Welcome back, friend. It’s been a hell of a month for mosh enjoyers like us. We have been absolutely drowning in killer releases, so much so that even through our combined efforts, we could only cover a fraction of what you need to be listening to. Mea culpa. We are but simpleminded slaves to the rhythm of the pit and any coherent ramblings hereafter are simply coincidence. Let’s fucking go!
The Wall of Death
Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (progressive metalcore)
Finally. There have been tons of long-awaited or highly-anticipated albums dropping recently, but Vancouver’s Spiritbox take the cake. Eternal Blue, their first full-length album, comes five full years after the band’s inception in 2016. Surviving off an impressive debut EP and a handful of monumental singles, their star has been firmly on the rise in that time. Helmed by husband and wife duo Courtney LaPlante and Mike Stringer (formerly of iwrestledabearonce), the band was seeing major critical acclaim even before the album’s release. Just this year, the group performed for the Grammy Museum and booked a tour directly supporting Limp Bizkit, which was expectedly abandoned due to COVID. At the time of writing of this, Eternal Blue has topped the Rock and Hard Rock charts, with top showings in other metrics by an eyebrow-raising debut at #13 on the Billboard 200 behind acts like Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo. The only question left is: does it actually live up to the massive hype?
Yes. Irrefutably, unquestionably, yes.
As far as I’m concerned, the sound Spiritbox has cultivated (alongside the recent direction of Bring Me The Horizon) is the future of alternative music. Huge, angular, bouncy riffs snarling over gorgeous atmospherics and Courtney’s silken post-Paramore croon that Mr. Hyde’s into an incredibly nuanced, vicious scream at the drop of a hat are the cornerstones of Eternal Blue‘s incredible showing. Album opener “Sun Killer” has all of this in spades, building progressively towards a dramatic third act breakdown that sets the tone for the rest of the record. The Slipknot-inspired second track and final single “Hurt You” sounds ready-made for a wrestling intro, and its successor “Yellowjacket” boasts the only feature on the record by none other than Sam Carter of Architects. Pretty solid pedigree right out of the gate.
There isn’t a single track that can’t stand on its own. Eternal Blue, on the whole, feels like a cultural reset for all the djent-adjacent -core and alt-metal that’s been in vogue for years by simply perfecting it. Spiritbox have clearly stated, “You must be this good to be relevant anymore, and I dare you to try.” It’s incredible how accessible the music feels while still being very firmly rooted in Meshuggah worship. This is the type of album that converts young fans just starting to test the metal waters — which, if you are invested in and care about the future of our little pet genre, you should be celebrating.
I was absolutely boggled by Eternal Blue‘s release day reception, with other metal blog pundits and armchair Twitter critics decrying it for being boring, one-note, just more of the same, etcetera ad nauseam. I’m not sure what these particular people were expecting, considering the band dropped five singles painting a pretty comprehensive picture of what the album would sound like, but I’m praying for (read: blocking) them. Let’s not forget “Holy Roller”, the album’s lead single, was voted the best song of 2020 on Sirius XM Liquid Metal, and continues to hit just as hard as when it was released over a year ago. Even with that, it’s title track “Eternal Blue” and singles “Secret Garden” and “Constance” that leave the most lasting impressions. Courtney’s vocals are heartrending, especially in the face of such lyrical content.
I could wax poetic about this album all day, but suffice to say, Eternal Blue is an instant AOTY contender. I would be shocked if it isn’t eventually considered a landmark in metal history given its ubiquity and crossover appeal. If you still haven’t somehow given it a chance yet, it’s time to hop on the hype train. All aboard!
