Hatebreed - Satisfaction is the Death of Desire
If you’re above the age of 15 and haven’t heard this record and claim to be a fan of heavy music, you’ve definitely been doing everything wrong but here, stream it on Youtube.
The only place I love with all of my heart within the barren, desolate state of Connecticut is the city of New Haven. It’s also the place that I harbor the most resentment for: for every wonderful pizza place in Wooster Square and College Street Music Hall, there are annoying Yalies and the awful, eardrum-bursting institution that is Toad’s Place. Nothing outside of the Yale bubble gets any attention from the city’s government, the public school system is mediocre at best, public transportation has made me late for at least five classes this semester, and they really gotta do something about what’s been going on on the Green. Amongst all of these inconveniences and flaws, however, there remains something that no one can take away from us: Hatebreed.
If the mid-to-late ’90s hardcore scene was a kingdom, Victory Records was undoubtedly its king. From 1994 - 1999, the label put out some of the most important records in the canon of both hardcore and its rapidly-growing bastard child: metalcore. Earth Crisis’ Destroy the Machines, Bloodlet’s Entheogen, Integrity’s Systems Overload, etc. all pushed the boundaries of what hardcore was in the mid-’90s, adding metallic riffs to the foundation created by bands like Killing Time and Agnostic Front. They were, by and large, bands of hardcore kids translating their love of thrash metal through the successes of those earlier bands in the past. What separated Hatebreed from this crop was that, with their death metal influences from bands such as Obituary and Entombed, formed with the direct intent of creating a heavier and more visceral sound (oddly enough, referred to as deathcore at the time), really only matched at the time by New York’s Merauder. This record is just under a year older than me, but it’s clear from watching videos of old live sets from that era that Jasta and Co. were onto something special.
The record itself is about as flawless as a hardcore record can be. Downtuned Entombed riffs, Jasta’s impassioned vocals, infectious two-step sections, and ridiculously heavy breakdowns that could very well be patient-zero for horseshoe crowds at hardcore shows all across the country: it’s all there, and done so well that it’s arguable if any band has been able to match the band’s sheer level of energy at the time since. Each track is a certified banger, from the explosive “Empty Promises,” the dance-inducing “Before Dishonor,” the death metal-inspired “Conceived Through an Act of Violence,” the NYHC groove of “Betrayed by Life,” and the irresponsible heaviness of “Driven by Suffering.” Fans continue to request these tracks to this day, despite the fact that Hatebreed continue to release solid material.
For better or worse, it’s important recognize the impact this record had on the revitalization of heavy music (meaning anything that didn’t have members clad in Adidas tracksuits) in the public’s eye. With spots on the 1998 edition of the Vans Warped Tour and other tours with juggernauts like Slayer and Slipknot, the band gained enough attention to sign to a major label in Universal Records (through which they released the almost-as-good Perseverance) and landed Jamey Jasta his role as host of Headbangers’ Ball on MTV2, becoming a tastemaker for many young heavy music fans in the early 2000’s. Bands such as Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, and even smaller names such as the often forgotten Sworn Enemy are all bands that benefitted from this, and two bands currently at the forefront of hardcore, Code Orange and Knocked Loose, have shown their appreciation for the band numerous times, showing that the band’s legacy lives in on 20 years removed from their legendary debut.
There’s a lot more that I could say on the importance of both this record and Hatebreed, but I’d just waste your time. Go listen to it for yourself.
Amenra - Mass VI
Buy/listen on their Bandcamp
In the house of post-metal, Amenra is a closed door. It’s not locked; you can open it and step through, but what’s in that room will not be what you expect. While the Neur-Isis sound is front and center, the specter of screamo looms over much of the Belgian act’s discography, chiefly on Mass III. It was the difference between them and similar post-metal acts, but the Neurosis influence nearly got the better of them five years ago on Mass V--although an outstanding record in isolation, it lacked the emotive angle of earlier Masses, rendering it a little clinical in execution, and an anomaly in Amenra’s body of work. Mass VI makes immediate amends, demonstrating over the course of opener “Children of the Eye” that the strain of screamo they buried on Mass IIII and V has bloomed into a more holistic nihilism, inextricable from the monolithic post-metal they’ve been perfecting for years. The song doesn’t feel its nearly twelve-minute runtime. Amenra are masters of tension-and-release, stirring dread and capitalizing on the promise of catharsis with some of the most nerve-jangling screams and churning guitarwork I’ve heard this year. By the time the song collapses in on itself, you can almost feel the sweat beading on your own chin, but there are still three more equally insurmountable epics still to go.
The quasi-religious tone Amenra’s work intentionally projects (their name is a portmanteau of “amen” and the name of the Egyptian sun god, Amun-Ra; this is based on a theophilosophical platform I admittedly don’t know a thing about) gets further representation on Mass VI with “Edelkroone” and “Spijt,” two ghostly spoken-word tracks that have the air of contemplative scripture readings; orations in a dark and silent cathedral. Islanded between the twenty-three second respite of “Edelkroone” and “Spijt,” “Plus Pres de Toi” (French for “closer to you”) emerges like a mountain out of a deep mist, climbing with more urgency to more despondent heights than “Children of the Eye” (it’s about three minutes shorter) before sinking into a still more mysterious fog. It’s a miserable journey you’ll feel better for having taken, as it’s peak Amenra; and there’s time to reflect on what we’ve heard as “Spijt” unspools from spoken-word to full-band explosion, before “A Solitary Reign” creeps in.
