Posts Tagged ‘Hardcore’

American Heritage, Sedentary (2011)

Blinded by fear, or something

Also up now at Metal Review is my review of the newest album from Chicago-based metal/hardcore botherers American Heritage, which is out now on Translation Loss Records.  It’s perfect for your latest stint of bail-jumping, tire-screeching, whiskey-drinking mayhem.

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Friends, if you’ve stayed with me throughout these trying times, you are all saints.  We have at last reached the end of these old reviews I found sitting around on an old external hard drive, meaning that we will shortly be returning you to the regularly-scheduled amount of overwrought verbiage and incomprehensible sarcasm.  I am just as relieved as you.


Converge, You Fail Me (2004)

Is that supposed to be an ape hand or something?

Although Converge had long been one of extreme music’s most respected and hard-working bands, the landmark acclaim and success they achieved with 2001’s Jane Doe guaranteed that crafting a follow-up that satisfied fans and critics without sacrificing their creative progression would be no small task.  With You Fail Me, however, Converge has again succeeded admirably, delivering a swift kick to the head of all those who would doubt their conviction or ability to continue producing scathingly intense music with a very real emotional core.

For the most part, the songs on You Fail Me display many of Converge’s trademarks: furiously churning guitars that duel and collide with the drums to form chaotic, echoing rhythms, Jacob Bannon’s tortured, animalistic wailing, and breakneck tempos.  Nowhere is this tradition better upheld than in standout tracks such as “Black Cloud,” “Eagles Become Vultures,” and “Heartless,” with its stuttering, chanting finale.  What truly makes this album stand out from the rest of Converge’s thoroughly accomplished oeuvre are the small refinements of their sound.  For example, the mesmerizing guitar melody that carries the latter half of “Drop Out” helps to elevate the lyrics above the whipping maelstrom of the drums and bass.  “First Light” begins the album with a melancholic solo guitar line so languid that it threatens to dissipate into pure feedback.  “Last Light” offers another unique take on Converge’s often barely controlled chaos: more so than on any other song, it is the propulsive drums that carry this piece all the way through, from the simple guitar chords of its intro to the convulsive breakdown at its conclusion.

The true heart of this album, however, must be the back-to-back ordering of its two longest songs, “You Fail Me” and “In Her Shadow.”  The monstrous title track is deceptively simple, but its power comes from its sheer bludgeoning force.  Though a simple, plodding rhythm forms the song’s foundation, more layers are gradually added, and when the song reaches its peak, the results are truly massive.  “In Her Shadow,” as it opens with a gently strummed acoustic guitar, would seem to be a welcome respite from the blistering title track.  Gradually, though, it becomes something much more sinister.  The vocals throughout are ghostly, mirroring the feedback in which the whole piece is awash.  As the song progresses, it builds and builds, always threatening to overtake itself.  Once the drums enter, they lead the song into martial disarray, and by the time the song reaches its climax, the drums are about all that can be reasonably distinguished from the underlying chaos; in fact, certain moments of this song wouldn’t be out of place on a Neurosis album.

In the end, though, what makes this album so convincing, like Jane Doe before it, is that it brutally pummels the listener not just with aggression, but also with emotion.  You Fail Me is significantly shorter than Jane Doe, however, and the emotional tone is markedly different as well.  No matter what one may be able to decipher from Jacob Bannon’s excellent lyrics, it is indisputable that there lies at the core of them some real anguish.  Although Jane Doe had its fair share of anger, there was hope, too, perhaps most notably in the way the closing track faded out amidst Bannon’s glorious shouts of “Run on!”  By contrast, the anger throughout You Fail Me feels a bit more resigned, a bit more desperate.  On the closing track, “Hanging Moon,” Bannon begins his entreaty of “Be my light in this world of darkness,” but the song, and the album, cuts him tragically short, allowing only for the words “Be my…”  Perhaps there is hope in that, too.  What is certain, however, is that Converge has made another haunting record that is just as likely to make you weep as it is to kick in your teeth.


