Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, where we like to think of life as one big stage dive through a parting crowd. Sure, you may permanently disfigure yourself in pursuit of passing nirvana, but at least you put yourself out there, right? That’s also kind of what this month has felt like to a lot of us here on staff; a solemn slog through endless stress and terror, attempting to dodge major breakdowns and navigate big life changes in search of some momentary peace among this surreal hellworld we inhabit.
Speaking of breakdowns, at least we always have a steady stream of those to chew on and get ourselves through times like these. Because god help me, if I open my phone to one more app telling me to register to vote or high school acquaintance I forgot to unfriend pounding phrases like “Dictator Dump” or “vote blue no matter who” directly into my corneas, I will commit fission and split my own atoms with enough force to do Laura Jane proud and sink Florida into the gulf.
Now then, back to the music. Here’s the cream of September’s crop:
– Calder Dougherty
The Wall of Death
Fawn Limbs – Sleeper Vessels
With their monumental debut LP Harm Remissions and follow-up EP Their Holes Aroused by the Splinters Carved From Their Teeth barely out of regular rotations, Fawn Limbs return with another deluge of absolutely unhinged mathgrind to quiet our collective brain worms. The Pennsylvania trio have been nothing if not prolific, churning out four EPs and two LPs in the span of two full calendar years. Sophomore album Sleeper Vessels immediately stands out among these releases with polished luster; a crown of bismuth atop piles of rough, uncut gems.
It is denser, heavier, slicker, and far more well rounded in both composition and style compared to prior releases not even yet a year old. Seeds of these ideas were explored on Their Holes…, using Eeli Helin’s extended range guitars to build atmosphere between punishing off-kilter salvos, however frail and ominous. This approach threads directly into Vessels, which feeds off the atonal dissonance of the upper range to act as both a conduit for its downtuned pummeling and a buffer to mix electro breakbeats and glitches into the manic fold.
While always lavishly jarring, Fawn Limbs have gone a step further and beefed up their low end and production on this release, with every syncopated blast and snarl of Helin’s guitar biting like a feral beast. “Corruption Aperture” leads the pack as the most purely solidified vision of this bigger sound, showcasing all their new tricks with vicious panache. The threat of spiraling is ever present on Vessels, as is their uncanny ability to write around the chaos they create. Tracks like “Haul These Bodies and Haul Them Aloof” and “Photovoltaic Hum” capture the menace and dread in very different ways, exploring both the space between the dissonance and how it fractures and sublimates.
Sleeper Vessels is an instant classic among the greater mathcore pantheon, and will be warmly embraced by supplicants of Ion Dissonance, Frontierer, Xythlia, and the later works of War From A Harlots Mouth. If you’re experiencing the same amount of neural fog as the rest of us these days, let this album be the electrified hammer you use to pound your brain into submission.
– Calder Dougherty
Svalbard – When I Die, Will I Get Better?
If you don’t know Svalbard by now, I cannot impress how much you’re fucking up. The UK outfit have easily become one of the most respected bands in the scene, pioneering a powerful brand of blackened post-hardcore with a clear feminist, antifascist message. It is poignant and necessary and brilliant, and When I Die, Will I Get Better? may very well be their best effort yet.
There is not a single second of this record that isn’t emotionally gripping or melodically haunting. Svalbard have that unique ability to write music that is both mournful and optimistic, triumphant in its own melancholy. This album in particular is dialed in with precision, dripping with atmospheric lamentation as the drums gallop ahead with fervor to carry Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan’s dual howls. It is the equivalent of having your best friend grab you by the arms and plead with you, teary-eyed; their pain becoming a palpable, transferable thing, and you weep together with resolve to fight another day.
I’d recommend a single track, but the whole album is truly a standout performance. Svalbard deserve your undivided attention, musically and lyrically. Give this a listen right now. And then another one. And then reflect on what you’ve felt and learned by doing so.
– Calder Dougherty
Rot – …As One
Twin Cities newcomers Rot have come out of the gate swinging with one of the most convincing front-to-back hardcore records of the year. Clocking in at just 26 minutes, …As One has no time to pull any punches and gets right to the meat of their message. Touching on themes of mental health, social equity, US imperialism in Central America, and the touchstone hardcore classic — betrayal — Rot present a clear argument about who they are and what they stand for.
While each track blisters with Incendiary grit, there is a pensive, melodic thread woven throughout that fans of Counterparts will find kindred. This extra care given in the songwriting process produces a surprising amount of depth and replayability given its very straightforward approach. If you’re looking for some solid no frills hardcore to jam, look no further.
– Calder Dougherty
Hawser – All Is Forgiven
German hardcore heavyweights Hawser are here to bring the hurt on their third full length, All Is Forgiven. One of the most supreme displays of fight riffing all year, the record’s first few tracks are wall to wall mayhem, including a cred-defining feature from Aaron Heard of Jesus Piece on crossover pit-blaster “Bury the Hatchet”. But right when you’re ready for more mosh, Hawser toss a huge curveball. Not content being insanely proficient at what they do, get ready for a slow, progressive, doomy intro to “Oorlogsmoe” before being dropped into a bucket of lo-fi chillstep as an ice bath for your aching muscles in preparation for the back half.
All Is Forgiven is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect hardcore record. It’s exciting, dynamic, well-written, and most of all, just makes you want to heave your body like a bowling ball into a crowd of unsuspecting pin-people at the edge of the pit. The mosh is truly primal with this one. Get into it.