Only a few seconds longer than “Plus Pres de Toi” and shorter than both “Children of the Eye” and closer “Diaken,” “A Solitary Reign” is still far and away the most impressive song Mass VI has to offer, and is an immediate contender for my song of the year. While Amenra aren’t strangers to clean singing, the way they fully incorporate this area of vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout’s range introduces a heretofore unexplored dimension of the band’s sound, much like Jacob Bannon's much-improved singing on Converge's latest. Against some of the most aching post-metal infrastructure the band have yet produced, van Eeckhout’s breathless whispering guides us out of the temporary relief of “Spijt” (Dutch for “sorry”) and into the uncertainty of the present. It gives way to emotive moans and ends with the frisson of his singing layered against soul-scouring shrieks while the song slumps and implodes around him. It’s cosmic, but deeply physical--like watching a tornado make landfall, or a landslide in action from a position of dubious safety. You could get sucked into the song at any moment, and if you do, there’s no chance of making it out.
“Diaken” seems almost perfunctory following such a monster of a song, but it’s well-worth the eleven-minute runtime to hear the band recapitulate on all their strengths new and old: although lengthy, its cinematic pace and introverted vocals turn the screws just as effectively as “Children of the Eye,” and its climax is as vicious as anything the band have done since Mass III. You won’t be sitting still when those final riffs come crashing in, but you may have to double-take when the song comes to its abrupt conclusion. The silence seems totally intentional, but more damning than reflective--rather than the pregnant silence haunting “Edelkroone” and “Spijt,” or the quiet intensity characterizing the album’s numerous passages of subdued dread, this silence rings with emptiness.
Converge- “The Dusk In Us”
Stream/buy the record here.
Converge is one of those bands that needs no introduction. Forming in 1990, they are known as pioneers of metalcore and a major inspiration for many musical acts in the underground extreme music scene. Listening to records like Jane Doe and You Fail Me, you can see why: these guys have perfected a balance of chaotic complexity and intense emotion. Nearly thirty years later, the group still manage to pull out surprises with albums such as 2009’s Axe to Fall, a record that, on top of showing Converge at their most extreme, also showcased songwriting prowess, especially on concluding tracks “Cruel Bloom” and “Wretched World,” which aren’t really hardcore songs at all. In 2012, the group returned with All We Love We Leave Behind, which, while nowhere near as ambitious as Axe to Fall, saw Converge dipping their toes in post-hardcore. For their first time, it worked very nicely, offering some beautifully composed tracks like “Aimless Arrow,” “Coral Blue,” and the title-track.
I thought it would be their last full-length. It came late in Converge’s career, they were constantly on the road, and we heard no announcements of new music for years. I was content. After all, the group has put out some of the best work I’ve ever heard in hardcore music. However, in the summer, the group put out a two-song EP, I Can Tell You About Pain, and then shortly after, announced a brand new studio LP: The Dusk in Us. I was skeptical at first. The group is pushing thirty years, and out of nowhere, they decided to put out a new LP. I felt it could only be so long before the band’s engine ran out, but now that The Dusk In Us is here, I am slapping myself for ever doubting Converge.
In many ways, Converge is pushing the post-hardcore they experimented with on All We Love We Leave Behind even further. “A Single Tear,” which balances emotion and energy perfectly, shows this most prominently. The song is as gloomy as it is energetic, but despite this tone, carries an uplifting message in lines like “When I held you for the first time, I knew I had to survive.” The song deals with the birth of his child: while he was fearful of it at first, he was able to see the beauty of this moment in his life. This is a much more positive outlook than on a track like “Aimless Arrow,” and has quickly become my favorite Converge opener, and one of my favorite tracks by them in general. Following is “Eye of the Quarrel,” which has a very “Aimless Arrow” structure to it, but is a lot faster and more emotive. “Wildlife” also shows off the post-hardcore side of Converge, but it’s even faster and darker, with lyrics concerning survival through even the worst of times: “Born into such a cruel, cruel world / survival can be such a cruel, cruel curse.” Bannon’s clean vocals are much more prominent on this LP than any other Converge project, and it’s clear he has been working on improving his range. His harsh vocals sound as dirty and angry as ever, but his cleans, while still agreeably whiny, are more melancholic and controlled than ever before.
Of course, there’s also the balls-to-the-wall, blistering, chaotic metalcore tracks that put Converge on the map as well, “I Can Tell You About Pain” being one of them. While this track is all around solid, there’s nothing else on the album quite like the breakdown at the end of the track. Of all Converge breakdowns, I think this one might be my favorite. It gets so angry that it just starts bleeding white noise. It’s something that will really make someone want to rip off heads in the pit. Towards the end of the LP, the back-to-back “Broken by Light” and “Cannibals” also bring the mosh. As soon as “Broken by Light” starts, it sounds like it’s going to start the biggest pit you can imagine. “Cannibals” is pretty hectic as well, continuing the angry intensity of its partner track. While not as strong lyrically, it’s ends with Jacob chanting the word “cannibals” in an unexpectedly catchy moment. Despite how angry and fast all these tracks are, though, Converge weave in a lot of emotional variety. Ben Koller really shows off on these tracks, and his drumming has only gotten punchier over time.