Okay, well maybe that one wasn’t so bad.  Back up to my typical standards of pretension, at least.  Seriously, though: Can you imagine many other bands, following up an album as thoroughly-masturbated-about as Jane Doe, putting out such an abrasively honest, emotionally-damaged statement as this?  You Fail Me remains, in my opinion, a criminally underrated episode in Converge’s rightly-feted discography.

Anyway, that’s it for my vault-plundering exploits.  Thanks for coming along for the ride; sorry about all the sick in the passenger’s seat.  Occupational hazard of reading old writing, I figure.  Be my light in this world of darkness, won’t you?

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The Terrible Airplane, 2013 (2010)

The Future Is Now

The Terrible Airplane is a two-piece band from Kansas, formed by brothers Mark (guitar, vocals) and Todd Woolard (drums).  Their newest release is the full-length album 2013, on which they ply a somewhat unique blend of 90s-styled noise rock with post-hardcore flourishes and a taut, instrumental minimalism.

The vocals affect a number of different styles throughout the record, from a very loose 1990s rock croon, to a more impassioned tenor pitch occasionally reminiscent of Mike Scalzi (of the Lord Weird Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune), to an impressively throaty hardcore bellow.

The instrumental approach seems to have the greatest affinity for the Amphetamine Reptile school of noise rock, flitting between straight-ahead rock and slightly angular metallic riffing.  Imagine the sounds of Helmet, Unsane, or even Melvins and The Jesus Lizard (albeit at their least bizarre), and you’re well on your way to grasping the sound of The Terrible Airplane.

Still, we’re not talking about some nostalgia act, here.  The band are at their best when taut, tension-building instrumental sections proceed measuredly, twitchingly, to their inevitable metallic payoff.  These sections work not by virtue of instrumental virtuosity (you’ll find no fretboard fireworks here), but rather through the patient pacing of their minimalist attack.

A few places on the record even approach the dynamics of everyone’s favorite post-metal luminaries such as Neurosis and Isis, although the muted production keeps the sound closer to the rock/hardcore side of the auditory continuum.  This is the case on “Projected Trajectory” and, especially, the 9+ minutes of “Efficiency Deficient,” the latter of which is, for my money, the best song of the bunch.

As far as other individual songs go, the vocal chants in “Television” show The Terrible Airplane at their most Melvins-ish (think especially of the double-tracked vocals throughout much of Melvins’ recent album Nude With Boots).  “Radio Song,” at a mere 1:30, is clearly intended somewhat ironically, though the fact that it sounds like nothing else so much as Soul Coughing attempting a cover of Nirvana circa Bleach muddies the ironic waters more than a little.

Moments like this inform one of my main criticisms of this record.  Every now and then, such as on “Radio Song,” and, particularly, the mellower sections of “Roleplaying the Audience,” the band veers too close to the blandness of 90s alternative rock for my comfort.*  This only crops up occasionally throughout the album, though, so it remains something of a minor nuisance.

One of the strongest showings on here is the relatively brief instrumental “Pandameet.”  Its sinuous take on song composition works very much to its advantage, jumping back and forth between off-kilter and straight-ahead rock rhythms quite deftly.  In general, however, I think the band is at its most effective when they really stretch out, as on the above-mentioned “Efficiency Deficient.”  The tune starts off noisy before falling back into a ruthlessly minimal quiet section, and eventually crashes its way back with waves of slow, crushing stomp.  It’s at moments like this that I really want to hear things through a fuller production (adding a second guitar wouldn’t hurt, either); this song could be absolutely fucking massive, where here such potential remains somewhat implicit.

This is a very strong showing from a promising band.  For the most part, their songwriting weaves together some very disparate strands of rockish skronk, hardcore bluster, and carefully apportioned metal.  My own preference would be to see these guys take their metal even further into METAL territory, leaving behind some of what sound to these ears like 90s anachronisms.  Nevertheless, their instrumental attack is, as I keep rambling on about, incredibly taut, and they have a very persuasive grasp on tense song dynamics.  Plus, their whole album can be streamed here, so really, what the fuck are you waiting for?

I, for one, would like to see some of the potential energy here go kinetic, because that shit could EXPLODE.

