Nothing pithy or pissy this month. The world continues to burn, but we’re getting through it one riff at a time. Happy holidays from ours to yours! Stay safe out there and mosh responsibly.
– Calder Dougherty
The Wall of Death
Focusrights – Ew, Music!
I don’t want to blame it squarely on quarantine brain, but this has been a landmark year for completely disgusting, unhinged, off-the-wall mathcore. I thought I’d already heard all I needed to with releases from Xythlia, Clown Core, ZILF, The Sound That Ends Creation and the like. Boy was I wrong. Holy shit was I wrong. Couldn’t have been more wrongerer. Sore,y brain broke..- !
With Ew, Music!, Focusrights have submitted for our approval the best aural lobotomizing this year has to offer. I imagine this is what spit-shining your brain with acid feels like – lysergic, hydrochloric, or otherwise. Probably both if I had to make a guess. Have you ever heard a bree through a didgeridoo? Do you need a quick uncomfy Aphex Twin moment? Even amidst the machine gun panic and literal hooting, tracks like “Next Level Cheating Whore” feature beautiful vocal melodies, which immediately give way to distorted 808 noise and lunatic gurgling on “Deathbed Gift”. “999” is perhaps my favorite track, which seems to be an actual song they wrote and sped up about 10x so it’s just fast forwarded noise. This album left me at a complete loss for words, so please do yourself a favor and set aside 15 dedicated minutes to meditate on the chaos Focusrights have birthed for us.
Palm Reader – Sleepless
Sleepless just goes to show how much of a transitional record 2018’s Braille really was. With their third record, Palm Reader added a layer of melodic and atmospheric post-hardcore to their sound; with their fourth release, the Nottingham quartet have absolutely grown into their new direction – the quality of their output absolutely exploding alongside their newfound mastery.
Tracks like “Hold/Release” and “Stay Down” still hit as hard as anything from the band’s earlier, more chaotic years, but it’s the more atmospheric sections where Sleepless truly shines. The run from album-highlight “Ending Cycle” through “Willow” and “A Bird and its Feathers” is truly breathtaking, while later tracks like “False Thirst” and monumental closer “Both Ends of the Rope” ensure that the record stays compelling throughout.
The album is dense with emotion, resulting in a record far heavier and more affecting than anything that the Palm Reader who made the also masterful Besides the Ones We Love (2015) or their early Dillinger Escape Plan-aping peers could have managed. Yet, rather than the soulful mathcore of later DEP, Palm Reader’s evolution has more closely followed that of slightly smaller genre titans Norma Jean. While Sleepless might not match up to 2016’s Polar Similar (little does), it’s more than a match for acclaimed records like last-year’s All Hail, for which it feels like a lighter, although no-less devastating companion.
For so long, Palm Reader have been lovable underdogs among the hardcore scene; with Sleepless they’ve set a standard few, if any of their peers are likely to match.
Senserase – Oros
Spanning mathcore, djent, and progressive deathcore, Senserase’s Oros is my nominee for biggest surprise of November, and one of the bigger ones of the year. Emerging seemingly out of nowhere, the Greek mathcore five-piece has just 2 short EPs released prior to this, and the new album has had relatively little promotion and fanfare. Despite being undeniably “djenty” at times, there’s a mathiness at the heart of this that’s seldom heard in the sub-genre outside of Meshuggah. Even the straight chugs have this triumphant nature to them that just feels big. “The Hunt” has an outro full of down-tuned bends that would fit on After the Burial’s Rareform. It’s certainly not every day you find a genuinely unique and refreshing band in the djent scene, so this was a highly rewarding internet-sleuthing find.
But that’s enough about djent. Structurally and compositionally, this is definitely a mathcore album. The riffs dance around between hyper-technicality and dissonant polyrhythmic grooves and you rarely have a sense of knowing where the song is taking you. Spiced in are some more stretched out prog metal bridges, and a few Cynic-like vocoder vocal sections. While not necessarily a standout, the harsh vocals do a fine job at accenting the complex instrumentation. Often they seem to pace rhythmically with the percussion in a way Jens Kidman or Archspire have mastered. Yet, they’re used sparingly enough to not be overbearing or distracting from the brilliant compositions.
For me it’s the death metal elements that really make Oros stand out. “Ape” for instance is borderline a tech death track. Those heavier tendencies are where some Car Bomb comparisons can also be made, though it’s definitely not as experimental with tone. All tied together with solid production that above all makes the guitar-work shine, Senserase are a name you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with if you’re a fan of anything born out of math-metal and grooves.