Like many hardcore and metalcore acts, Converge is no stranger to sludge metal. They’ve done this before on tracks like “Jane Doe,” “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast,” and “Coral Blue.” There are quite a few examples on this album as well, such as “Under Duress,” a slow but incredibly heavy track that, while nothing strictly new, is completely sick in its own right. “Murk & Marrow,” while other dirty and noisy, focuses on Jacob’s singing parts. Nate Newton really fills out the bottom end on both songs--in fact, Converge is one of the few hardcore-inspired bands I can think of use the bass guitar so prominently, and I’m really glad that they do. Nate is a powerhouse.
One of my favorite things about every Converge LP is that each will test some new boundary. The title-track is very reminiscent of Axe to Fall’s closer, “Wretched World,” but feels more focused and mature. It begins in pure melancholia, with Jacob Bannon singing at a low and vulnerable register, with lyrics like “And they come at night, when protectors are gone” and “Dear frightened little boy, it’s time to rise above all of their noise.” Each chorus makes the song a little heavier and a little louder. The song climaxes in pure sludge, with Jacob Bannon reminding us of the dusk in us. This is easily one of Converge’s most haunting and beautiful tracks, with each member on their A-game for the full seven minutes, from Jacob’s disturbed screams to Kurt’s despondent guitar, to Nate’s rumbling bass and Ben’s punishing drumwork. “Thousands of Miles Between Us” also explores some interesting territory for Converge. The instrumental is strangely bluesy, meaty, and raw. Jacob doesn’t scream once, but his singing is truly moving, especially delivering lines like “I know you never wanted this, but thank you for giving me your best.” While Bannon’s lyrical content is showing signs of wear, especially on the hardcore tracks, he is still one the genre’s greatest wordsmiths.
That said, some experiments don’t quite satisfy. I salute Converge for releasing a song like “Trigger,” because it is really, really out of their comfort zone, but the track is essentially the band’s take on alternative metal. No matter how much I respect the song, I cannot bring myself to like it. It just sits uncomfortably with the rest of the LP, but I think I would appreciate it more if it was on an EP full of similar experiments. My least favorite thing about The Dusk In Us is it’s closer. “Reptilian” is a solid track, but it’s nothing to out of the ordinary for Converge, and there is no reason this song should be the our last impression of the record. It pales in comparison to “Jane Doe,” “Wretched World,” and even “Predatory Glow,” and feels much more like a mid-album track--the album would work much better if it and “The Dusk In Us” traded places.
Nevertheless, Converge hit yet another home-run with The Dusk in Us. Every member brings something new to the table, which is something I did not expect this late in Converge’s career. I’m happy they proved me wrong. I find myself worrying, once again, whether this will be the last we hear of Converge, but if it isn’t, I have much more faith in what’s to come.
- Alex Brown
Iblissian - The Crucible EP
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
With October behind us and winter ahead, black metal season is upon us. Norway is still the genre’s mecca, but Iceland is gunning for the spot with its thriving population of black metal acts gathered at the altar of Deathspell Omega. In the American southwest, another black metal scene is building, and we have an entire “blackgaze” (re: hipster black metal) movement keeping bands like Deafheaven and So Hideous afloat across the country, from California to New York. You’d be forgiven for not thinking of Danbury, Connecticut when it comes to what’s popping right now in black metal, but Iblissian make an unexpectedly strong case for the more frostbitten ends of the CT metal scene.
A trio consisting of Justin Grey on vocals/guitar, Cullen Mitchell (member of quite a list of bands in the local scene) on drums, and Ray King on bass, Iblissian are in the business of cold, hard, and dirty black metal. The Crucible is four tracks divided into two types of songs: crowbars to the face in the form of “Suffer to Become” and “Hammer of Gods,” and more adventurous, multi-faceted fare in “The Climb” and “Prometheon.” I’m partial to the latter, especially “Prometheon,” which allow Iblissian to flex their songwriting and technical chops over longer runtimes and more involved structures, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what the shorter tracks bring to the table.
“Suffer to Become” is packed with all the blasting and tremolo riffing its two-and-a-half minute body can handle, and wastes no time introducing us to Grey’s insectile screech and Mitchell’s berzerk performance behind the kit. There’s a faint whiff of crust punk in the song’s no-bullshit attack that I can appreciate, but it goes missing on “The Climb,” much to my chagrin. Sporting the longest runtime at six-and-a-half minutes, it’s The Crucible’s epic and a very cool slice of black metal that plays both sides of the genre--anger and despondency--well, but it’s a little repetitive, and could use a bit of the unhinged fervor of “Suffer to Become” for variation.
“Hammer of Gods” is the most blasphemous song on the album and comes equipped with the lessons of both preceding tracks. It’s a modest three minutes of midtempo tremolo and shrieking built around an attention-getting stop-start dynamic that drives the song’s anthemic qualities home, but it lacks the gutpunch surprise of “Suffer to Become” and the range of “The Climb,” leaving it in a bit of limbo before Iblissian’s crown jewel, “Prometheon,” comes to wrest the spotlight away. Opening on a seasick groove, it morphs into a dissonant ripper of a main riff and cries of “We defy you!” (alternating with “We despise you!” and “We deny you!” later on) that get better with each repetition. Around the 2:45 mark, Mitchell takes off into a blast section that threatens to suck the rest of the song down into total chaos, but “Prometheon” successfully navigates its way through Norwegian melancholy and furious discord to finish with a bang. It’s a hell of a song, and the one Iblissian should be most proud of having written.
