Like it or not, Code Orange‘s Forever (2017) is one of the most influential albums of recent years. The record’s unprecedented mixture of hardcore, industrial and ’90s alt rock was bolstered by an impressive marketing campaign, garnered a Grammy nomination and drew seemingly universal praise from everywhere but here. Within twelve months of Forever‘s release, albums emerged from new and established hardcore acts, such as Jesus Piece and Harms Way (respectively), which boasted a distinctly industrial tinge where none was found before before.
In the midst of Forever‘s aftermath also arrived Manchester’s Leeched, with their EP Nothing Will Grow From the Rotten Ground in late 2017 and first full-length, You Took the Sun When You Left (2018) following the next year. Although the band’s oppressive and pneumatic riffing still drew comparisons to Godflesh, Leeched stood apart from Forever‘s followers by sticking to a more traditional hardcore template, with the devastation they wrought on the record thoroughly dwarfing their competitors as a result. The band’s sophomore effort, To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse, however, unfortunately sees them succumbed to Code Orange’s influence, with the results rendered all the less sharp for it.
The influence Forever has had on To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse is not a subtle one. Opener “The Hound’s Jaw” begins with a “Forever”-style voice over, before immediately assaulting the listener with a flurry of spiky staccato riffing and ill-fitting electronic samples, with second track, “The Grey Tide”, following suit. The industrial assault of these two opening tracks arguably has more in common with Full of Hell, or even Car Bomb, than Harms Way and, in isolation, perhaps speak more to the extreme influences upon Leeched’s sounds than they implytrend-hopping. Lead single “Earth and Ash”, likewise, suggested Leeched would continue more or less in the vein of their debut, and that the rest of the record is absent of all but the slightest industrial influences further suggests its opening barrage is more an afterthought than an evolution.
The foregrounding of Forever’s influence leaves the rest of To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse feeling incredbily disjointed. The the tacked-on feel of the first two tracks is accentuated by its third offering, “I, Flatline”, whose slow build-up feels as much like a natural beginning as a hard reset, with the progression to later offerings “Let Me Die”, “Burn With Me” and “Black Sun Ceremony”, which lean into the band’s established Godflesh-like stomp, likewise, coming across more natural. Its possible that “The Hound’s Jaw” and “The Grey Tide” might have worked better had they followed, rather than preceded, such a progression. As it stands, however, the album feels like it has been forcibly reshaped in order to fit a new mould, with much of its intrinsic appeal buried beneath the zeitgeist.
It’s not quite cut and dry to say “Code Orange have fucked up hardcore”. Yet, while Forever has done far more than any recent hardcore release to elevate the genre, both critically and commercially, its influence also appears to have done far more to stilt than inspire its musical development. Despite its often simplified reputation, hardcore is a deceptively dense genre which thrives on experimentation and diversity. So far, however, none of the industrialised acts that have emerged in Forever‘s wake have really done anything with the formula outside of imitation (with the possible exception of Vein, who feel like they’re pulling more from nu metal and drum and bass than industrial anyway). The same is sadly true of Leeched. Although inoffensive in themselves, “The Hound’s Jaw” and “The Grey Tide” appear out-of-place, as though they were included out of obligation more than inspiration.
Without its industrial additions, To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse would have perhaps been greeted as simply more of the same. Even so, it would have also felt more genuine. Although hardly groundbreaking, Leeched excel at their most excessively aggressive, with the particular concoction of pummeling brutality they laid down on their debut so far unmatched by their peers. As trend-hopping experimentalists, however, the band’s sound is less bolstered than it is diminished.
To Dull the Blades of Your Abuse is out now via Prosthetic Records.