ELFENSJóN – STYX
I want to take a moment to celebrate a musical sphere that rarely ever gets the critical attention and praise it deserves – the world of super hype, j-pop-infused progressive metalcore you hear over shounen anime title sequences. If you’ve ever delved into the wide world of anime, you’ve come across at least a few bangers you wish never ended. Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas is a perennial classic; “Just Awake” as Hunter x Hunter’s closing anthem is a kaleidoscopic, hard-riffing trip through post-Myspace synthcore. Hell, the entire Dragonball franchise soundtrack has been built on power metal and j-core since the ‘90s.
ELFENSJóN are one of the latest, and best, purveyors of this specific brand of prog. While drawing riff inspiration from modern greats like Periphery, Tesseract, and Dragonforce, the comparisons stop right there. STYX is grandiose, heart-wrenching, and inspirational in ways those bands could never dream of being. From teardrop pianos that would make Joe Hisaishi cry to weeping guitar solos, djenty anime sprinters, and huge ragtime numbers that would make BTBAM quit, this album is legitimately one of the best pieces of progressive metal I’ve heard in years. I’m fairly convinced ELFENSJóN have found a way to bottle magic itself and they’re keeping the secret for themselves. That’s fine with me, as long as they keep releasing music like this forever.
Fuming Mouth – Beyond the Tomb
THEY’RE BACK, BABY! Hot off 2019’s monumental LP The Grand Descent, Fuming Mouth are here with a quick little 3-track EP to put 2020 in the dirt where it belongs. Beyond the Tomb is still dripping with every bit of smoky, knuckledragging death-touched hardcore you know and love, but this time with a little more clarity and vision via legendary producer Kurt Ballou.
It’s massive, moody, brutal, and entirely too short. Then again, I’m a ravenous Fuming Mouth fanperson and just want all the new music all the time, so take that with a grain of salt. They’ve done no wrong so far, and Beyond the Tomb is just another stop on their sludgy way to the top. Quit reading and get to the riffs already, idiot.
Pteroglyph – Solaire
Do you miss the good old days when you could catch legendary acts like Meshuggah, Gojira, Strapping Young Lad, or Killswitch Engage together on tour and they were actually, you know, good? Leeds natives Pteroglyph are the band you watch while pushing your way to the front for those headliners, inadvertently fall in love with, and relinquish your hard-earned spot on the barricade to go buy a shirt from.
Solaire is tight, epic, syncopated mayhem start to finish, with both a big hat tip to its predecessors and a swagger all its own. If you’ve never been swept up in the irresistible, sweaty whirlwind of a pit born from plastic beer cup projectiles at a House of Blues, you are missing a distinct charm to this brand of old school progressive metalcore, but you’ll find yourself headbanging along in the comforts of your own home just the same.
Post Truth – Responses to Trauma
Post Truth aren’t a band I’d heard about before this release, but they’re definitely one I’ll be keeping my eye on after it. Responses to Trauma, the Newcastle (Australia) quartet’s full-length debut, reminds me of Converge, if they brought in a lot of the sludgier, post-metal elements they’ve been playing around with over their last couple of records into the mix a lot earlier and really ran with it (the beginning of “Vile Carbon”, for instance, sounds like the start of “Last Light” mixed with Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” or Slayer’s “Seasons in the Abyss”). The band also reminds me a lot of Cave In at their sludgiest, although they lean far more toward the Old Man Gloom side of things. There are also some tasty black metal textures in there as well – see the high-pitched tremolo riffing on “The Slowest March” and “Vile Carbon” or the blast-laden cascades of “Dirt Under my Nails” – as though Darkthrone took the whole blackened crust punk thing in an entirely different direction.
There’s still a lot of tightening up to be done but, as far as laying a foundation goes, Responses to Trauma is as solid as any and far more intriguing than the majority of new hardcore to hit the scene in 2020. Keep an ear out for these guys, there are bigger things rumbling under the surface of this already impressive release.
Eleanora – MERE
Sonic amalgams are what I am really enjoying this year. For someone who is constantly underwhelmed and driven to near-acedia like I am with straight-down-the-middle renditions of my favourite metal genres, a band like Belgium’s Eleanora are a breath of frosty, floral air. A dire hardcore foundation? Check. Cathartic and severe builds? Check. A knife-edge screamo sensibility? Check.