– Calder Dougherty
Clown Core – Van
OH boy. How does one even begin to describe Clown Core. Helmed by prolific comedic cyber-jazz-funk artist Louis Cole and saxophonist partner Sam Gendel of Knower, Clown Core are a duo made infamous by appearing in shorts on Adult Swim over the past few years — usually in a port-a-potty, wearing jumpsuits and budget Slipknot clown masks. This material covered their first album, aptly titled Toilet. Following this trend, you can assume where Van was filmed and recorded.
Over the course of a series of shorts, Clown Core treat us to another deadpan cacophony of soft jazz and deafening industrial grindcore as passengers of a moving 90s Toyota Previa as it travels through neighborhoods, the car wash, and a McDonald’s drive-thru. It is unlike almost anything you’ve probably heard before, and it is also one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my life. There is something about gravity blasts giving way to sax solos that makes my soul feel a little lighter, a little more complete. Van is equal parts abrasive, pants-shitting madness and smooth jazz clownery; it also complete musical and comedic gold. You can find the link to their Bandcamp below, but I’d definitely suggest taking a tour through the videos on their YouTube as well.
– Calder Dougherty
ZEIT – Zeit
Do you like your hardcore unrelenting, abrasive, and above all – chaotic? The new self-titled album from Italian four-piece ZEIT might be just the ticket. Dropping on the 24th, Zeit quickly propelled itself into my favourite –core releases of September with its pummeling blend of creative, noodly, distorted guitar work comparable to a The Fall of Troy, mixed with the sheer violence of You Fail Me era-Converge. This is a frantic album that moves by at a frantic pace, with the majority of the ten tracks running under two and a half minutes. It’s like a calculated heist that bangs that doors down, makes a huge bloody mess, then leaves with the job done before anyone’s really aware of what just happened.
Despite being mostly one-dimensional, the mid-range vocals channel the furious energy of the instrumentation outwardly with strong emotional impact. The production is perfectly fitting to allow the technicality of the guitar-work to shine and be prominent without drowning out the breakneck drum work and pained screams of the vocalist. The only real reprieve on this album is the minute and a half instrumental “Love Psalm” mid-way through which serves to break the album into two acts. My favourite track on this album comes in that second act in the form of “The Piss.” The lead guitar-work is really on display here in dazzling fashion, while honing in more to a sound that I could best describe as fun? Almost with an Every Time I Die blend of care-free enthusiasm. This bleeds into the following track “Object” where one captivating lead lick is prominently on display for most of the song, stretched and squeezed to the varying tempos that the song calls for. Truly one of the standout chaotic hardcore/mathcore releases of the year so far, Zeit deserves your attention and I guarantee it will keep it.
– Trent Bos
Combative Post – Whiteout
Atmosphere isn’t necessarily something hardcore punk and its offshoots are known for. South Korea also isn’t remotely close to the first country I think of when thinking of hardcore punk, but here we are. Back from a seven-year hiatus since their debut, Combative Post are here to flip the script on your expectations from the genre with their blackened, atmospheric take on the genre. The post-metal influences became obvious after learning that lead guitarist/songwriter Ilwoo Lee is more known for his highly acclaimed experimental post-rock group Jambinai. Combative Post really speaks to his diverse talent as a song-writer to be able to nail two distinctly different genres so well.
The melodic, atmospheric elements serve to elevate the surprisingly heavy and truly mosh-worthy hardcore riffs when they kick in. And boy do they kick in. The chugs are well timed, but infrequent enough to feel like a serious payoff in contrast to the more upbeat punk and powerviolence influenced sections. “Hate Speech” and “By Yourself” really exemplify this with their smooth transition from breakneck speeds to slow, punishing heaviness. Whiteout also benefits from three guest vocal features which add a bit of diversity to the semi-monotonous hardcore punk styled delivery. Oh and did I mention the gang vocals? There really is a special charm to a well executed gang vocal section, and the album closer “The Identity” has one of the better ones I’ve heard in years. Combative Post have given us just an all-round really fun and engaging hardcore album, and I hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for the next one.
– Trent Bos
EYES – Underperformer
Underperformer is the vicious debut full-length from Danish metalcore/metallic hardcore group EYES. Comprising members of newer sludgy heavyweights and blog favourites LLNN and Hexis, EYES boast an impressive resume. Here we see them transferring that sludgy heaviness to a more spastic, blackened crust-fused metalcore approach to great results. This album has a contagious energy, as most of it has an up-beat punk energy occasionally broken up by punishing breakdowns and even more frantic blast-beats – both on display on “Surf”. Victor Kaas’ wickedly evil, mid-00s Jacob Bannon-channeling blackened vocal work is one of the standouts on this release for me, and I love how prominent it is in the mix. They even blend into a more southern-tinged shouted singing style at times which I found welcoming.
That sheer anger of the vocal work mixed with the frequently mathcore leaning instrumentation is what really drew me to this album though. It’s not as hyper-complex and fretboard-spanning as a Frontierer, but it dips into some of the myspace origins of the genre of early Norma Jean and Botch-type discordant chords. This proto-metalcore/metallic hardcore/whatever you want to call it breed of youthful extreme music is certainly seeing of comeback of late, and EYES are a powerful new force in this scene worth keeping an eye on.
– Trent Bos
The Circle Pit
Rogue – Aeon (progressive metalcore, djent)
Fit For A King – The Path (metalcore)
Babirusa – Humanoid (brutal technical deathcore)
Ancst – Summits of Despondency (blackened hardcore, crust)
The Hell – Joris (A Hardcore Opera), Pt. 1 (comedic metalcore)
Dropdead – Dropdead 2020 (crust, powerviolence)
Horsewhip – Laid to Waste (chaotic hardcore, crust)
Bloodbather – Silence / Void / Disappear (metalcore revival, deathcore)
Movements – No Good Left To Give (post-hardcore)
Last Penance – Last Penance (metalcore)