlights of the album feel like the only defining moments. The breakdown midway through “Bleak House” is fucking hard with that keg hit after the short riff, but it’s the only identifying feature at this point in the album even after a handful of playthroughs. Had the album been produced alongside Of Nothing, the extra definition of that record’s production job could make passages like end of the title track (“Born in darkness, so it’s all I know”) pop like “My skin is cold, my mind is failing me, I think my body’s failing, I just want all of this hurt to go away” stands out in “Losing Myself,” a song that could’ve easily been scrapped. Moments that are clearly improved by the change, however, is the last half of “Exist Without,” which is the band’s first flex of the album. The band let their grip on the listener loosen in order to create a huge early 2000s style black metal moment and bring it crashing all back down in style.
Where the album starts to feel in its comfort zone, ironically, is “Despised” and on. Certainly, a contributing factor would be the large breakdown concluding that second single, which dips back into the clear self-loathing that connected with people like me early on. Also helps that the lead-in from that into “Feel” is already carving its spot into their set as THE hype song, with its vile bass tone and drumming, guitar feedback, and angry-ass ending riff.
At this point, it's easy to think you’ve heard all you need to hear, but “Along the Edge” and “Moon and Sky” show there's still a lot more to Joy that’s still to be explored. Being the third and longest song they’ve released, Joy shows exactly what they’re capable of. “Along the Edge,” fits right in with the rest of the album and showcases all they do excellently in one of their most varied tracks. And then “Moon and Sky” turns heads. Closing a vicious album in a Cult Leader-style ballad, with hushed and labored vocals over a stripped-down version of the band’s powerful foundation, and with the aid of a sparse piano, the band enter southern blues acoustic territory for a truly memorable finale.
The points against the album, I don’t make against the band. This is the Raleigh outfit I fell in love with in early 2016. They’ve proven their power in the genre and will continue to make their way through every nook and cranny of the hardcore scene. No Light Below may not have hit what, ion hindsight, were unattainable expectations, but it didn’t stop me from buying two fucking candles.
- Alex B.
Great Grief- Love, Lust and Greed
The record comes out December 7th. Preorder here.
In May 2014, Icelandic hardcore act Icarus came out with their debut EP, Ascending // Descending. In this brief 8-track, 24-minute display, the group showed intense passion and energy, making for a solid listen. It was by no means exceptional to the genre, and they certainly wore their Defeater and Touché Amoré influences on their sleeves, but they’ve performed this style with taste and heart. Songs like “Tirade” and “Feed Me a Stray Cat” have gone down as some of my favorite hardcore tracks of 2014. A little more than a year later, the group renamed themselves Great Grief and released a split with experimental metalcore trio Bungler, There’s Not Setting Sun Where We Are. This became one of my favorite EPs of 2015, showing Great Grief had matured as songwriters. They remained relatively silent through 2016 and most of 2017, until the band announced they were going to be managed by Party Smasher Inc. late in the year, after which they performed with the likes of God Mother, Gatherers, and Actor|Observer. In November of this year, the group announced their recording signing to No Sleep Records and their debut full-length project, Love, Lust and Greed, out December 7th. We at Metal Lifestyle have gotten an insider look into this new project.
After four years, it should come as no surprise that they didn’t write a longer, more focused version of their debut EP. Great Grief present the same anger and melancholy on tracks like “Escaping Reykjavík” and “God Sent” with a newfound black metal vibe and a little bit of post-rock, influenced by the likes of deafheaven and Altars of Plague. Of course, given the angry and evil-sounding Icelandic black metal scene, it’s no wonder that these songs play on the rage Great Grief have stored up over the last few years. On the flip side, though, there are tracks like “Ivory (Lies)” and “Troubled Canvas” that are much catchier and sassier, with raunchy Gallows vibes contrasting with more passionate moments that bring out later-career Thursday. Then there’s the interlude, “Inhale the Smoke,” which is a whole new beast with its creepy Nicole Dollanganger vibe, especially reminiscent of her track with Full of Hell, “Trumpeting Ecstasy.” It has an eerie piano and haunting guest vocals from Krummi of Mínus. These songs are structured in unique fashion, giving room to all the unique new influences in Great Grief’s sound, proving how much stronger Great Grief have gotten over the last few years. The havoc on “Fluoxetine (Burden Me)” could scare off every track this group has written up to this point.
