There was so much good broad spectrum -core that came out in May, it was difficult to try and cover it all. So we didn’t. Sorry folks. Check the Circle Pit for links to the releases that definitely deserved a write-up but didn’t quite make the cut. And hey, in case we haven’t said it in a while: we love you, and thanks for being here. Now go mosh in your bedroom like a good little RttC reader and practice for when shows come back.
The Wall of Death
Alluvial – Sarcoma (progressive deathcore)
Led by prolific guitarist Wes Hauch (The Faceless, Glass Casket, Black Crown Initiate), Alluvial’s sophomore album blows the doors off the long-saturated proggy tech-deathcore sound with veteran panache. Not unsurprisingly, many of the runs carry a very Autotheism-era tone, hitting that sweet spot between emotive polished shred and ominous alien doom. That’s where the comparison ends however, as Hauch and crew barrel through dizzying passages of snarling death metal riffs and off-time salvos to leave the moshers wiped and no head unbanged.
Sarcoma is a beautiful, malicious sprawl of virtuosity and venom with huge crossover appeal. The solos are suspenseful and tasteful, the vocals brutal, anthemic, and clear, and the drums huge and punchy. In fact, this may be one of the best-produced metal records of the year, allowing all the fine details to shine through as much as the bone-crunching heaviness. This isn’t a one-note release either; tracks like “Exponent” and finale “Anodyne” are masterclasses in deathcore songwriting while “40 Stories” showcases Hauch’s eerie baritone singing and penchant for deranged jazz progressions.
With this release, Alluvial put themselves in the running to join the pantheon of deathcore greats like Fit For An Autopsy, Thy Art Is Murder, and The Contortionist. Sarcoma can sit comfortably on the shelf next to those bands’ opuses anyday, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not having hit play on it already.
Vorvaň – Awakened (sludgy stonercore)
I remember Vorvaň’s debut Once Love Was Lost (2016) (has it really been that long?!) clearly showing promise, but also being swallowed up among all the other Nails-esque artists that dominated the extreme hardcore scene at the time. In the five years since that album’s release, hardcore has more than moved on from the hyper-aggressive, crust-drenched sound, with many of those bands (including Nails themselves) falling by the wayside. Rather than render themselves johnny come latelyest of johnny come latelys, Vorvaň have used the extensive interim to hash out their own distict identity to truly develop their sound, returning with an album that takes liberally from the reigning titans of stoner metal and blends it with some of the most rabid and enjoyable hardcore going round.
Things start out fairly straightforward, if somewhat gruffer than expected. Early highlight “Paths We Have Strayed From” is pure Converge, bringing to mind the more aggressive moments of All We Love We Leave Behind (2012) and The Dusk in Us (2017). Then “Niebo” comes along with its rollicking Kvelertak-style hard rock sensibilities, and all bets are off. By far the best song on the album is the brilliantly titled “Superscum,” which is built around a pummelling, bouncy riff, reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age’s “Millionaire,” that builds to a rollicking Kvelertak-esque heavy metal climax, by way of High on Fire at their most bludgeoning. Once the High on Fire-isms start coming they don’t stop coming, the latter half of Awakened leaving behind the frantic hardcore of its earlier tracks for something akin to Mastodon going crust.
Another highlight, “Stalemate” blends Leviathan-era Mastodon riffing with wirey hardcore riffs, building to a surprisingly Chimaira-esque, rampaging fade out at the end, before the Converge-isms return for “The Greatest Threat,” which climaxes in a blistering display of abrasive melodeath. If I have one criticism of Awakened it’s not even that it’s too long, just that “The Greatest Threat” is such an cathartic and climactic sounding song, that it seems strange when it’s all over and the record still continues, the more straightforward tracks that follow perhaps being better deployed earlier in the running order. Ah, but then there’s the actual album-ender, “Anhalter Bahnhof,” a mournful, nine-minute epic that erupts into almost blackened chaos at the end and proves Vorvaň are every bit as apt at challenging emotional devastation as well as physical.
