Author: Peter Fryer

Youth Choir
Demo 2013
Self-Released
Street: 03.24
Youth Choir = Sick of It All + Weekend Nachos + Youth of Today
Finally, a demo that doesn’t sound like it was recorded on your eighth grade boom box. With the advances in sound engineering, there is no excuse for a demo to sound awful, so kudos to these guys for sounding great. But sound quality only gets you so far, and is by no means a necessity. The real story is that Youth Choir is making tight, succinct, raging hardcore that retains no shortage of ’80s hardcore and attitude. Check “Sometimes Fat Guys Don’t Wear White,” which admonishes the hefty in the pit and then promptly brings the best mosh part of the demo, following the line, “You made it suck!” There are certainly things Youth Choir care about, but your feelings are not one of them. Hopefully, Youth Choir breaks out of the Beehive State and demolishes house shows nationwide. – Peter Fryer
 

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Baroness

Baroness
Purple

Abraxon Hymns
Street: 12.18.15
Baroness = Mastadon + Hot Water Music + Kylesa

Baroness’ history the past three years involves a bus crash, physical and emotional trauma, and the departure and replacement of two members. It’s worth mentioning, because it’s impossible to evaluate Purple independently of this context. From a high level, Purple is similar to Yellow & Green but re-engages portions of their prior heaviness, perhaps as a direct response to the heaviness of the past few years. Riffs are always where Baroness excelled, and they are plentiful on Purple, but there is also a previously untapped openness and a melancholy found in tracks like “Shock Me” and “Chlorine & Wine.” These emotions were hinted at in prior releases, but they carry a gravity now that wasn’t previously evident. Purple isn’t a comeback in the traditional sense, since that phrase is usually reserved for a band in decline who found their way back. For Baroness, it’s a comeback from irrevocability. And it’s remarkable. –Peter Fryer

Sorrowset | All Ends, Begin with Ease

Sorrowset
All Ends, Begin with Ease

Self-Released
Street: 09.01
Sorrowset = Baroness + Botch + Isis

The three-piece band is a staple in rock n’ roll and its diasporic genres. There are plenty in the metal/hardcore/post-metal world, but not all actually sound like a three-piece band. Salt Lake’s Sorrowset sound absolutely like a three-piece on their debut, All Ends, Begin with Ease—a nearly hour-long, thick, rocking and riff-heavy LP. To explain my earlier statement,  Sorrowset don’t succumb to the temptation of multi-tracking guitars or burying the bass in the mix (hat-tip to SubRosa’s engineer Andy Patterson for the recording job). The music sounds alive: separation between instruments, three guys in a room, most likely facing each other, feeding off one another’s energy, bass and drums holding down the rhythm while the guitar rips. Melodies originate in the bass where they’ll be picked up eight bars later by the guitar.

Sounds akin to many other bands peek in now and again throughout the duration of the albu. For example, there is a small snippet in “Nothing to Lose,” which can’t help but remind me of Inquisition, and there are passages that owe much to Isis.

There are only minor complaints to be lodged with All Ends, Begin with Ease. These gentlemen are riff-prolific, and no doubt tasty fret-routines swirl in their heads at a frenetic pace. But, at nearly an hour, with a good third of the nine tracks between seven to nine minutes, the album would benefit from some editing. Long tracks have no inherent disadvantage, but when they’re buffeted by six more tracks that clock in at about five to six minutes a piece, it begins to pile up.

It’s in these stretched-out songs, though, that everyone truly locks in. Sorrowset are strongest when they’re creating atmospheres and then riding a tasty riff. It never falls to hypnotic repetition, though—the walking basslines assure that they stay engaging. I’m glad this rolled my way. Sorrowset are an excellent addition to the top-level list of heavy bands from the Beehive State. –Peter Fryer

Comeback Kid
Die Knowing
Victory Records
Street: 04.04
Comeback Kid = Bane + Figure Four + Terror

Most reviews of Comeback Kid are mired in the details of the band’s circumstance, singers, Victory Records, etc. Here’s the deal: Die Knowing is one of the most energetic and invigorating hardcore records I’ve heard in a while. This is precisely what a modern, straight-up hardcore record should sound like, containing what is expected of the genre plus an emphasis on punk attitude. The whoooaaas sound fresh, there are plenty of sing-alongs and the breakdowns don’t feel obligatory. The energy is so infectious on this album that you can easily envision the stage dives, circle pits and finger points it will undoubtedly inspire during a live set. Die Knowing is a well-produced studio album, but it’s the transfer of the kinetic energy of a live show which makes it. Even more so than the songs contained within, this is Die Knowing’s greatest strength. –Peter Fryer