I’ve always appreciated Great Grief for letting their bass be heard. Hardcore always has trouble giving its bassist the spotlight, but Fannar Már Oddsson’s bass has much say in how these songs play out. The low-end work on “Feeling Fine,” “Pathetic,” and “Ivory (Lies)” uphold the dark tone of the record, and the groove is prominent across the board, helping to separate Great Grief from most hardcore acts.
Whether it’s keeping things steady or in full assault mode, Leifur Örn Kaldal’s drums sound in-your-face and ready to knock you out. The black metal-inspired blast beats on “Escaping Reykjavík” and “God Sent” are absolutely chilling. I never expected to feel such an emotional connection to the drumwork on a LP until I heard these tracks, which goes to show how every aspect of Great Grief is ripe with emotion.
Gunnar Ágúst Thoroddsen’s guitarwork does take a backseat on many of these tracks, but effectively set the mood on tracks like “Troubled Canvas” and “The Nihilist Digest,” giving them the raw, passionate rush energy we’ve come to expect of Great Grief. I love the chaotic feedback at the end of “Fluoxetine (Burden Me),” and the grooves on “Ludge.” For the most part, while the guitar does have an important place in the overall sound, it’s not often the catalyzing force in these song.
Finnbogi Örn Einarsson has always been a characterful frontman, but he’s a changed man on Love, Lust and Greed. Check out “The Nihilist Digest” and “Ivory (Lie)” for the punk fury the group was founded on, and “God Sent” for a vicious new metal-with-a-hardcore-twist persona. Finnbogi also debuts his clean vocals with this record, which come in two styles: raspy and belligerent on“Feeling Fine,” or shy and worrisome on “Pathetic.” While clean vocals on a post-hardcore record aren’t groundbreaking, these are some of the best cleans I’ve heard in the genre. He proves himself a versatile, passionate, and talented frontman who performs with genuine talent and the utmost power.
The climax of Love, Lust and Greed comes with “Roots,” which shares the title of the record in its subtitle. This is a song Great Grief have hung onto for years, building up and improved it over time, finally delivering a four-and-a-half minute exhibition of their deepest wounds. This song is straight up heavy, sinister, and depressing; a dark look into life, where it goes and what drives it. Tying together the album’s many themes, “Roots” makes a strong closer…except it doesn’t, because Love, Lust and Greed ends with “Ludge.” While it’s a strong song in its own right, it doesn’t make sense after “Roots.”
But aside from rearranged the tracklist a little, I have no problem with these 34 minutes of truly incredible post-hardcore. This was well-worth the wait, and I hope all fans of -core music give this one a go on Friday. It’s diverse, emotional, and quite simply amazing.
VERDICT: Love, Lust and Greed manages to perfectly balance mature songwriting and uncontrollable emotion perfectly in just over half an hour.
- Alex Brown
Kaonashi are a Philadelphia-based progressive hardcore act who’ve been getting a ton of recognition in the underground scene for some time now. Their debut EP Native caught some buzz when it was released back in 2013, but the band would take three years before coming back with the Ex-Prayers EP. On this EP, with tracks like “Flow” and “Exit Pt. 2 (Dying in the Living Room),” the band showed that they used the previous three years to really build up on their sound, really pushing their progressive elements hard against the hardcore blueprint. A few months after this, they released a split EP with ‘sabella entitled Never Home. This was one of my first reviews for Metal Lifestyle, which you can read here, and you’ll see I especially praised Kaonashi’s side with pushing their sound even further, incorporating more of an emotional side to their sound, especially with the addition of clean vocals. It’s been two year since then, and in that time they released three tracks: “You’ll Understand When You’re Older,” “Real Leather,” and “My 5-Year Plan.” The former quickly became one of my favorite tracks by the group, whereas the latter two were much more of growers on me. These tracks would lead to this band’s next project, Why Did You Do It?