Don’t get it twisted, this album is fucking incredible. If this was the new Converge or Mastodon albums, people would be losing their goddamn minds. As it is, this album has gone largely overlooked, by myself included. Vorvaň’s name didn’t trigger any recognition for me when it was first posted in our release day thread, but I won’t be making that mistake again. 2021 has already been a year for hardcore, but this is the one to beat, and it’s going to take something pretty special to dethrone it.
Kaonashi – Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (mathcore, prog post-hardcore)
Kaonashi are one of those bands where you’ll probably either love them or want to turn it off, with little in between. Vocalist Peter Rono’s distinct high-pitched babbling vocals can be… jarring. At least at first, they’re definitely a grower, so if you are immediately turned off I would advise to at least give it a couple of goes. The new semi-conceptual full-length Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year is an excellent follow-up to their 2018 debut Why Did You Do it? They’ve improved on all aspects of their sound, and evolved into a more well-rounded and technically proficient package. What I originally took as just another sassy trend-following metalcore band has grown into the Americanized, modern, more youthful SikTh that I didn’t know I needed. A band that’s musically eclectic for modern metalcore, with hard-hitting relevant lyrics to anyone in their 20s-early 30s. With the technical proficiency of some of the best of mathcore, and the carefree obnoxiousness of old-school names like The Blood Brothers, Kaonashi are a force to be reckoned with.
Their riffs are fun and catchy, yet surprisingly complex and just as heavy as they need to be when the time is right. It’s a really strong balance between off-kilter dissonance, with a distinguished sense of melody and an appropriate use of contrast. As mentioned, the vocals feel intentionally over-dramatic similar to Tallah, yet come off genuine and endearing in almost a nostalgic way. Each song tells a story of sorts from the vocalists perspective and experiences in post-secondary education, and the song writing follows a similar structure. The instrumentation does an impressive job of flowing with the lyrics and vocal delivery to match the intensity and range of emotions as needed. Whether it be the distressed “sorry I missed your call!” mimicked by some frantic panic chords, to the atmospheric and progressive “if you love me, please let me know…” on “Broad Street”, showing off their very The Contortionist inspired clean vocals and “maturity”.
These flowing cohesive arcs make for very few feelings of repetitiveness, a refreshing badge for metalcore in general. There’s some touches of swancore (math rock meets post-hardcore) influenced guitarwork such as on the single “An Evening of Moving Pictures with Scooter Corkle” doing justice to them landing an opener spot on the upcoming Hail the Sun tour. Production wise, it has a very clean modern sound that definitely leans into those swancore influences and is a bit atypical compared to their sass-core contemporaries. However, with the complexity of their writing and the range of different guitar styles on display, this more crisp approach feels needed to truly get the most out of their sound. Kaonashi are simply one of the best new metalcore bands out there, bringing a fun, energetic fusion of old and new wrapped in colourful and vibrant packaging.
Dead Heat – World at War (hardcore, crossover thrash)
Whatever they are putting in the water out there in Southern California must be something because that area just keeps pumping out band after band. Not just any bands, but ones that people should take note of. Bands such as Sunami, Gulch, Retaliate and Drain are all ones that have made a huge splash in the scene and Dead Heat are no exception. The band has done their time putting out a handful of EP’s and a split but now they are ready to show us what they are capable of with a full length out on Triple B Records. At its “core” it is hardcore but the band definitely dip into thrashy riffs that bring to mind bands like Power Trip, Enforced and fellow Californians, Drain. Drain’s album from last year quickly rose to the top of my EOTY list and this has surpassed that in the number of listens being out for only a couple of weeks. It has a catchiness to it and I love the “swagger” of it. The difference between the two bands is that Drain are just pure energy with huge Slayer riffs while Dead Heat have a presence about them and offer a lot more variety. The album is sequenced really well in that the first half is just pure crossover thrash while the second half is more experimental and delves into a sound akin to 90’s metalcore a la someone like fellow Californians, Strife. They do this perfectly with the aptly placed intermission that almost feels like a lost Metallica track.