Overall rating: 70%.  Compact noise rock sparks with carefully contained metallic undercurrents.

* For the record, this ‘blandness’ is quite effectively dispelled by the live version of “Roleplaying the Audience” also available on the band’s Myspace page.  Dudes are loud enough on record, but live, the loudness is louder, the drums crackle as they flail about, and the hardcore vocals rattle the ribcage.  Do check it out.

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Nails, Unsilent Death (2010)

Quiet Unlife

Okay, sure, so Nails may be one of the more hyped bands of 2010.  Thing is, I was pretty much oblivious to all that hype, and just stumbled across this album at the record store a few weeks back.  I had just read the news item that Nails had just signed to Southern Lord and were going to be reissuing this album, so I figured, why not pick up a copy of the Six Feet Under CD issue?

Holy shit, does this record smoke.  I suppose the complaints about calling a 13+ minute release a ‘full-length’ are valid, but they sort of miss the point.  And in fact, when these dudes get around to putting out another release, I think that will be the real test of their skills, because while this release is nearly perfectly crafted for its running time, it remains to be seen how this sort of material will be handled over a longer expanse.

Stylistically speaking, this record takes a little bit of everything nasty and grimy, throws it in a concrete blender, and lobs noise grenades unmercifully in your general direction.  Sure, it’s a bit grindcore, but more like old Napalm Death grind (circa From Enslavement to Obliteration, say) than any of the more modern crop of death/grinders (Pig Destroyer, newer Brutal Truth, Disfear, maybe even fellow Southern Lords Black Breath, and so forth).  It’s also a little bit crust, more than a little bit hardcore (this is Todd Jones, ex- of Terror, after all), with a bit of bruising sludge tossed in the slower parts of the two lengthier tracks on display.

Listening to the album, though, doesn’t make it sound quite as much like a convoluted mash-up as I’ve just described it.  One of the greatest things this album has going for it is its sense of fluid motion.  The three-piece careens from one song to another with great finesse, while keeping the whole affair swathed in a gooey, rattling production, rather like fighting with a badger inside of a dumpster.  They also use guitar feedback quite effectively, either in tight, staccato bursts, or as a way to transition between songs.

Also impressive is their ability to write actual songs, even crammed into 30 or 60 second bursts.  “Scum Will Rise” is one of the most effective tunes on here, blasting through an identifiable verse-chorus structure before locking into a pummeling breakdown for its final ten seconds.  It’s precisely the sort of breakdown that metallers lacking in self-confidence might look askance at, but it’s still far from hardcore thuggishness, so breathe easy, friends.  No one will look down on you for stomping around like a maniac.

The guitar tone verges on the classic Swedish death metal sound, but it twins very nicely with the thick, dirty bass tone.  In terms of composition, the bass typically follows or doubles the guitar, meaning the songs aren’t generally very intricate, but exceedingly powerful and driven.  The title track is a nice example of this, with its sullen, stomping death march feel.

I do hesitate to describe this as grindcore too much, but “Scapegoat” definitely shows Nails at their most Nasum-esque, while a song like “No Servant” is a bit more straight-ahead hardcore/metal with a slightly Slayer-ish guitar solo.  Closing track “Depths” might just be the best one here, with its doomed-out opening riff playing like their own filthy version of Black Sabbath’s classic tritone.  The tune later breaks into some classic d-beat drum patterns, and eventually sludges its way to an equally doomed-out close after wrecking nearly everything in its path.

The album has a very nice sense of symmetry in its ‘sides’, with each batch of five songs blasting through four short, fast crust/hardcore/grind/death/whatever tunes before closing out with a longer, sludged-up capstone.  I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, as it gives the album a sense of thoughtful unity, rather than just a bunch of pissed-off tunes slapped together.

All in all, this is some fierce, filthy noise, and Nails are definitely a band to watch.  As I said above, I’ll need to see what they can do on a 25 to 35-minute release before I’m thoroughly convinced, but Unsilent Death is ample cause to be excited for whatever it is that Nails do next.

Overall rating: 78%.  Nothing much new, really, but sure as hell kicking the shit out of the old like it’s going out of style.

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