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BoySetsFire
While a Nation Sleeps
Bridge 9 Records
Street: 06.11
Boysetsfire = Strife + Thursday + Make Do And Mend
In an alternate universe, BoySetsFire would enjoy the popularity that the endless stream of emocore (or scene, or whatever they’re called these days) bands receive. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the biggest bands of the day was espousing ideas of rebellion, secularism and sincere emotion? After a seven-year hiatus, BoySetsFire are back with While a Nation Sleeps, with a sound plucked straight out of the early ‘00s that fits easily within their earlier catalog. I’ve always preferred the heavier elements of BoySetsFire’s sound to the softer melodic side. However, on While a Nation Sleeps, the melodic elements aren’t cringe-inducing the way they used to be, finding a new force behind the vocals. It’s also refreshing to hear a band with proficiency in song structure. With contemporary bands stripping their sound down, it’s a welcome change to hear a band crafting songs with an arc. –Peter Fryer
 
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falling stacks no wives album cover

falling stacks no wives album coverFalling Stacks
No Wives

Battle Worldwide
Street: 06.08
Falling Stacks = Mclusky + Burning Airlines + The Mae Shi

Post-hardcore is a difficult genre to penetrate for me. The genre dances around the edges, obscuring meaning with angular guitar riffs and vocals that vacillate between lackadaisical mumblings and bursts of energy. These guys from Bristol might bristle at being lumped into the genre, but it was my point of departure. Falling Stacks bring these previously perturbing elements—guitar riffs, Linklater slacker vocals that are buried in the mix and would be obnoxious cacophony—with a twinkle in the eye to No Wives. And that’s why this works: It is an involved listen, creating anticipation for the next musical idea. Maybe they take themselves seriously, maybe they don’t, but there is conviction in these tunes and a sense of composition versus hurling spaghetti at a wall. The second, more accessible half is less frantic than the first and commands repeat listens. Post-whatever or avant-garde, Falling Stacks are onto something. –Peter Fryer

Total Abuse – Excluded

Total Abuse
Excluded

Deranged Records
Street: 11.20.15
Total Abuse = Black Flag + Ceremony + Void

Sincerity without conviction is weak. Conviction without sincerity is dishonest. Put the two together, and you have a quality hardcore record. That, and a killer drummer, will get you far. Total Abuse are all of these things. A lack of a lyric sheet made piecing lyrics together challenging, but you don’t have to be a philosopher to pick up the vitriol. Guitars lay down a chaotic, noisy mess that’s kept in check by bullet-precise drumming, making Excluded stick. At first, the repetitive final four minutes of “Watching the Paint Dry” actually felt like doing so, but giving in to the repetition brought an epiphany—this is quality, confrontational outsider music. Once you realize that, you’re along for the ride, and it burrows deep. This may not be remembered as a seminal work in hardcore, but it’s an example of the range of what hardcore can be if done well. –Peter Fryer

Converge | The Dusk In Us | Epitaph Records

Converge
The Dusk In Us

Epitaph Records
Street: 11.03
The Dusk in Us = The best parts of  Converge’s albums since Jane Doe

When I interviewed Converge guitar-wizard Kurt Ballou back in 2009, I asked him about what a good introduction to their band would be for a newcomer. He told me that he viewed the band as having “glimmers of goodness,” but that they were “learning how to play, and not the sound of a band creating great music yet” on their earliest albums. To him, Jane Doe was the line where that changed. Jane Doe’s iconic status falls in line with Ballou’s assessment. Common opinion agrees with Ballou, as Jane Doe is heralded as a watershed moment for aggressive music.

It’s interesting, as a 20-year listener of the band, to reflect on that. I still view Converge through that arbitrary line of demarcation. My introduction came through Petitioning the Empty Sky and Caring and Killing. Jane Doe was a new direction, and still feels that way. The thing is, Jane Doe is 16 years old now. Converge are exactly the band Ballou described. They are no longer a basement-show hardcore band (check out hate5six for some early Converge basement footage), but an aggressive music juggernaut.