This record has been in constant rotation for me and is just a fun record that gets you energized to literally take on the world. My favorite track has to be “Age of DH” which has this almost ritualistic chanting in it where I can just picture pile up galore happening. I cannot recommend this record enough if you are a fan of any of the NUMEROUS bands I have mentioned. I can’t wait for them to tour and come to the east coast.
Caliban – Zeitgeister (metalcore)
German metalcore heavyweights Caliban are back with their twelfth studio album and don’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Zeitgeister hits every benchmark you’d hope to hear on a modern metalcore record, from pseudo-djent grooves to overdriven melodic choruses and spine-snapping breakdowns. Caliban have one thing that most bands don’t, however: over twenty years experience in the scene. Their veteranship shows, crafting each track with precision and an edge that most younger acts hope to one day capture.
Years of experience and a willingness to adapt their sound to prevailing trends in the space have crowned Caliban as one of the most versatile and brutal acts still active from the OG metalcore days. Barnburners like “Nichts ist für immer” are the only proof you need that the quintet from Essen are still on top of their game, fusing traditional European melodeath synth effects with modern core anthemics. Zeitgeister in its entirety is an absolute bullseye, and I can’t wait to hear their thirteenth album if they continue being this damn good so late in their career.
Deadlights – The Uncanny Valley (post-hardcore, melodic metalcore)
Deadlights are a band I used to catch live a lot, supporting Polaris when they were first coming up. While it was clear from those shows that Polaris were destined for greater things, the word I kept coming back to with Deadlights was always “potential.” Similarly, their debut record Mesma (2017) showcased a band brimming with ideas, but with little idea of how to effectively implement them. The two standalone singles they released in the lead-up to this second effort, “Bathed in Venom” and “Sugarcoated Psychosis” (2019), however, each evidenced a more refined, and noticeably heavier sound, and I’m happy to say that The Uncanny Valley more than capitalises on that promise.
What’s most striking about the Uncanny Valley, other than its super-tight songwriting, is just how much more metal it is than Deadlights’ debut. Gone are the comparisons to c-tier melodic hardcore acts. The Uncanny Valley sits far more comfortably alongside modern metalcore acts like Architects, Underoath, Norma Jean and even Bleed from Within. One of my main complaints about Deadlights’ earlier material was how overused and often ill-fitting guitarist Tynan Reibelt’s clean vocals were. Thankfully, they are more efficiently deployed here, accentuating songs, rather than overwhelming them, while allowing the quality of the music itself, along with the compelling charisma of harsh vocalist Dylan Davidson to lead the charge. Likewise, a lot of the overt “look-at-me!” proggisms of Mesma (as represented by its cover), have been scaled back in favour of far more intelligent and integrated progressive textures and foregrounding some seriously hefty beatdowns.
2021 continues to be a year of welcome musical surprises, and The Uncanny Valley is among the best of them.
Vexed – Culling Culture (metalcore, djent)
Do you long for the sort of djent that isn’t sterile and emotionless? Or at least when the emotion wasn’t purely from virtuosic guitar solos? When it felt impassioned and dare I say, angry? The UK and European scenes have long been the progenitors of this, going way back to the likes of Fellsilent, Heart of a Coward and many of the tech-metal bands on Basick Records. With a growing return of the more aggressive, metallic side of metalcore in general, newcomers to the UK scene Vexed have brought that same energy into the djent-sphere with a self-assuredness that you rarely find on a debut album. Sure bands like Humanity’s Last Breath are still delivering some of the heaviest metal out there, but not many are bringing that anger to the more progressive metalcore side. Vexed came out of nowhere for me this month, and instantly rocketed themselves into the top of my metalcore/djent list of 2021 with their explosive debut Culling Culture on the emerging Napalm Records label.