To begin, I greatly appreciate the fact that these guys opened the LP up with the two tracks that were released before the record was announced. This allows the record to flow in freshness a lot more than other records that include older tracks usually do. “Real Leather” is a pretty great introduction to this project. It doesn’t show too much off, but it gives glimpses of the rollercoaster you’re about to go on, and is super groovy. This sets the mood Why Did You Do It? is trying to accomplish throughout its runtime. It also sets the story down, following a teenager going to therapy, but showing signs that they don’t think anything is wrong, as read with the lyrics “I'm fine I don't need a lesson, I hate this fucking school and this chair is uncomfortable.” With this in mind, we know that this record is not going to be a happy-go-lucky listen by any means. We’re going to be going into some serious trauma and depression in this record’s timespan. “Real Leather” leads into “You’ll Understand When You’re Older” and all of its madness and melancholy. This song caught my ears hard the second I heard that beginning chaos for the first time, and the emotional guilt trip the song takes us on through a breakup and getting evicted. Once again, nothing too happy at all.
What has always been the force that drove Kaonashi’s music to its potential limits is the emotion they pack in each track. However, what separates Why Did You Do It? from Kaonashi’s previous releases is that their songwriting is at its absolute best now. Tracks like “Coffee and Conversation” explore styles that the group dipped their toes in on Ex-Prayers, but now are approached with much more mature songwriting. The instrumental on this track is very groovy and atmospheric, creating the depressing mood. “My 5-Year Plan” continues the groove, but the transition between it and the former track is a bit awkward, which leaves the flow of the record a bit messy. It doesn’t help that “My 5-Year Plan” is not one of the better songs, either. It’s solid, but definitely doesn’t really showcase anything that Kaonashi hasn’t already showed off, at least compared to much of the other tracks on this release. That said, the drum and bass work on this track, as well as the other groovier tracks, is absolutely exceptional. When Kaonashi gets groovy, their rhythm section really comes to show. This was true on their previous releases, and now it’s only gotten stronger.
Since Never Home, Kaonashi has been doing more with tracks that focus on a faster, angrier structure, and I absolutely adore when they do this. This fast, angry fuel is part of the reason why I love “You’ll Understand When You’re Older” so much. The title-track of this record also takes a lot from that split, but once again the band managed to tackle it with much more maturity, crafting stronger songs out of this. They also add these super melodic tones, giving off a heavy 2000s metalcore vibe while there’s a nice, more modern breakdown happening in the background of the mix. These are the tracks on the record where the guitar work really shows. While they maintain a nice groove on the slower tracks, their time to shine brightly comes when the tracks are calling for something more fast or even just super pretty and atmospheric. The beginning ambience of “Coffee and Conversation” is also a nice showcase of the super talented guitar work spread across this release.
The vocals on this record are as incredible as ever. They’ve truly come a long way since the Native EP back in 2013. The harsh vocals are absolutely manic, truly captivating that sound of a teenager’s mind through their struggles. “You’ll Understand When You’re Older” and “Coffee and Conversation” capture this greatly, getting angry when that emotion is called for. Coming back from their Never Home split is the clean vocals, which this time around are much more stabilized than they were on that split. “Real Leather” and the title-track are the best examples, capturing the feel of the earlier days of melodic metalcore. What they lack in being flashy and technical they make up for in raw power and emotion. There’s also some more spoken word bits throughout the project, but those aren’t much of my thing at all. They make sense in the context of the record, and there’s nothing actually wrong with them. I’m just not much of a fan of spoken word aside from a few bands as it is. There are times where I see it coming off a bit corny, but there are tracks, like the title-track, where there’s a very strong emotion behind the words shouted out that I truly feel the weight of the words on.
The only track that I’m not a fan of on Why Did You Do It? is “M.O.R.G.A.N.” It plays a lot like a song by The Contortionist, going as far as to even feature vocalist Michael Lessard, and his part literally does nothing for me. His section is definitely a lot more reminiscent of his work on Clairvoyant, which was a record that really bored me, so naturally his part on this record isn’t going to do too much for me either. Aside from that though, the track itself is just the least interesting song on the entire project, being much more of a formulaic progressive metalcore track that follows the blueprint bands like After the Burial and Veil of Maya laid out those many years ago. The only section of this track that I really dig is the outro, which is Kaonashi adding their own twist to this blueprint with a good dose of the emotion that has driven Kaonashi.