For many bands, that lightning in a bottle would be long extinguished, with releases becoming increasingly indistinguishable and perfunctory. It happens to the best. But for Converge, The Dusk in Us, their fifth album since Jane Doe, has kept that lightning from dissipating. It’s their strongest since You Fail Me. Though there are certain constructions of songs Converge are comfortable with—the chaotic song with the epic sing-a-long, “I Can Tell You About Pain,” the slow burner “The Dusk in Us,” or the more spoken style of “A Single Tear”—it all sounds refreshed and inspired on The Dusk in Us. They sound as hungry as they did 20 years ago.

This isn’t all to suggest that The Dusk in Us is only successful because it hits those Converge beats better than do their more recent albums. There are plenty of new ideas to be found. “Arkhipov Calm,” on its surface, begins with the familiar guitar intricacy of Ballou and the arachnid, eight-armed drumming of Ben Koller, but breaks 12 seconds in with all instruments dropping out except for the hi-hat keeping time. It’s the silence that is so stirring in this song. Converge often bombard with notes and drum fills. In “Arkhipov Calm,” this space feels exposed and propels the song. “Broken by Light” is a thrashing hardcore rager, which features Converge’s take on Slayer-esque breakdowns and riffs in its final minute. It crushes.

The production also lends to the impact of these moments. There is more separation in the instruments on The Dusk in Us than any other recent Converge album. Nate Newton’s bass is thick and audible, and you can hear the air around the drums. I felt like I was sitting in the room as they were playing these songs versus being blasted with a wall of noise from a recording. That’s not to say it’s not still loud as hell.

Regardless of release, Converge tower above their peers when it comes to lyrical content. The sing-a-long in the lead single, “I Can Tell You About Pain,” is a perfectly syncopated refrain of “You don’t know what my pain feels like.” It’s promptly followed by a feedback-laden breakdown, which will be responsible for more than one bloodied nose in the pit. Album opener “A Single Tear” is about Bannon’s feelings about becoming a father. The lyrics are spiked with Bannon’s usual anguish, but contain a large amount of hope as well, as Bannon yells, “When I held you for the first time / I knew I had to survive.” In “Reptilian,” Bannon exclaims, “We must lose sight of the shore to know what courage means.” A physical release of this album is a must—Bannon’s lyrics require more attention than a simple album stream.

The intervening years between All We Love We Leave Behind and The Dusk in Us clearly held momentous changes in the lives of the members of Converge, and by drawing on these experiences, they’ve created one of the strongest albums in their untarnished catalog. –Peter Fryer

Cerebral Ballzy

Jaded and Faded

Cult Records
Street: 06.17

Cerebral Ballzy =
The Ramones + Circle Jerks + The Only Ones

Cerebral Ballzy exist in this strange limbo between the genre-restrictive punk world and Internet hype. What makes a band bleed into the indie hype world, while others stay put? Perhaps it’s pedigree, as this album appears on Julian Casablancas’s label and was recorded by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio. The production quality of the album is the most notable, owing much to ’70s- and ’80s-style experimentation. In much the same way that Rock for Light was produced by Ric Ocasek, the combo of two seemingly disparate entities makes for a better listen. The songs are still short and punchy, but many contain elements of ’70s pop. Honor Titus’ lackadaisical delivery borders on phoned in, but stays just to this side of uninterested. As a departure from their debut, Jaded and Faded may not fulfill all of the hype, but it doesn’t succumb to it either. Jaded and Faded recalls an era when punk rock didn’t fit neatly into prepackaged individual servings. –Peter Fryer

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Oathbreaker
Eros|Anteros
Deathwish Inc.
Street: 08.20
Oathbreaker = Converge + Birds In Row + Young And In The Way
Eros|Anteros should be more enjoyable than it is—it’s like going to a restaurant where the menu looks amazing and the food is decent, but you won’t recall what you ate the next day. That’s where Oathbreaker’s latest falls. Maybe it’s that it sounds too close to Converge at times—perhaps this is Converge’s Kurt Ballou’s fault. Oathbreaker’s riffs are blistering, and the drumming pumps out some raging D-beat, but it just doesn’t stick. Eros|Anteros is adrift in a sea of bands working within the sludge/hardcore/blackened metal realm, which is too bad because there are interesting musical ideas to be found. “The Abyss Looks Into Me” marks the high point of the album, finding a balance between sludge, clean vocals and a build to a satisfying catharsis. It finally gives some bite to an album which should be a kick in your teeth from the start. –Peter Fryer
 

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