Anyone who followed metalcore in the mid-to-late-2000s and early 2010s (e.g. me) remembers the movement of bands who declared in unison “we’ve heard some extreme metal and want to be like Converge and Entombed.” Whether their persuasion lied with the black metal, sludge or elsewhere, the key for bands who succeeded (Gaza, Trap Them, etc.) and struggled (take your pick) was pacing and restraint. Too often bands of the “-core” realm are content throttling their listeners from start to finish, save for a brief intro and some interludes along the way. Don’t get me wrong – I like d-beats and savage riffs just like the next guy. But virtually no genre can succeed without dynamics; hell, even Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer know exactly when to dial down the grind and hammer home some mid-paced bludgeoning. After all, heaviness works when there’s something to juxtapose it against.
With a solid EP to their name and the backing of juggernaut label Art as Catharsis, Bridge Burner have emerged from the darkest depths of New Zealand to broadcast punishing reverberations of sinister, masterful blackened hardcore. Not only is Null Apostle an exercise in dynamic songwriting and unrelenting heaviness, it’s also the best “-core” release of the year by a wide margin. There’s a lot of elements at play here, all of which the quartet leverages to their benefit for a punishing experience across several tempos, styles and moods. Seriously, feel free to stop reading and put the album on at any time; I won’t be offended.
There’s no overstating how important opening tracks are for the flow of an album. “The Blood Easily Follows” easily joins the lofty halls of metalcore album openers alongside gems like “Concubine” and “Fucking Viva.” Though typically present just to set the tone and trigger adrenaline, “The Blood Easily Follows” excels in its own right with a Hexis-esque formula of endless tension. From the get-go, the production on Gary Brown’s thick, resonant bass and Cam Sinclair’s punctuating drums are immaculate, solidified by Ben C. Read’s piercing vocals and finally a thunderous crash of guitars from Josh Hughes. The band unfurls the track meticulously, with plenty of rining dissonance, slowly building double kicks and morbid background riffs along the way. It’s such a perfectly savage track, and listeners might find themselves wanting more of this style by the time the final chord rings out.
That desire is quickly quelled as “The Blood Never Lies” introduces the rotting cornucopia of talents Bridge Burner have at their disposal. An opening segment comprised of blasts, syncopated cymbal smashes and subtly blackened riffs illuminates the band’s Gorguts influences, with the perfect amount of complexity allowing the passage to be fleshed out beyond simple brutality while also remaining a truly crushing introduction to the meat of the album’s music. After some pummeling d-beats stoke the perfect balance between pit-fodder and great songwriting, Read and Hughes perform a blackened duet with a chaotic BM mood hanging in the atmosphere as Sinclair rolls double kicks to maintain propulsion.
From here on, the intricate songwriting helps the album remain engaging from start to finish on every track. Bouncing death metal riffs à la Succumb break into panic chords and blasts on “Keehauler,” while “Illness and Loathing” uses the studio to create an explosive start-stop dynamic centered around a simple but potent chord progression. “Cultfather” is perhaps the best at this management of sounds, as the band stirs some noise before the storm and proceeds to catapult into a full-on romp, complete with the fastest blasts on the record and the closest the band gets to full on dissonant BM. The track closes without the need of an enormous riff or breakdown, instead relying on the sinister mood conjured by this blackened air to provide a perfect launching pad for “Howling Beneath the Earth.” It’s a slow, moody track that echoes the moodier tracks on No Heroes and Axe to Fall, albeit with more of a dark, suspenseful air.
The track is so enthralling that you barely notice its place an introduction to the title track. again, just like with “The Blood Easily Follows,” Bridge Burner leverages intros and interludes as an opportunity to craft intriguing songs that stand strong themselves, rather than simply relying on them as placeholders and moments of brief respite. And as a result, the title track closes the album out with a powerful recap of all that came before. Plenty of morose melodies hang over the track’s pummeling chugs, all while Sinclair tries out some shuffling, unique drum patterns that accent the proceedings nicely. The punishing noise and heaviness stay their welcome for a perfect amount of time, forgoing the trope of the overly long outro that often haunts young metalcore bands.
The one minor downside lies with the album’s guest vocalists, with Jelena Goluza (Outright) appearing on “Keelhauler” and Tali Williams (Human Resource, DIAL) guesting on “Cultfathers.” Neither of these vocalists are bad by any means, and their individual performances are unique from each other and especially from Read. Yet, one of the main thing that sets Bridge Burner apart on Null Apostle is how well Read’s highs and lows fit within the band’s “-core” elements while also remaining distinct from the style’s standard vocal fair. Both Goluza and Williams, while talented, feel a bit to tied to hardcore norms, and their presence on these two tracks feels a slightly out of place as a result; not enough to derail the tracks, but still noticeable.
This is obviously a minor complaint, and it’s difficult to knock a band with a critique that doesn’t involve any members of the band. Null Apostle is one of those debuts that simply blows away anything listeners could have even begun to expect when going in for their first listen. Even after multiple spins, there’s no shortage of highlights that level the listener with a marriage of finesse and savagery that’s rarely performed to this level of quality within the band’s genre niche (or the larger genre tree, for that matter). That’s not to say blackened “-core” is struggling; Respire and Svalbard have both unleashed have both delivered excellent records in their own ways over the last couple weeks. It’s for this reason that Bridge Burner’s debut is as impressive as it is. Marrying extreme metal aesthetics and the heart of metalcore isn’t the novel combo it once was, but it can still lead to some exceptional fusions that synthesize the best of both genres. Null Apostle is just that: an expertly crafted and executed take on a myriad of styles that results in both an essential listen for the year and a launching pad for the band that’s wound up and ready to propel the band into the heights of the genre’s upper echelon.
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Null Apostle is out now via the always excellent Art as Catharsis. You can purchase the album digitally from the band’s Bandcamp.