The Crucible serves its purpose in whetting our appetites for more Iblissian, as this little black metal band from the not-quite-kvlt underground of Danbury, Connecticut demonstrate that they have what it takes to write at least one outstanding black metal song and three other perfectly good ones. I know I’ll be returning to it several more times amid my other, intercontinental black metal exploits; and while Iblissian aren’t quite on that level yet, who knows what they could accomplish in time? I certainly don’t know, but I’d like to, and that’s exactly why I’ll be keeping an eye on what this band does next. You should too.
God Mother - Vilseledd
Buy/listen on Bandcamp
I discovered God Mother at the tail end of 2015, after my “best of” lists had been finalized and set forever in stone on Facebook, from someone else’s “best of” list on Facebook. It happens every year; I’ve just accepted that I can’t listen to everything, and that the reason we compile “best of” lists in the first place is to help each other out. But it stung a bit more than usual with Maktbehov, because it’s a damn fine album that brings Cursed, Converge, and Skitsystem together in a bilious hardcore orgy for a glorious half-hour. It would have destroyed my rankings in a second had I known about it prior to making my list. On the strength of that album alone, God Mother were worth more attention than they were getting, but the spotlight is on them now in a way I don’t think anyone--even the band--expected, with Ben Weinman naming them their successors.
But let’s forget, for a moment, that The Dillinger Escape Plan endorsed God Mother in this way and consider their new album, Vilseledd, on its own merits. With only two full-lengths under their belt now, we owe God Mother that much. Vilseledd possesses every tool in the hardcore box and knows how to use them all: Max Lindström’s guitarwork is alternately chunky and razor-sharp, agile without becoming spastic and thunderous without resorting to (excessive) chuggery. They weave in and out of Michael Dahlström’s drumwork, which provides structure without restricting itself to pure backbone--he’ll spend a few bars setting the pace and then zig off into a string of blasts and unexpected fills before zagging back for one of the album’s thrilling beatdown/two-step sections, and then veer back off. He’s a hugely entertaining force in the band, anchored by the throb of Daniel Noring’s loud, dirty basslines, the true gravitational pull at the center of God Mother’s frenetic orbits. And, of course, Sebastian Campbell is a hell of a frontman, his voice leaping in and out of the music with the unbridled gusto of Greg Puciato clambering up a stack of amps.
The only time they waste on Vilseledd is the thirty-second introduction “Dödfödd” (“Stillborn” in Swedish), which is immediately succeeded by back-to-back heavy-hitters “By the Millions” and “Tar Mirror.” At a minute and fifteen seconds in length, “By the Millions” is a mission statement of a single that bristles with off-kilter riffing and Campbell’s hellish screech. The formula continues on “Tar Mirror,” although the song is a little more “subdued”: the band take a moment to introduce themselves one instrument at a time, from ominous drumbeat to muddy bassline to wheedling guitar. It accumulates intensity right up until its unnervingly quiet denouement, but this is the last peace we get on Vilseledd: “No Return” is a slippery slope into the crusty fangs of “Acrid Teeth” through “10.000 Ar,” a spit-flecked run of songs not dissimilar from the first half of Converge’s You Fail Me in sheer, feral intensity. “Caved In” brings it to a hard stop and inverts the band’s sound to unexpected effect, opening on what sounds like a lost piece of New York hardcore history before cranking down the tempo for the most vicious beatdown this side of Cursed III. It’s a doozy. “Enkla Svar,” “Charlatan,” and “Carve Them” dig up God Mother’s background in crust and dark Swedish hardcore, a trilogy that totals up to approximately five minutes of God Mother at their most unrestrained. The phantasmagoric march of “Burdenless,” when it comes lumbering in, feels necessary and earned after such a blitzkrieg, rounding the album out on a satisfying note.
Regardless of what Weinman intended by “Torch officially passed!,” plenty of fans are going to take the gesture at face value and come into God Mother with certain expectations the band may not be equipped to meet. The creative fire he references is unquestionably there, seeming to glow right through the cover artwork, but don’t expect Miss Machine or some revolutionary masterwork. Vilseledd is a great record full of mean, toothy songs, clever songwriting, and energetic musicianship that will make it onto a lot of “best of” lists this December, but it’s not going to upend hardcore so much as it will draw attention to the fact that there are still plenty of awesome directions it can be taken. Give God Mother the time, and I think they’ll be leading the way before long.
IRON MONKEY - 9-13
LISTEN HERE WORMINGTON
SCENE: SOMEWHERE IN CENTRAL CT
CHARACTERS: ME. YOU, THE AVERAGE METAL LIFESTYLE READER (EG OTHER PEOPLE WHO WRITE FOR METAL LIFESTYLE).
WINDOW CRASHES AND I APPEAR BEHIND YOU*
“YO THERE’S A NEW IRON MONKEY ALBUM OUT.”