From the get go, the sub 1-minute intro is an ambient build into a juggernaut of a groove and a “BLEGH”. Okay then. This smoothly transitions into the second track and a single they’ve made a music video for “Hideous” where things really get going. They craft these simple yet really engaging bouncy riffs that are driven by vocalist Megan Targett’s vicious delivery. And perfectly timed, she erupts into powerful clean vocalled melodies. Her style and the manner they’re worked into the writing is a bit Mask of Judas (another very underrated band).
In a vacuum, Vexed are perhaps at their strongest when their technically proficient lead guitar melodies are at the forefront such as the Erra meets Spiritbox sounding “Purity”. A fitting name as it feels like a sunbeam breaking through the clouds of all of the wrath expressed across the album. As good as this track is, the strength of this album is its unpredictability, as the more groove and breakdown focused tracks do a good job of giving you a quick punch in the mouth to keep you from getting too comfortable.
Pledge – Haunted Visions (post-hardcore, hardcore punk)
Pledge play a brand of raw, emotionally honest post-hardcore that draws from the blackened, noisier and more bleak sides of what is a very diverse genre. Think bands like Birds in Row and Svalbard, mixed with some Touche Amore, At The Drive-In and a hint of screamo. Yeah, their sound is a bit hard to nail down. Not that it’s incredibly unique, but more just that it noticeably seems to take influences from a wide variety of sources and it works for them. Vocalist Sofia M.L is certainly the most distinguishable aspect of this Portugese five-piece, as her very wearing-her-heart-on-her-sleeve emotionally charged screams and occasionally clean-sung melodies are certainly the core part of their sound. You can feel the weight of those emotions in her pained delivery that feels incredibly earnest. While it’s not necessarily a polished sound, they work that raw edge to their advantage.
Instrumentally, they at times lean towards a more approachable darker indie rock territory of bands like late-era Brand New and La Dispute, but then they’ll hammer it back on with panic chords and more chaotic hardcore riffs. It’s an effective play-off of varying forms of brooding moodiness all working together. Standout tracks like “Wrong Planet Syndrome” bring a bit of everything that I like about the album into one track, so it’s probably a decent test track if you want a sampler
Darko – Darko (deathcore)
Deathcore often rightfully so gets lumped into the “all the bands sound the same” critique, so when a new band comes out that sounds genuinely refreshing, they’re kind of a unicorn and the kind of band that’s worth the hype. Darko (often stylized as Darko US), the new child of deathcore veteran’s Tom Barber (vocalist of Chelsea Grin) and Josh Miller of Emmure (on both guitar and drums) are one of such bands. Following suit from fellow heavy-newcomers Brand of Sacrifice, Darko bring some hyper-percussive groove oriented deathcore with nu-metal and industrial influences. Melody is generally an after-thought here, opting for maximum bounce and eerie atmospheres augmented by squealing industrial synth tones and Tom’s absolutely wicked vocal delivery.
The debut self-titled full length is a pretty straight-forward affair, only really straying from their formula for a few softer moments like the surprising ballad “Donna” where Tom shows off some of his clean-vocal range and a more post-hardcore scream. A stacked cast of guest features such as Courtney LaPlante (Spiritbox, ex-IWABO) and Ben Duerr (Shadow of Intent) also provide some additional contrast and Tom’s ability to work off both of them is impressive. While these reprieves are nice and well executed, I don’t find them totally necessary. The punchy deathcore is all I really want from this band. It’s perfect, simple workout and lifting music and I don’t need anything else from it. Don’t go into this expecting some technical or artistic tour de force and you’ll have a good time.
Love is Red – Darkness is Waiting (melodic hardcore, hardcore punk, metalcore)
17 years is a long time and a lot can happen. Especially in the music scene and in hardcore. The term hardcore these days covers a lot more as can be seen in this column. Are you relevant anymore? Do you still believe in the same ideals? If you were to ask Nashville hardcore act, Love is Red, then the answer would be a resounding yes! They haven’t missed a beat and I love the message of the band about overcoming adversity and crawling out of the darkness. Drawing comparisons to such acts as Comeback Kid and With Honor, they are great at towing the line between punk and hardcore and is the type of band I would recommend to someone getting into the scene. The energy is palpable and they inject a great sense of community in their songs with shouty vocals coupled with gang vocals. This is not a complicated EP but that’s not the point. This is meant to get you moving and motivated and they do just that. They even went so far as to arrange a massive comeback show with other artists including Terror and Comeback Kid among many others.
