Hardcore Is A Friendly Pummeling
Nothing says summer like a good fistfight
Raw, metallic hardcore is an alien scene to me, but I can’t resist a peek once in a while. Compared to the focused frame of standard metal, where motifs and themes build on each other to amplifying effect, an injection of hardcore adds volatile instability, with breakdowns liable to toss out the established stratagems and throw a wild haymaker because you were cuttin eyes at it in the wrong way. The musical mixology that balances the elements can produce ragged results from wiry crossover scrappers to rep-pounding beatdown, and even the glass you try to serve it in will probably end up as cranially embedded shards the instant it leaves your hand. Since it’s the season of boiled-over aggression and snip-sleeve muscle shirts, I’d better let these baying hounds off the leash before they start ganging up on me to give me a first-person view of my own trachea. Spin at your own risk.
Carrying Baltimore hardcore on their stooping Cro-Magnon shoulders, End It still haven’t taken their own advice, and honestly, bless them for it. Building up a more sustained sweat on their new release, Unpleasant Living swirls and sputters like a backed-up commodore, one that your landlord pretends he doesn’t know about and won’t take calls for. As usual, Akil is the unique element in the scything riffstorm, darting out with a yowl that tumbles belligerently headfirst into the standout single “New Wage Slavery”. Dynamics? Fuck em. Each sawn-off track gives its best mulekick discharge, blasting out as if every one had a bastard politician’s back in its sights. “21” sends the rhythm skidding up and surging back for a packed 40 seconds, no repeats necessary. “Hatekeeper” dovetails into the only remotely articulate lead on the spinner, the opening of “The Comeback”, laden with the lion’s share of weighty variety. Punctuated with dismal, dipping bass stings, “The Comeback” leaves the final signature: “Baltimore’s coming back with a bang, still knuckledragging like it ain’t no thang”. Meaty shit.
Best for when: Your pals across town are jumping a cop and they need you to EVAC in your beater before backup arrives or they’re all going upstate.
Our most uncut, mainline hardcore slice of the day, SPEED originally broke into my listening cycle as a more hard-nosed, scrunchy-faced accomplice (read: labelmate) of End It. Not a bad shot/chaser pair, I gotta say, especially if your weightlifting routine runs any longer than 8 minutes and you still need the juice. SPEED are here to throw down, locking eyes and closing distance instantly with the rapid-cycling “Not That Nice” letting you feel every sinew of muscle powering these hands, even if the reach is a bit stunted. In the established arena of sizzling breakdowns and inflammable follow-ups, Gang Called Speed can totally hold its own, lifted through the occasional monotony by the galvanized commitment of grunter Jem to the tough guy bit. For its ambitious length, “Know Your Foe” probably leaves the biggest welt on its way out. As for the instrumental “Every Man For Themself”, well, burst triplet run-ups and staggering descended chords are how nature says Keep Your Distance, so it holds its own. Oh and I love the tiger snarl sample in “Big Bite”. Good kitty.
Best for when: That shit-eating brown-nosing fuck from loss prevention is on thin ice and you decide to rip off your employee shirt and make the statement you should have made months ago.
Quality Control HQ are pumping some fine troublemakers out of their scullery, a word that Brits still use and I’m honestly a little jealous of. Another thing they’re still doing that I’m jealous of is thrashed-up NYHC, laid out and chopped up by London’s Mastermind, and the new EP The Master’s Orders has these British bulldogs in crossover heat. Talk about being “Stuck In A Rut”, badum-tsh. The typical brevity of tracks found in the genre melds well here with the overactive and excitable songwriting, yielding songs that seem like they’re too jazzed to hit their next cool turnaround to wait any more. Make no mistake, this ain’t no Municipal Waste self-aware shtick, but man has it been a while since I heard a crossover band that actually sound like they’re having a good time, instead of laying on the chuggz and overclocking their production for maximum frown.
The arrangement and production come together classic style, keeping the bass crispy and controlled and the drums spunky, warmed up and loosey-goosey. Served up speedy like a fast food platter, every change and progression spits a little more gas in the engine, and the boys are happy to remix the same chord changes into different meters for extra mileage. Check out how “Price You Pay” slams gears from robo-stomping syncopation to restless hammer-on hopping chords in the same shape, and how “Haunt” crooks around your neck with a cheeky little bass snap, before it calls in its boys from the alley to rain down the pain. Not overly concerned with dirgy displays of simmering attitude, there’s a bad and brainy wittiness to the affair. Instead of chest-puffing bravado, this is elated shit-talk with footwork to match any muscle. Sometimes it’s the welterweights you gotta watch out for.
Best for when: you are psyching yourself up for your fight scene/motocross race in a backyard post-apocalypse movie.
Looks like we’re starting to run out of band names here, guys. We need an emergency stimulus package of gnarly adjectives and ominous nouns, or else we could see names as bafflingly banal as Rigorous Institution become the norm, and not the occasional ugly duckling. They’re particularly underserved by this awkward handle because the tunes have a strong sonic vision: smoggy, coarse, choking crust. Cainsmarsh is like a bug bomb in reverse, fumigating your house in noxious stank and corroding your walls with ferroplasmic microbes. The spartan punk roots are apparent from the screeching buzzsaw rhythm and meandering, snapping vocal lines, but the hostile black metal cloud hovering around it would make a plague rat gangrify from the inside out. Plenty of latter-day (read: actually good) Darkthrone is muddled in, roiled with a surprising touch of humming keyboards for tangy relief underneath all that fuzz, though it only breaks the surface of the mire in “Nuclear Horses”, the most ominous spit on display.
In actual songwriting terms, the play here is steady crunching chords and squeals that evaporate on exposure to oxygen. The woozy intro to halftime track “Criminal Betrayers” seems to gasp for life, like the record’s blood pressure tanked out from a rent jugular. All the while, that John Carpenter synth hangs over like lambent swamp gas, the kind of otherworldly touch to the grimy and the brutal that spawns the most chilling tall tales. Time to acknowledge the elephant in the room: With a band from Portland this laser-focused on images of mud and grime, I should probably be on high alert for them all to have trust-funds, right?
Best for when: you decide to move from living in a dumpster by the go-kart track to living in a dumpster by the gator farm.
Alright, now let’s all stop and count to ten.