Hardcore is a genre that sure does love its throwbacks. Be it from the East Coast kids now trying to emulate that classic West Coast powerviolence sound to just about everyone everywhere trying to get that NYHC sound, hardcore is largely caught up in the past. And why not? Infest and Man is the Bastard were aggressive on a level previously unseen in extreme music, so it was always obvious it would leave its mark. NYHC, likewise, was always bound to be influential as acts like Cro-Mags and Madball introduced a new, previously unseen affection for grooves into their music. Both of these styles were new and exciting, pushing where hardcore could go beyond just the classic “loud and fast”.
Those sounds, while new at the time, pretty quickly became standard fair however. Hardcore bands far and wide figured out what worked for those bands reaching peak popularity and were quick to follow. Soon those sounds went from new and exciting to “how many bands can steal Madball’s riffs at this American Legion show?” Fast forward a good ten or so years and it seems that pattern hasn’t done much in the ways of change. Hardcore bands everywhere still emulate the mid-tempo, occasionally fast into groovy breakdown of the NYHC sound, pretty much doing all they can to beat that dead horse to a pulp.
Regardless, some bands manage to find that sweet spot where they can emulate their heroes while still introducing some sort of new energy into the music. Unfortunately, it does not seem that Shadow of Doubt is one of those bands, nor is there debut, No Mercy, much more beyond your standard NYHC-in-2017-emulator fare. Truly the gang’s all here on this one, be it from the overly forced gang vocals to the mid-tempo “grooves” to those ever so (lovably) cheesy mosh calls. And, fortunately for those digging into this EP, one does not need to look any further than track two, “No Mercy.”
In a way it’s fitting that the titular track offer such a neat summary of the EP as a whole. From it’s start anyone even remotely well versed in hardcore can tell exactly where this track is going. It starts, much to no one’s surprise, with a thrash riff that feels lifted straight from a late 80’s NYHC record, just unfortunately with none of its energy. However, it’s easy enough to forgive the Shadow of Doubt for that, as many bands are guilty of it. Where it becomes much more difficult to forgive them is when it immediately launches into the mid-tempo groove riff that just about everybody was expecting. Which, in its own right, also isn’t a huge crime. Punk music, and especially hardcore music, after all, is often built more so on energy and personal grime added rather than extreme stylistic deviations. Shadow of Doubt, however, offers little to no personal marks on the riffs they are lifting, instead making the songs chug along just slowly enough to really drag out the fact that they love NYHC and want you to know it.
Where things gets particularly ugly, however, is when “No Mercy” is over and the listener is left with the daunting task of approaching the following two tracks, “Neglect” and “Fade”. Initially, “Neglect” honestly seems somewhat promising. It enters with a slightly more melodic, spacious guitar lead that is reminiscent of 100 Demons, a fact that is promising in of its self because at least the band is pulling from somewhere other than NYHC. However whatever hope someone can gain from that is quickly dashed as the lyrics enter, presenting the song as essentially a “but I’m a nice guy” anthem. Shadow of Doubt is not done there though. No in fact they instead choose to extend the cringe beyond the lyrics, overshadowing the decent structure of the song up to that point with a litany of poorly strung out and shoe horned breakdowns. As soon as each hits the overall cheesiness of the songs, and the overall EP, really starts to sink in. Suddenly you aren’t just listening to another NYHC rip off band, but instead a grown man in a basketball jersey somewhere seemingly hell bent on crowd killing the smallest girl you can find in the crowd. The whole thing reeks of classic hardcore toxic-masculinity, unfortunately obscuring any fun that can be gleaned from the otherwise generic riffs. “Fade” follows a near identical trajectory, meaning it’s pretty easy to assume you can “Neglect” that track if you aren’t digging the vibe as well.
All of the above also helps to tie together No Mercy‘s overall issues well. On a surface level it is simply yet another in a long line of NYHC rip-off hardcore bands, offering nothing particularly new musically. Which in of itself can still be fun, provided the band brings some sort of personalization to claim it as their own. Unfortunately in terms of Shadow of Doubt, that “personalization” comes in the form of standard fair hardcore hyper machismo. It makes the entire release feel more sluggish, as it reflects less on actual personal struggle and more on “there’s gonna be a fucking siiiiiiiick breakdown here, bro!” The entire attitude makes it hard to focus on what could otherwise be a fun release. It kills the vibe of worshipping your heroes in kind of a fun setting to conjuring mental images of the Nike Air Maxes sure to be swinging in windmill kicks around your face. Shadow of Doubt had so much potential to create a loving tribute to their heroes, but instead fell into the classic hardcore trap of puffing out their chests.
*Side Note – Can we get some better mosh calls than just “MOTHER FUCKER!!!!” too? Like at least throw in a shout out to your city there or something, would it kill somebody to yell “SAN ANTONIO MOTHER FUCKER!!!!!”
No Mercy is available 6/2 via War Records and can be pre-ordered here.