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