“WHO THE FUCK IS IRON MONK- *I PUNCH YOU IN THE DIAPHRAGM. YOU KEEL OVER AND THROW UP ON YOUR KANAESHAE LONGSLEEVE (IDK HOW IT’S SPELLED. THE BAND THAT WEARS WAWA MERCH.)*
“I AINT GOT TIME FOR MONKEY BUSINESS”
*I DISAPPEAR IN A CLOUD OF FEEDBACK EARACHE RECORDS DRINK COASTERS*
WHAT’S POPPING YOU FUCKING LITTLE WEABOOS IT’S TIME FOR SOME SLUDGE METAL HISTORY AND I’M GONNA BE THE ONE TO TEACH YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL LIKE 14 YEARS OLD AND I OWN A BLACK JEAN JACKET WITH A METAL ENTOMBED PIN SUPERGLUED TO IT SO I GUESS I’M SLIGHTLY MORE OF AN AUTHORITY THAN ANY OF YOU SCHOOL OF ROCK REJECTS ARE.
MICHAEL TERRY’S HISTORY OF SLUDGE METAL
IGHT SO LIKE A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS AGO, BLACK SABBATH CAME OUT AND A BUNCH OF HIPPIES WERE LIKE, “WAIT DIDN’T WE ALREADY SORTA START DOING THIS?” AND THE WHOLE WORLD WAS LIKE “YEAH KINDA BUT NOT REALLY AND YOU WEREN’T AS GOOD OR AS COOL SO SHUT UP OR WE FINNA HAVE ANOTHER RACEWAY INCIDENT SUNBEAM.”
SO THEN WE GOT HEAVY METAL WHICH WAS THE GREATEST THING HUMANITY HAD EVER PRODUCED SINCE LIKE PENICILLIN AND WOULDN’T BE BESTED UNTIL SOME CREATIVE GENIUS INVENTED THE BUTT SELFIE IN 2004 WORD TO MOTOROLA RAZRS.
SO THEN AFTER THAT WE GOT SOME REALLY COOL THINGS (LIKE KING DIAMOND, WHO IS LITERALLY THE MOST METAL PERSON TO EVER EXIST AND I’LL FIGHT ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE. ALSO THERE WERE NWOBHM BANDS LIKE ANGEL WITCH AND SATAN AND SHIT WHO KICKED ASS AND LOOKED LIKE MOMS FROM LONG ISLAND).
BUT THEN FOR SOME FUCKING REASON SOME DORK WAS LIKE “LMAO WHAT IF WE JUST DID THE EXACT THING AS BLACK SABBATH DID BUT WITH MORE WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED?” AND THEN WE GOT DOOM AND IT WAS REALLY BORING UNTIL SOME DIRTY BAYOU BOYS GOT TIRED OF FALLING ASLEEP TRYING TO WRANGLE ALLIGATORS TO CANDLEMASS AND DECIDED TO COMBINE DOOM WITH NOISE ROCK BANDS AND INDUSTRIAL BANDS LIKE GODFLESH AND (MOST IMPORTANTLY) THE COOL KINDS OF PUNK/HARDCORE LIKE CRUST PUNK AND D-BEAT AND THEN FOR SOME ODD REASON (READ: THEY’RE FROM THE SOUTH) MIXED IT WITH COUNTRY ROCK AND IT KICKED SO MUCH ASS AND GOT CALLED SLUDGE BECAUSE HEROIN AND NOW IT’S 2017 AND PEOPLE THINK SLUDGE METAL IS ABOUT BREAKDOWNS AND SHIT AND IT MAKES ME WANT TO KILL MYSELF WITH A C R O W B A R.
SO SINCE METAL DORKS ARE PREDICTABLE I ALREADY KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR LITTLE TRUCKER-CAP-TOPPED HEAD AND IT’S THAT YOURE GOING TO DARE TO HAVE THE AUDACITY TO ASK “WHO’S THE BIG FOUR OF SLUDGE METAL BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH I’M NOT 11 AND DEATH METAL EXISTS AND I CAN ACCESS LITERALLY EVERY BIT OF MUSICAL HISTORY EVER RECORDED IN AN INSTANT MY FRAME OF REFERENCE FOR EVERYTHING IS STILL THRASH METAL FOR SOME REASON.”
IT’S CROWBAR, EYEHATEGOD, ACID BATH, AND THE FOURTH SPOT HAS NEVER BEEN ESTABLISHED.
SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO SAY IT’S THE MELVINS, BUT THEYRE CLOSER TO GRUNGE OR LIKE “SMART GUY HARDCORE” AND AREN’T GROSS ENOUGH AND ARE TOO RESPECTED BY MUSIC JOURNALISTS WHO HAVE NICE HAIR SO THEY’RE OUT.
WIKIPEDIA LIKES TO SAY ALICE IN CHAINS ARE IN BUT LET’S FACE IT. ALICE IN CHAINS ARE GRUNGE AND HOLD THE DISTINCTION OF BEING THE ONLY GRUNGE BAND THAT DOESN’T SUCK. APPARENTLY THIS IS A CONTROVERSAL OPINION BUT I’LL DOUBLE DOWN AND SAY THAT THE ONLY GOOD THING TO COME OUT OF THE WHOLE GRUNGE MOVEMENT WAS THAT IT BASICALLY CAUSED THE ENTIRE CITY OF LOS ANGELES TO GO BANKRUPT SINCE THEIR ENTIRE ECONOMY WAS BASED OFF COCAINE AND RATT.