Kaonashi closes this project off with the third part to the “Exit” series. This track, lyrically and sonically, brings the entire project together. This is the first time I also felt like Kaonashi crafted an actual closing track since 2013’s “Hindsight.” As much as I love “Exit Pt 2” and “I Found No Peace,” they never felt like songs that were meant to close their respective projects off, as if there was another song or two that were meant to come after. “Exit Pt 3 (Heart on My Sleeve),” for starters, reprises lyrics from “Real Leather” in its title, showing that there’s a flowing concept throughout this project. Why Did You Do It? is the chronicles of Jamie, a character that has been in Kaonashi’s work for quite some time. It follows their life through therapy, losing their job and relationship, and this all leads to the title-track, where they take their life. “Exit Pt 3” switches the narrative to the ones mourning Jamie’s loss. The EP closes off with a choir singing behind the music as the vocals reminisce on their memory of Jamie, before this all fades into a soft instrumental.
Aside from the setbacks mentioned, Why Did You Do It? is proof of Kaonashi’s continual growth in sound, style, and emotion. Fans of 2000s metalcore in the vain of Drop Dead, Gorgeous and Fear Before the March of Flames should not be missing out on these guys, because they really celebrate those sounds with their own twist on it to make one of the best releases in the genre for 2018. I think it’s time for Kaonashi to put out a full length.
VERDICT: Kaonashi goes down the darkest paths of high school nostalgia on Why Did You Do It?, creating an emotional powerhouse out of metalcore.
- Alex Brown
Group Review: Cult Leader, A Patient Man
Stream and buy the record here.
Cult Leader’s A Patient Man was one of Metal Lifestyle’s most highly-anticipated records of the year, as most of us have followed the band since before Nothing For Us Here and eagerly watched them ascend the ranks of hardcore toward their inevitable place at the top of the heap. In brief, we agree that A Patient Man represents another enormous step up for the band as musicians, songwriters, and performers, and that it is unquestionably one of the most important and engaging records of the year.
Although we were almost unanimously enthusiastic with the results when A Patient Man finally arrived last week, it seemed unfair to load any one of with the burden of reviewing the record alone and implicitly speaking for all. So, in only the second of such endeavors, we have decided to compile our individual reviews in one place in order to capture the nuances of our opinions and offer a more complete picture of A Patient Man through the eyes of three pretty big fans. Three members of the team have contributed to this group review: Alex Brown, Alex Bugella, and Brian Lesmes.
- The Metal Lifestyle Team
As soon as “I Am Healed” kicks off, mosh mode is on. Within a few seconds, Cult Leader reach levels of extremity that even surpass their Gaza days. Every aspect of this band is now out to rip your head off. The guitar work by Mike Manson on these first two tracks is nothing short of absolute madness and anger. This is most prevalent in their intense build-ups that lead to absolutely chaotic conclusions. This is also one of the few works of metalcore where the bass has a strong presence in the music. Cult Leader is a very heavy band, and Sam Richards adds to this heaviness with an intense rumble on his bass. He isn’t just grooving along with the track like most bassists do, but is very much his own entity in Cult Leader, adding to its nasty, sludgy feel. The drum work is as punishing as you would expect from Casey Hansen. This can be in the form of something blisteringly fast, such as on “I Am Healed,” or something that is much more groovy, such as “Aurum Reclusa.” There are really intense performances on “Curse of Satisfaction,” especially that introduction. The one thing left to capture this anger to its perfection is vocals, and Anthony Lucero really hits it out of the ballpark with this one. Somehow, his vocals have managed to get even more sinister than they were on Lightless Walk. His repetition of the words “Heal me” on “I Am Healed” hits harder and harder each time, leading to the gut-wrenching screech at the end of the track. His vocals match so perfectly with the rhythm, too, as shown on “The Curse of Satisfaction.” He also gets much more dreary on the title-track of this LP, a brooding sludge metal ballad with a very nice buildup that unfortunately kind of leads to nowhere, which is one of my few issues with this LP.
