Heavy Chat // Boston’s NIHIL and the Next Wave of Hardcore

Welcome to another Heavy Chat, and today we’re going to take things into hardcore territory. Contributors Jimmy Mullett and Spencer Snitil had a little gab about a Boston hardcore band we covered a while ago called Nihil, who are set to release their debut album Foundation in November. So without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Jimmy: Spencer—you’ve listened to this more than I have; what are your thoughts on Foundation, and Nihil in general?

Spencer: It’s hard to discuss albums where I really don’t know how else to say “It’s goddamn great” other than using that phrase. It’s been a small battle for me because I premiered a music video for them a few weeks back. It’s the perfect evolution of hardcore music in my eyes. It’s also effectively split in two parts, with the first half the harder, faster version of the band while the latter half is the slower, more atmospheric / weight-bearing part.

Jimmy: That’s a pretty interesting take there, with the album being split like that. I can’t say I feel the same way—I personally find it to be pretty fast and brutal all the way through—but I can sort of see where you’re coming from, with the track “Godrot” and the spoken word phrasing and all. How do you see this as an evolution of hardcore, by the way?

Spencer: Well I mean just listen to it. Hardcore used to be sort of separated into 2 different types: “tough guy” and “emotional guy”. Like, Hatebreed is the tough guy hardcore band, always sounding pissed off, angry at everything, etc. Then you have a band like Converge, who’s less angry and more heartbroken, emotionally distraught. Over time, we’ve seen far more of the latter group then the former begin to emerge, particularly over the last 4 years with the massive success of All We Love We Leave Behind. It’s become more of a way to make a statement about loss and heartbreak and pain rather than making a statement about how much they hate everyone

Jimmy: That’s true. To be fair, there are still a good amount of those tough guy acts going on—God knows I’ve covered them enough with No Heroes in New England—but there has been a neat little explosion of those Converge-y type of bands. Throwers’s debut album was a great example of hardcore fans bringing new perspective to what Converge has been doing, as were Église way back at the beginning of the year. So, are you saying that Nihil is part of this latter category? Or do you think they completely shake off either of those descriptions?

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Spencer: I think it’d be a bit unfair to say they shake off either description because they’re simply embracing the Converge-y type of emotionally charged hardcore and adding their own tinge to it with some subtle black metal influences and stuff. Not essentially in the vocals or the absurd amount of blastbeats or anything, but rather in some of the guitar melodies and stuff. They also seem to channel a lot of groove into their music, especially on the songs “Enslaved” and “Unending”

Jimmy: Completely agreed on that groove. Seriously, I feel the need to headbang straight from the beginning track “The Third Death.” It’s funny that you mentioned those other genre influences, though; I couldn’t help but think how clean this album sounded musically. Like, with a band like Trap Them (whose new album Crown Feral is amazing, while we’re at it), you hear a lot more going on than just hardcore—there are bits of grindcore and other genres that the band’s influenced by. But in Foundation, it’s much more of a fusion of hardcore punk and metal; it’s metalcore/hardcore in its purest form, in a way. This isn’t to put it on a special pedestal in terms of quality, but rather just a commentary on the sound. Take Converge, for example: you can hear, arguably, noise rock and other genres, despite them playing hardcore music. Here, though, it sounds different; it sounds, again, purer. At least to me, that is.

Spencer: Yes I feel the same. It’s not “pure” hardcore in the sense that it retains all of the facets limited exclusively to the genre, but in the sense that it sounds complete and like a combination of the various genre shifts it has seen over the last 30+ years, from bands like Black Flag to present.

Jimmy: Exactly! When it comes to the first punk bands to truly be considered “hardcore,” like Bad Brains and Black Flag, and seeing how it’s evolved, I can see what you’re getting at with that comment at the beginning of this conversation. I find the minutiae of sounds the band is able to bring in to this album too, while still staying metal. For instance, did you notice how melodic a lot of the guitar parts in the track “Foundation” are? It’s interesting to see how nice it dovetails with the rest of the album. Sometimes adding melodic material can feel out of place, but Nihil does a pretty good job with it. Which, for a band just coming out with their debut, that’s pretty fucking impressive, in my opinion.

Spencer: I agree one-hundred percent. This debut is extremely well crafted and bodes well for the band in the foreseeable future. I’m excited to hear what they release next

Jimmy: Do you think there’s anything lacking in Foundation? Obviously, no album is perfect. And don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this album, to the point that it’ll probably end up on my AOTY list for 2016, but there are some issues I can hear in it. I think the spoken word parts are cool, but perhaps a bit too lengthy for a hardcore album.

Spencer: I don’t really like slowed-down hardcore too much. Like I get that they want to create a mood, but it sort of takes away from the album’s momentum towards the end. As I said before, it’s like the album splits in half after track 5. I like an album to punch me in the face, let me rest, and then kick my ass more. While it’s a great debut, they need to refine a bit to achieve that “potential AOTY” status from m.

Jimmy: Great way to describe that hardcore sound! What do you think about the slower hardcore moments that Converge does? I have to agree with you, that slower isn’t as much fun, but there are some bands, like Converge, that manage to do some slow-tempo stuff really well. For example, “Twitching of the Auras” from the new Trap Them album has some excellent moments that, while not throwing punches at you musically, still has an impressive ominousness.

Spencer: Exactly. There has to be something other than “Ok, we’re gonna make this song a slower song to give the listener a breather”. There has to be thought behind it, something that can tie it together with the faster songs or the more emotionally heavy songs and make the listener want to continue to listen to it instead of skipping over it. My play count on tracks 1-5 is almost 10 times more than 5-9 because they didn’t exactly grab me with the slower stuff.

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Jimmy: Hm. That’s a good point. When you say that Nihil needs to “refine a bit”, what exactly does that mean to you? Is it exercising more control over those slower parts or something more than that? When it comes to songwriting for me, I feel like they do a great job, considering how green they still are at this stage.

Spencer: Oh yes I agree that they’re excellent songwriters. I just mean that they need to find a way to make the slower moments just as powerful as the faster ones. I mean, like you said, do you think they’ve been able to do so as well as some veterans have? The likely answer is no, but that’s simply because they’re so new. Do you think they’ll be able to have an easy time doing this?

Jimmy: I think it’s a distinct possibility. I don’t know if you’ve looked into the band’s material beyond Foundation, but there are tracks like “Gears” that they have been working on since their inception, so they’ve had time to work out the kinks on those tracks, so to speak. In the future, I think if they cut some more fat from tracks that are slower, it would do a great deal of good. It’s not that the second half of the album is bad, but there’s a way for those slower moments to hit harder, like you said before, and I think that comes from making your songs tighter. It’s like how writers say: you’ve got to kill your darlings.

Spencer: Exactly. It’s like artists always say: You have your whole life to write your first record, and only a limited amount of time to write your next. I’m sure that they’ll be able to use their experiences to their advantage and write a masterpiece. In fact, I’d bet on it. Wouldn’t you?

Jimmy: Without a doubt! I usually don’t see work this high quality in newer bands, so I feel like the only direction these guys can go is up, as long as they play their cards right. With that said, you have any last words about Nihil and Foundation?

Spencer: This album is a good Foundation for the rest of their career. Pun intended.

Jimmy: Nice.

Foundation is out November 5. Preorder/listen to it here.

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