“WHAT ABOUT DOWN?”
SHUT UP TWERP. THAT’S CHEATING. SUPERGROUPS AREN'T CANON.
ONE COULD ALSO MAKE AN ARGUMENT FOR CORROSION OF CONFORMITY BUT I DON’T LIKE THEM THAT MUCH SO THEY’RE OUT AND THAT LEAVES US WITH LIKE 39 OTHER OPTIONS BUT GUESS WHAT NONE OF THEM MATTER BECAUSE IRON MONKEY SHOULD HAVE THAT SPOT.
Q: WHO IS IRON MONKEY? WHATS SO COOL ABOUT THEM? WHAT DO THEY SOUND LIKE? WHAT SEPARATES THEM FROM OTHER SLUDGE BANDS? ISN’T THIS SUPPOSED TO BE A REVIEW?
(THIS IS THE ACTUAL, OFFICIAL ALBUM ART FOR IRON MONKEYS SECOND RECORD).
I’M GOING TO TRUST THAT YOU’RE AN ASTUTE ENOUGH INDIVIDUAL TO SURMISE WHAT IRON MONKEY’S DEAL IS. THEIR ALBUM OUR PROBLEM SOUNDS EXACTLY HOW THIS LOOKS.
SO IRON MONKEY (THEYRE FROM ENGLAND WHICH I GUESS IS KINDA WEIRD SINCE I DOUBT THERE’S A LOT OF BAYOUS OR SHRIMP N GRITS IN BRITAIN) JUST KINDA APPEARED FOR A FEW YEARS, MADE A FEW RECORDS WITH BATHROOM STALL GRAFFITTI COVER ART, THEN THEY BROKE UP, AND NOW IT’S LIKE A FULL LIFETIME FOR THE AVERAGE METAL LIFESTYLE WRITER AND BANG BANG THEY GOT THE DRUMMER FROM CHAOS UK (EASILY IN MY TOP 5 “BANDS MY FRIENDS WHO LIKE PUNK TALK ABOUT THAT I’VE NEVER LISTENED TO ONCE”) AND DECIDED TO PUT OUT THIS RECORD THAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE NO ONE EVEN KNEW IRON MONKEY WAS BACK LOL I LOVE IRON MONKEY AND I FOUND THIS BY ACCIDENT.
SO NOW THAT WERE ALMOST A THOUSAND WORDS IN LET’S GET TO THE ACTUAL ALBUM:
9-13 IS ONE OF THE BETTER “RETURN OF AN OLD BAND” RECORDS I’VE EVER HEARD. IRON MONKEY IS EVERY BIT AS AGGRESSIVE, GROOVY, AND NEEDLESSLY ANGRY AS EVER.
EVERY SONG SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE GETTING YOUR TEETH EXTRACTED.
I’D TALK ABOUT THE INSTRUMENTS BUT IT’S A SLUDGE METAL RECORD SO YOU ALREADY KNOW THAT THE GUITARS ARE GOING TO SOUND HUGE AND THERE’S GOING TO BE SOME PREMIUM RIFFS AND REALLY ENORMOUS DRUMS. THE CHAOS UK GUY ALSO PLAYS FASTER THAN IRON MONKEY NORMALLY WOULD GO AND THAT’S EXCITING.
THE VOCALS SOUND LIKE THEY WERE DONE THROUGH TWO TIN CANS CONNECTED BY A STRING AND IT FITS THE INSTRUMENTATION SO WELL IT’S UNBELIEVABLE. ALSO THE GUITARIST/VOCALIST LOOKS LIKE KODAK BLACK LMAO.
I’D BE REMISS TO NOT BRING UP HOW THIS ALBUM HAS POSSIBLY THE HARDEST RIFF IVE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE. THE PART AROUND 4:15 IN “TOADCRUCIFIER” IS SO FUCKING HEAVY. I CAN LITERALLY FEEL A SWEATY GUY’S OVERLY AGGRESSIVE PUSH MOSH MATERIALIZE WHILE I HEAR IT.
IF YOU’RE NOT FUCKING LAME AND LIKE MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE JAGUAR FIGHT SONGS CHECK OUT THIS RECORD. IDK WHAT ELSE TO TELL YOU.
Street Sects - “Rat Jacket”
Stream and buy the EP here.
Street Sects is an experimental music duo from Texas who, since their inception in 2013, has taken the world of industrial music by a storm with their aggressive twist on the genre. Their first two EPs, Gentrification I and Gentrification II, showcased their style of fast, angry power electronics. The genre is usually mid-paced and noisy, but Street Sects have a hardcore edge that gives them a speed and adrenaline unusual for the genre. Last year, they released their debut LP End Position, which took what their previous two EPs did and gave it structure, both musically and conceptually: I remember reading the PDF file that came packaged with the digital download for End Position and being amazed at the story, the which is just messed up. Now, a year later, the duo are back with Rat Jacket, four brand new tracks in roughly 18 minutes.