There’s an energising balance throughout MERE, between throttling blackened hardcore numbers like opener “Amos” and more dirge-y post-metal numbers like instrumental, “Samaria”. It’s an effective dichotomy and it casts your mind to a live setting in the future (please) where the former track acts as a crowd-jostler and the latter track acts as a palate cleansing interlude equipped with incense and billowing dry ice. This dichotomy continues throughout the record and provides an accessibility to it that is very refreshing. Plus, it’s not as if the two sonic poles don’t interact or bounce off of one another at all, they absolutely do, the more meditative, wandering-the-earth-forever sections providing a platform from which the blistering crescendos can leap from, like Coastlands by way of Svalbard.
Not only that but it feels as if these sections share a lot of the same musical keys and intervals, making the whole thing flow wonderfully. The final function of this dichotomy is in preparing us for Eleanora to bring all their tools together in the 8-minute closer “Mere”, which is a pretty dazzling display of all that MERE offers stylistically with ruthless hardcore heft to begin with, flowing into narrow, shimmering post-metal and even chucking in some frostbitten black metal tremolo picking to boot.
SOUL GLO – Songs to Yeet at the Sun
The wonderfully named Songs to Yeet at the Sun is the latest EP offering from politically charged Philly hardcore punk/screamo group SOUL GLO. Songs provides a continuation of the aggressively relevant punk they’ve come to be known for, while flexing their range with a solid trap/east-coast hip-hop banger “2k, featuring Archangel” sprinkled in the middle of the EP. In a month where a certain political figure in the US sought to repeatedly invalidate the voices and votes of Philadephia’s urban population that was integral to swinging the state of Pennsylvania, SOUL GLO show that those voices are more relevant and needed than ever in the hardcore scene. A scene that has pushed empowerment and “fighting back” needs groups composed of BIPOC like them to push the boundaries of contemporary hardcore punk lyricism beyond the problems of white men.
If you’re new to the band, the vocalist’s abrasive nature may take getting used to. Their frantic, screamed delivery is frequently at a breakneck hip-hop-like pace, spitting bars of passionate truth over these really bass-heavy almost powerviolence-adjacent riffs. Inter-spliced with downtempo hardcore-punk grooves that have an old-school sense to them, Songs To Yeet at the Sun is an engaging and memorable little 5 track addition to their discography.
Thotcrime – ønyøurcømputer
For another Philly jawn (I think I’m using that term right) let’s don our Myspace-era bright neon band T’s and throw on the debut album from Thotcrime, ønyøurcømputer. A swirling cacophony of sassy mathcore and frenzied cybergrind, Thotcrime are an act to keep an eye on in this burgeoning scenecore/whitebelt revival taking place. The album does a good job of skirting the lines of the aforementioned styles to incorporate multiple elements seamlessly. There’s something of a zany, youthful joviality that should appease fans of I Set My Friends On Fire and iwrestledabearonce, with a strong sense of technicality and song-writing that feels anything but amateur.
In true grind fashion, none of ønyøurcømputer’s 11 tracks pass the two-minute length barrier. Musically, the grind elements are enhanced by glitchy breaks and digitized drumming that works brilliantly with everything else going on here. Despite all the genre throwbacks present, this album is very much born out of the here and now. It screams “2020” in all of the ways that 2020 could make you scream, but in a way that only people who spend way too much time on the internet could truly understand. Fittingly coined “cybergrind fuckcore” – the dazzling guitar-work, killer electronic and production elements, and Mara’s emotionally charged vocal delivery feel honest and authentic to the spirit of this style with its own modern twist.
Windchimes – Enervation
Sneaking this in as Oct. 30th releases didn’t get a chance on our last drop, and Windchimes deserves more attention. The debut EP (6 tracks spanning 28 minutes) Enervation is what you get when a metalcore group expands their taste into the realm of black metal. Over the course of the album the songs structurally bounce back and forth between heavy down-tuned breakdowns with brutal low growls, headbang-worthy up-tempo riffs, and blast-beat laden black metal sections with more mid-range shrieks. Beyond just the allure of their novel take on the genre, there are a number of cleverly written riffs throughout that warrant revisiting. These bring a dash of some of the more technical or progressive sides of metalcore which mesh uniquely with black metal.
Fittingly, the whole album is encompassed by an aura of bleak darkness. This is brought out by eerie clean sections such as the intro to “Succumb To”, the general evilness of the vocal delivery, and the bleak atmospheric black metal moments. While a few times the transitions are a bit jarring, the experimental take at fusing metalcore and black metal is refreshing and welcome and I’m highly curious how they can further refine and master this sound moving forward.
The Circle Pit
Refused – The Malignant Fire (hardcore punk, alt-rock)
Snooze – Still (math rock, post-hardcore)
Within The Ruins – Black Heart (math metal, technical deathcore)