On these tracks, it seems Cult Leader have amped what they did on Lightless Walk 100%. As incredible as these tracks are, where A Patient Man truly shines is when Cult Leader goes all out and experiments with different sounds. There are instances on this LP where Cult Leader experiments with slowcore, which is something I would have never expected from the group, but god fucking damn does it work. I know many people have complaints that the two tracks play right after one another, but I think this works to their benefit. They are the only two tracks on this record that really have this feel to them, so it feels natural for them to be played one after another. “To: Achlys” is six minutes of pure anguish. While sonically not one of my favorites on the record, the emotional impact it leaves the listener within the lyrics is so strong. Anthony plays a desperate person that is pleading to see a new light to his life, and is so assured that he’d be saved from this. This person has left a toxic situation, but not without the damage it has done. After comes “A World of Joy,” which is probably my favorite track on this LP. It plays much like “To: Achlys” does, but the instrumental is much more interesting here. The song deals with being in a relatively positive setting, yet being so depressed that you feel like if you let your emotions loose, you’re going to ruin it. The power behind lyrics like “There’s no place for me in a world of joy” is sometimes too much for me to take in. This all comes crashing in the last minute of this track, which is nothing short of pure chaos. We are first met with a super heavy, sludgy breakdown, and then given about ten seconds of the most intense chaos on this record. The flow from one section of this track to the next is simply incomparable. It showcases every noise that this record brings to the table coming together in the most powerful six minutes A Patient Man has to offer.
Tracks like “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey” and “The Broken Right Hand of God” showcase crescendos that perfectly contrast Cult Leader’s chaotic anger. There is not a single performance I can say is more gut-wrenching than when Anthony screams “I am all I need, alone with my enemy.” Every damn time I hear that line, I choke up. The rage and heartbreak those words are tragic and powerful, especially against that brooding post-metal crescendo. This is no different on this LP’s grand finale, “The Broken Right Hand of God,” which is as emotional as sludge metal can get. There is an acceptance that is found on this track, but it’s not a positive one at all. Life is shit, but as Anthony screams, “we must walk on.” There’s something remarkably comforting in these words.
Cult Leader packs every negative emotion you could imagine into this 47-minute record, with stronger musicianship and a more experimental attitude toward their songwriting. A Patient Man is further proof that Metalcore is having an incredible year.
VERDICT: A Patient Man was worth the patience it took to arrive.
What made Lightless Walk such a resonant album, earning its way into nearly every best-of-the-year list, is the honesty in its pain. The ravenous album tears from end to end, despite the last two tracks, which dig deep into its wounds in order to understand and come to terms with it all. Now, what makes A Patient Man just as impactful is how it doesn’t try to start from square one, but festers in those old wounds and explores their lasting effects. Cult Leader give themselves the opportunity to stretch their legs, as well as the time to do so. For real, a hardcore album where half of the songs are longer than five minutes.
The band comes out of the gate swinging, showing that acclaim hasn’t hindered their progression. The anxiety-inducing riffs tear, and the vocals are more vile than ever. These tracks bring instant crowd-favorite chants of “All I want is everything!” and he line many people have latched onto: “Heal me!” Later, “Craft of Mourning” and “Share My Pain” work together so well they might as well be halves of the same song: one is the chaotic maelstrom, and the later its vulgar breakdown. There's no denying Cult Leader’s grasp of the genre, and the first unique moment of the album comes from “Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey,” as the band takes a step back and let the claustrophobic nature of the auditory assault do the talking:
“The world seeps in through the cracks
as distant laughter
a spreading plague of joyful corpses
Warmth, wealth and love lay outside these walls
I am all I need, alone with my enemy”
The prevailing feeling is the near helpless nature of abuse. While the abuse itself isn’t new for the outfit (“Mongrel” continues to be a calling card since 2014), it's never reached this level. It’s most evident on “To: Achlys,” where the leaching presence of a “mother of misery...daughter of the dark” seems to refer to a loved one who will never reciprocate that love due to their own baggage. The plodding cascade carries through “A World of Joy,” the title track, and “Broken Right Hand of God.” All prove the nihilistic prophecies the band has been cultivating since inception, the feeling that existence is designed only to break you. “I will not weep,” and the cathartic snap, could make any seasoned veteran grip their teeth at the sheer insanity. What helps is the nearly 48-minute gauntlet comes to the soul-crushing realization that no matter how many times you tell yourself you “must walk on,” the brutal, honest truth is that “we will fail.”
At this moment, a week after the initial listen, A Patient Man surprises after every spin and solidifies itself as an improvement on every conceivable level. I am positive that Cult Leader will climb back into everyone’s top-of-the-year list. If there is heavy album to cite as a showcase of what this side of the hardcore spectrum is capable of, its this. It dominates the listener without a dull moment. That melancholic riff of “The Broken Right Hand of God” will continue to ring out as it buries its way into your deepest vulnerabilities.
“We will fail...”