This is the first thing that caught my eye, because if you just take a look at the song lengths, you’ll notice that Rat Jacket’s songs are longer than most of End Position’s songs. They justify the length of these tracks by showing how much more they have to offer than their previous material. Street Sects is no longer just a power-electronics duo whose goal is to be as crushing and noisy as possible. This EP is much more conventional industrial music with a tinge of goth, lending it a cold, melancholic aura as shown right away on first track “Blacken the Other Eye.” Street Sects aren’t done with the old sound, as tracks like “Total Immunity” and “Early Release” explore the noisier side of the band, but these noise sections are much more focused t. Never does it feel like they’re being noisy for the sake of it, but they keep the EP varied and consistent.
And don’t let Leo’s cleaner, smoother vocal style fool you: the lyrics behind these songs are very much typical of Street Sects, in that they’re as fucked up as ever. “Blacken the Other Eye” deals with a murder, presumably over money, as lyrics like “Dead on arrival, one through the roof of the mouth” and “The ultimate payday, no one cares / Reputation, nothing but paper now / We sold ourselves out” seem to demonstrate. He says his victim was “free,” but his second victim, a woman, was “almost free,” implying she may have been a prostitute. Lyrics such as “You don’t like the violence, but you like the respect it commands” seem to imply that he may have abused her, and after she dies, the narrator explains how he will keep her memory alive. It creeped me out. “Total Immunity” is his arrest (“Yes I know we were friends then / but those friendships are dead / Chalk it up to time served”), ending in a dramatic yell of “You can’t touch me.”
On “Early Release,” although he claims not to be sorry for anything, refuses to talk - “They can take all my money away / they can break every bone in my face / I will not talk” - and escapes, leading directly into “In Prison, At Least I Had You,” which is easily the most disturbing song title of the year. This song graphically details a prison rape, with lyrics like “A life down the shower drain / Weight dropping, force feeding / well it’s just a fucking jail.” The anger and passion of this section crawled under my skin, as did the title’s implication that the protagonist seems to have enjoyed the experience before escaping to a new life (“I can’t shake this feeling I have that I’m living another man’s life….Four thousand, bi-monthly, my name off the pink slip / Clean record, no zip code, their lives were a package deal”). By the end of the song, he comes face to face with Death, but shows no fear: “You can run from Death but in the end you’ll beg her to draw closer.” His epitaph is a sample of a lady stating it would be easier to keep sober if she had some other man’s troubles.
Lyrically, this EP is as grotesque as music is going to get this year. It’s not just the subject matter, but also the disgusting manner in which they’re delivered. Musically, this is one of the most depressing projects I’ve heard this year, which just makes the lyrics even grosser. My only complaint is that I want more. I hope Street Sects continues in this direction, because we need more of what they are doing here.
No Warning - Torture Culture
No Warning are one of those bands that I wish I had veen around for during their prime. While I can’t give a firsthand experience of its impact, Ill Blood remains arguably the most influential hardcore record of the 00’s; old live videos of them performing from that time period are truly something to behold. After that though, the band did what some would consider jumping the shark on their 2004 follow-up, Suffer, Survive. Rather than building on the NYHC style they had cultivated on their first record, the band decided to add Linkin Parkish hooks and a punkier sound that resembled something more like a Sum 41 than, say, Sick of it All. This sound resonated with some, but fell flat for many ears. After two 7” releases in 2013 and 2015, some shows here and there, and the headline slot on this year’s Life and Death tour, No Warning have returned with a full length that aims to right some of the wrongs of the their last LP, while also pushing the boundaries for what could be considered hardcore in 2017.
Torture Culture is a record that pulls absolutely zero shit. The band immediately brings things back to 2002 with the opening track, “Headless,” but it isn’t long until they start messing around with the formula a little bit, as the very same song has a grungy, cleanly sung vocal passage, and lead single “In the City” has an Anthrax-like stomp. “Hell Realm” is an 80’s metal banger, and “Sanctuary” sounds like something right off of Alice in Chains’s Dirt, with vocalist Ben Cook’s croons almost identical to Jerry Cantrell at times. No Warning aren’t the only band to include Alice in Chains vocal melodies into their music this year (i.e. Eighteen Visions), but they do it so well and so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel awkward or forced, which is a big plus when you take into consideration how badly that band has been ripped off since their prime.
If there is an issue that I have with the record, it’s that the record can fall into “blend” syndrome if you aren’t paying attention: on my first two-or-so listens, the three tracks between “In the City” and “Hell Realm” sounded like one long song. I chalk this up to the production - while it’s not terrible, the mix can add some confusion as to where one riff ends and the other begins. The record doesn’t throw us anything too new other than the Alice in Chains influence either, but I’m sure most fans of the band are just happy that Guv isn’t trying to sound like Chester Bennington anymore.
If I had to describe Torture Culture, it would be reminiscent of a record written in an alternate universe where Jerry Cantrell decided to move to New York during the 1980’s, starts going to shows at CBGB’s, joins Agnostic Front, and - for whatever reason - Roger and Stigma decide to let him sing on a few tracks. Alice in Chains are never a band, AF never release Cause for Alarm or the 100 other influential records that they put out after Victim in Pain. Fortunately for all of us, No Warning stepped into this alternate timeline and brought back a record by that lineup, and we still get AIC and AF. Score.
Valence - “He Tried to Kill Me with a Forklift”
Stream and purchase the song here.
