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 = 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
The Dusk In Us
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
Jaded and Faded
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
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
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
Deafheaven = Alcest + Nothing + Emperor
I don’t often get to review back-to-back albums by the same artist, so to be able to do so with Deafheaven is a unique opportunity. I revisited my prior review (old format, smaller word count), a concise distillation of New Bermuda. At the time I was impressed, stating “The first three minutes and 24 seconds of New Bermuda is some of the best heavy music I’ve heard this year. It’s the lead guitar melody which immediately follows that will determine your opinion of New Bermuda.” I still think that holds true—the opening to that album is immense.
What I couldn’t know at the time was the longevity of the release. Even though I coded the album as “good,” would I want to continue to listen to it? In the intervening two and a half years, I’ve probably only spun that album a few times. I’ve intentionally put it on my limited listening (only adding a few albums at a time) on my iPod, but rarely revisit it. Repeat listens are not necessarily indicative of good art—there are plenty of world-defining films for which one viewing is plenty for a lifetime—but it does say something about a band’s ability to stay top-of-mind with listeners. If I was having this experience, had everyone else also moved on? Which leads me to wonder how Ordinary Corrupt Human Love will objectively be received. Will the ears be there?
In the time between these albums, streaming services have come and gone, the vinyl wave has abated and the world is focused on all music, all genres, all the time. That probably works in Deafheaven’s favor. In 2010 and 2013, respectively, when their first two albums Roads to Judah and Sunbather came out, they were huge, but also made waves because, to some, they weren’t true enough. In 2018, other than a small minority in comments sections on metal sites, does anyone really care? Purity tests, if not completely disbanded, are at least de-fanged in 2018. This creates a wide-open gap for a band like Deafheaven to really let it loose.
Although maybe not as wild a chance as Deafheaven could take, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love does see Deafheaven expanding. Most notably, “Night People” and “Near” play the vocals straight, which lends an evolution to the music. In the case of “Near,” it’s a superbly somber and pretty song, a full exploration of their shoegaze tendencies.
There is plenty of loud, fast and metal to be found, too. This is still definitely a Deafheaven album—marked most notably by their drive for the MAXIMUM in all they do. Maximum drums and fills when the music is going, maximum serenity when it’s quiet, maximum riffs. Maximum usually works for them, but the overactive drumming paired with rapid-fire riffing can sometimes sound at odds with one another. Deafheaven are continually tweaking what they do, and this album is the right mix between the sunny aesthetic of Sunbather and the darkness of New Bermuda.
This feels like the album right before the full shift. The biggest hint of this comes on “Night People,” a black metal, scream-free jam. It’s electro post-punk channeling Radiohead balladry much more than amped-up shoegaze metal. I’m ready for more of this style. It’s 2018, there are no musical rules, and I can see myself revisiting this more than New Bermuda. If anyone should be ready to blast through that door at Mach 1, it’s Deafheaven. –Peter Fryer
Erlen Meyer = Celeste +
Cult of Luna + Lycus
Erlen Meyer’s self-titled album makes me feel awful. One’s proclivity for how awful they’re willing to feel after listening to an album will predicate whether this album will resonate with that listener. These French heavy sludge purveyors create an ominous atmosphere that trudges through its tracks like it wants nothing more than to sap any optimism you have. The lyrics are all in French, but Google Translate offered some help for the lyrics printed on Erlen Meyer’s website. This provided insight for subject matter that is literary but also as bleak as the music that accompanies it. If one grievance can be lobbed at Erlen Meyer it’s that the pace never changes, causing each track to bleed into the next. Music need not have hooks, particularly in this genre, but Erlen Meyer grows fatiguing—not from its oppressive atmosphere, but from its uniformity. –Peter Fryer
Native = Minus the Bear + These Arms Are Snakes + The Honor System
Once upon a time, underground, post-hardcore and indie music had balls. Somewhere along the way, Starbucks, NPR listeners and energy drinks got involved, and everything went to hell. Native aren’t having any of that. Like an amped up Minus the Bear channeling Fugazi and At the Drive-In , Native are putting the rock and hardcore back in math rock and post-hardcore. Orthodox’s lean, 29-minute running time is all syncopation, noodling guitars and emotion. No whiny bullshit. No AP Magazine posing. Orthodox was recorded at an analog studio, lending it a warm and evenly separated tone to the record, which is all the more reason to get into it. If there is one criticism of Orthodox, it’s that their mission to “raise a collective eyebrow” against today’s empty rhetoric is hard to decipher among their obtuse lyrics. But that’s just a hardcore fan wanting something easy to hang his hat on. –Peter Fryer
Villain = Reality + Outspoken + Damnation AD
Villain are the real deal. Bridging the gap between mid-paced, ’90s-style hardcore and the modern day, Villain’s four-song debut is 100-percent all the way through. Give me an amazing four-song EP any day over 10 songs of mediocrity. Many of the best hardcore releases are 7” or demos, and Villain’s EP further proves that theory. I thought that I was just getting old, that this kind of music wasn’t able to dig into the deep well of anger that great hardcore punk did in the past. But as it turns out, most hardcore is inferior and definitively follows Sturgeon’s Law that “90-percent of everything is crap.” Villain is strongly in the top of the 10-percent. This release immediately grabbed me and is a preeminent example of how much this genre has to offer. Their manifesto: Songcraft isn’t dirty—a succession of riffs isn’t a song. A chorus is needed sometimes, and intelligent, memorable lyrics and differentiated vocals are the hallmark of a great band. I can’t get enough of this release—I’ve listened to it on repeat since I got it to review. I’d tell anyone that they should download it on Bandcamp, or buy it on CD or 7” when that bastion of hardcore authenticity is released. Members of Villain have been in numerous Salt Lake City bands, the most notable for understanding Villain’s sound being Reality, as Villain’s six-man, three-guitar roster contains three-fourths of Reality’s lineup. What is truly the lynchpin of this release, though, is its sincerity. Villain are not a simulacra of a hardcore band in the 2010s—they are a hardcore band in the 2010s. Their influences are clear, but they are that—influences—and not an instruction manual. This EP is dark—not evil, but dark. There is no Tumblr poetry here. Each lyric is calculated and delivered in a slow, intelligible rasp that wants you to hear every pugnacious syllable. At one point, vocalist Trent Falcone admonishes, “We deserve our graves.” At another, his vitriol is admirable: “There is no forgiveness when you never forget / and I’m not finished with you yet.” This is what I signed up for. Villain are continuing the tradition of memorable and strong bands coming from Salt Lake City. –Peter Fryer