Review: Paint It BlackFamine

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A decade on from their last record—the blistering Invisible EP from 2013—East-coast stalwarts Paint It Black return with Famine, a record that tries to bottle 10 years of agitation, anxiety and anger into a 16-minute firestorm of lean, biting hardcore. It’s a much more patient record than before, but it would maybe give the wrong impression to call it “mature”; the music from Paint It Black is still just as fiery and angry as it was 20 years ago, just more measured and controlled.

This relative change of pace has been brewing since 2008—the year of their last full-length New Lexicon. The landscape of hardcore and its offshoot genres has changed massively. The culture is more detached, thinly spread and atomized. Elements of hardcore are absorbed into rage, trap, hyperpop and a thousand other subcultures. Politically, no one can look outside and think we’re in a better place than we were 15 years ago. Perhaps as a result, in the 2010s grindcore and powerviolence records received the sort of contemporaneous critical acclaim that just wasn’t common before. Things got heavier, disjointed, and spread-out. That Paint It Black return so focused, pinpointing on a specific, more dynamic sound, is a testament to their legacy.

Title track “Famine” begins the record by bolting into life with barked vocals and bass-heavy instrumentation. It’s as emblematic an opener as you could ask for: a concise design document for the entirely of the record, highlighted with a slick call-and-response vocal section.

“Dominion” is filled with pressure, launching into sections of palm-muted double-time only to air out and find space in a second half musical break. A breakdown with very subtle electronic pummels the track to a close. Lyrically dealing with dogma and faith, “Dominion” is also musically one of the most suffocating tracks on the record. From my own experiences, it elucidates the sort of insecure, restless mindset that lingers in many people coming from Catholic families—a simultaneous kind of fear, reticence and defiance that takes root.

“They say fear is where your faith begins,
But fear is the only thing I have faith in.
On your knees, you’d say anything to save your skin,
I’d shout ‘fire in the hole’ and pull the fucking pin.”

“Safe” is the sparsest song on Famine, a track where the bands’ Ceremony connection and influence becomes most clear. Underpinned by a chunky and angular bassline, “Safe” is reminiscent of a lot of hardcore that came out in the immediate wake of Rohnert Park—complete with ostinato guitar that swells to a explosive power chord crescendo. While far from poor, it’s probably the least distinct track on the record, largely due to its pacing which mostly just highlights familiar hardcore timbres.

This is followed by “Exploitation Period”, which is relatively similar in writing, but is so much more dynamic and strong. Beginning with a starkly minimal pairing of a picked bassline with maybe the angriest vocal performance on the entire record, the track is immediately distinct. A mostly atmospheric backdrop of subtle electronics and sampled vocals fizz with distortion in the distance; the track then bursts to life with an apocalyptic shriek of a guitar slide, kicking into the sort of end-of-days, drudgery hardcore that reminds me of the more sludgy Integrity or Ringworm tracks.

Still reeling, you’re then hit by the shortest track on the record, the blistering “Serf City, USA.” It incorporates an understated beatdown hardcore influence, gang vocals and a riotous rhythm section, resulting in it being a comparatively short but massive delight of a track.

“The Unreasonable Silence” is the most dynamically written track on the record, with the most moving parts operating—sweeping lead guitar that builds texture transitioning to palm-muted chugging that leaves space for more clarity in the call-and-response vocals and rhythm section. Its structure reminds me a little of their track “Sacred” from the 2009 EP Surrender, and the one-two punch of “Serf City, USA” and “The Unreasonable Silence” sketches a loose history of the band, with the former evoking the sound of 2003’s CVA and the latter evoking the sound of their later EPs.

“Namesake” manages to be continually aggressive and punishing without feeling plodding or meandering. It’s rhythmically dynamite, and probably the biggest highlight on the record to me. It sounds gargantuan but doesn’t feel disjointed in the track listing; rather, it feels like a culmination of a decade of pent-up agitation being spat between the gnashing of teeth. Closing track “City Of The Dead” feels like an addendum, more cinematic in scope but equally crushing, featuring my favourite drum performance on the record.

Famine isn’t the record Paint It Black needed to make. There’s no shortage of bands in the scene who come back without spark, without fire and without direction, pumping out return records to increasingly dimmed fanfare. Famine is as good a hardcore record you’ll hear this year: ferocious, catchy and necessary. 

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Famine is out now from Revelation Records

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