Militarie Gun – All Roads Lead to the Gun (melodic hardcore, post-punk, alt rock)
Many people may be familiar with Ian Shelton’s other work in bands such as Regional Justice Center (who released an incredible record this year) and Self Defense Family. Unlike those two bands who range from powerviolence to alternative and emo, Militarie Gun align themselves more along the lines of melodic hardcore while mixing in elements of post punk and alt rock. The closest band that comes to mind would be Fugazi, but the band also offer a lot more in terms of melody in contrast with Ian’s shouted vocals that brings to mind a band like Fucked Up. This EP flies by at only 9 minutes but it is infectious and brings you back time and time again.
This is the first of a two part EP series, with the second to follow in September and I cannot wait. This is definitely my favorite EP of this year so far and is a great entry point into the hardcore scene.
Sentinel – Sense of Dread (NWOBHM, punk, hardcore)
I love bands that blur the lines of music and can’t be packaged into a neat little box. Sentinel is one of those bands. If you are into Venom, Motorhead and Bastard then this is for you. The band is also a supergroup of sorts with members from M.A.D., Mindforce, Restraining Order and Age of Apocalypse. If that all doesn’t get you pumped then I don’t know what to tell you. Ace of M.A.D. is the madman (and frontman) behind the band and he does a great job of once again taking you on a journey that is just pure fun. I had the pleasure of speaking to him briefly and made the comment that I truly enjoy that both of his bands are “hardcore-adjacent” but aren’t directly on the nose, giving them a lot of room to experiment with different sounds and potential tours, if they are all able to get together with them being all over the map and in other active bands. I truly hope I am able to catch them at least once because this record is great.
Tooth and Claw – Dream of Ascension (hardcore, death metal, metalcore)
For my last entry this month I am leaving you with one of my most anticipated records in a while. It hits all the right notes but fell a TINY bit short of repeat plays for me than Dead Heat so that’s why it didn’t end up as my album of choice for The Wall of Death. Why is it my most anticipated? Well, it is a who’s who of musicians from various acts that are pivotal to my love of hardcore. To call this a supergroup is an understatement. This is SUPERGROUP consisting of members of Earth Crisis, Undying, Catharsis, Sect, Die Young and Magnitude. The first thing you will notice if you listen to Earth Crisis, is Scott Crouse’s very distinct groove oriented guitarwork. As the primary songwriter and person who produced the record, it works really well in bringing an early 90’s metallic hardcore sound but also injecting elements of death metal and even thrash. I think a good reference point for this record is early Integrity and Sepultura records (whom Earth Crisis draw heavily from). The reason I really love this record is that it is so diverse with each song sounding unique but a sound that is them at the same time. I find myself picking a new song and then saying it’s my favorite every time I listen and I have listened to it a lot! I truly hope I can catch these guys if they ever decide to tour. It would be insane!
The Circle Pit
Belvedere – Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense (skate punk, post-hardcore)
Crown Magnetar – The Codex of Flesh (tech-deathcore)
The Devil Wears Prada – ZII (metalcore)
The Ember, The Ash – Fixation (blackened hardcore)
Ends of Sanity – Ends of Sanity (hardcore)
Galleons – Galleons (post-hardcore, nu-prog)
Honey – Forever Fire (crossover thrash)
Imprisoned – Nerve (metallic hardcore)
Mental Cruelty – A Hill To Die Upon (deathcore)
MouthBreather – I’m Sorry Mr. Salesman (mathcore, grindcore)
No Light Escapes – The Purity of Grief (metalcore, deathcore)
Osiah – Loss (progressive deathcore)
Out of Hand – Exility (crossover, hardcore)