Valence is a four-piece instrumental progressive metal band hailing from New Rochelle, New York. Forming in 2010, the group released a debut LP entitled Sleepwalker in 2012 and an EP entitled Laser Baron in 2015. Many fans of the genre caught onto this band with their unique storytelling approach to songwriting. This band has no vocals, but somehow manage to create elaborate narratives through their music. A quick look at the individual songs’ Bandcamp pages reveals a description for each song’s story, making each song like a chapter in a book. Reading into them while listening to the music, it’s amazing how the band pairs the music with the story so well. Valence makes sure every narrative climax gets the powerful, epic crescendo it deserves. As someone who has been working to become an author, this part of the band is super inspiring to me. The band is going to be going back in the studio in December, but until then, they have dropped a stand-alone single entitled “He Tried to Kill Me with a Forklift” to hold over fans.
The story for this single is summarized in one sentence: “What happens when a bunch of prog dudes get into a forklift fight in space? August 18th, you may find out…” Unlike the other songs, this one is much more open to interpretation. While I applaud that idea, I wish there was a bit more distinction between characters--I am assuming that the prog dudes are the band members, but nothing in the song tells us so. They have gone REALLY in depth on previous releases, writing paragraphs on what the song is supposed to represent, but here we’re kind of just given a sentence and left to fend for ourselves. It’s cool that they are allowing us to come up with our own story for the track, but especially because it’s instrumental, I feel like there should be something more.
The song begins with an ominous atmospheric introduction that leads into a nicely constructed prog section. We hear some spacey, melodic guitars, with the drums providing most of the heavy element throughout the song’s six-minute runtime. The bass is a bit hidden, but when it pops up, it has a very nice, jazzy tone. While a bit typical of progressive metal, the song frequently bounces between progressive metal and atmospheric jazziness, but my biggest issue is with the conclusion of the track. It feels like it just ends. These songs are written like stories, so I suppose this would be an open ending. This only adds to my issue with the whole story not being revealed to us. Is this song part of something bigger, making this sudden ending a “to be continued,” or is it actually the end of this story, and this open ending something I am misinterpreting?
Despite a few issues with this track, I thought it was solid, and I am beyond stoked to see what Valence does next, and where they go. The talent behind this band, their playing and their storycrafting abilities, is more than enough to merit a listen. If you’re into instrumental progressive metal and like well-done sci-fi with your music, don’t sleep on these guys.
- Alex Brown
Citizen - As You Please
You can stream the album in full on Youtube.
I’m just gonna say it: Everybody is Going to Heaven was better than Youth. While Youth was a good record, its follow-up was a significantly darker and more mature record from the Michigan band that showed a more careful approach to songwriting beyond the typical pop-punk “My girlfriend left me and I am oh-so-sad” that high schoolers and creepy twentysomethings with beards seem to love. They derived a lot from Brand New on that record, which is a valid criticism, but Citizen’s sincere approach to composing well-written songs with a cohesive flow across the length of an album showed the band’s potential for producing quality music despite their worn-on-sleeve influences.
As You Please might just be Citizen finally tapping into that potential. It’s kind of impressive how the band has managed to write a twelve-song, 48-minute long record that not only never gets boring, but also contains an infectious hook on virtually every track. “In the Middle of It All” and lead single “Jet” best exemplify this, and what’s most striking is how each song is relatively different. “Jet,” the album’s opener, starts with an energetic grunge riff and erupts into an insanely catchy chorus that would sound right at home on the band’s debut. “In the Middle of It All” begins with a pseudo-choir chant refrain that sounds jarring at first, but grows on you really quickly; the song also contains arguably the best chorus the band has ever written. Citizen are firing on all cylinders.
Vocalist Mat Kerekes knocks out of the park, utilizing his full vocal range to guide voice the listener through the emotional rollercoaster of As You Please. His lyrics are a little vaguer than on previous offerings; while it’s evident that they center around some form of heartbreak, the verses aren’t as black and white as say, “The Summer.” In fact, it seems that some of the he he doesn’t limit himself to failed romance, with “World” appearing to reflect the effect (or lack thereof) that being in a popular touring band has had on Kerekes, especially in the somber second verse: “I have had your ears, a younger me loves it / I haven't been around this neighborhood in a few years / Do you feel good? Do you notice it? / There's a crowd in front of me, I just don't care / I hear a thousand people sing, I feel nothing.” It’s not quite profound, but it’s a nice change of pace from the lyrics that the band has employed in the past.
I feel as if with every listen that As You Please becomes more complete. Nick Hamm and Ryland Oehlers’ guitars emit a punky energy on songs like “Fever Days,” a Brand New-like guitar harmony on “Control,” and a newfound solemnity on “Flowerchild,” a song that could merit a review all its own. Eric Hamm’s bass isn’t as prominent as on Everybody is Going to Heaven, which is a bit of a disappointment, especially taking into account how well it was utilized on that record. A lot of the record’s sound can be attributed to the ever-present Will Yip. I’ve been critical of his production style in the past, but he fits the band well, sharing a relationship akin to that of George Martin with the Beatles in the sense that he serves as a guiding influence for the band as they finally decide to stop trying to be Brand New, and just be Citizen.
And that’s ultimately why As You Please is Citizen at their absolute best. It’s a record with a sound that, in spite of its obvious influences, is 100% their own, seeing them finally mature from their awkward college years into a band who know what they are and what they want to play. They’re not the group of kids that wrote Youth four years ago: they’re Citizen, finally content with being Citizen, just as they please.
- Cesar G,