Mastiff – Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth (sludgecore)
Mastiff make caustic, rumbling sludgecore that, to my ears, is essentially the extreme metal equivalent of the phrase “it’s grim up north”, a now often bandied around phrase in England. The phrase’s origin is ultimately unknown, although one origin story concerns author and playwright JB Priestley, who wrote an account of his travels around north-east England, entitled English Journey. Charting the pre-welfare state landscape of decaying industry and derelict shipyards, Priestly described Gateshead as “carefully planned by an enemy of the human race”, and Jarrow as imbued with “thick air heavy with enforced idleness, poverty and misery”. Some sixty years later, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (most commonly known as The KLF) released industrial techno banger “It’s Grim Up North”, a frankly bizarre and—as we stand in the year 2021—surreal track that lists the names of Northern English towns to a rigid beat and atmospheric soundscape. Somewhat unbelievably the track peaked at #10 on the UK Singles Chart, and it was described by one-half of the duo Jimmy Cauty, as “so heavy it will just pin you to the floor”, which funnily enough, you could also say about Mastiff, whose hometown of Hull in East Yorkshire incidentally features on “It’s Grim Up North”.
Their third record Leave Me The Ashes Of The Earth is rough and ragged northern spirit in sonic form, and as a fellow northerner, I’m all here for it. Previous outing, 2019’s Plague could also belong in that same camp, however LMTAOTE is better crafted and more successfully reined in to grind you down with its sodden tones and unsettling atmosphere. Opener “The Hiss” is an example of this atmosphere. One of several moments throughout the album that brings in a blackened influence with its creaking chord progression, as if you’re trapped in a haunted mansion that is slowly disintegrating. Before you can blink, “Fail” brings the grind that clotheslines you flat on your back.
The most promising aspect of Mastiff is that they’re able to meld fairly disparate sub-genres of metal into one unitary slab. The base of their sound is sludge and hardcore, but they have no issues slowing right down for doom-style breakdowns that bring to mind a Xibalba or The Acacia Strain. The hazy and almost arcane black metal stylings are creeping into Mastiff’s palette more on this record, like the aforementioned “The Hiss”, but also on closer “Lung Rust” where icy harmonised guitars tickle the back of your throat before the whole thing is shredded by static. There’s even a pig squeal on the breakneck “Midnight Creeper”. Petition to get an “arf arf” on the next album?
The best thing yet is that I know Mastiff can further enhance their particularly wretched blend of metal styles. I can foresee sections segueing into the next with even more ease and double the face-spitting antagonism. That’s what I’m predicting is next for Mastiff, and if they can improve on the song craft, production and transitions that they’ve pulled off in the jump from Plague to LMTAOTE, I have no reason to believe they can’t do it again.
One Step Closer – This Place You Know (melodic hardcore)
‘Right time, right place’ the old saying goes. In essence, luck. If there is such a band that falls into this category, it’s One Step Closer. Their career has been shaped by a series of fortunate acquaintances and opportunities, the first of which started with a show in Boston, which was attended by Pat Flynn of Have Heart/Fiddlehead and Sam of Triple B Records that would secure them a record deal. Along with the signing, Pat Flynn was so impressed with them, he asked them to open for the Have Heart reunion shows.
Luck is a fantastic thing, but it will only get you so far. After the reunion shows, One Step Closer continued to impress people with their incredible stage presence and musicality, all based on their own merit.
The band continued their success streak by signing to Boston-based label Run For Cover, releasing a two song promo in 2020 which included a cover of the Turning Point song “Broken”. Signing to a label known primarily for releasing emo and indie rock was a risk, but also not a huge stretch; the Wilkes-Barre based group has the ability to perfectly balance aggression and melody. Bands like One Step Closer and Turnstile continue to push the narrative on what constitutes hardcore, and the fact that they could play a show with The Story So Far one night and Terror the next speaks volumes to how incredibly diverse they are.
Fast-forward to 2021 and their new record, This Place You Know, is here and continues their balance of hardcore and emo. They aren’t reinventing the wheel, but perfectly capture the emotionally and lyrically driven melodic hardcore of bands like Verse, Turning Point, Have Heart and Defeater.
The success of this record is based on a couple factors, the first of which is how dynamic in sound it is. The transitions from explosive hardcore with Ryan Savitski’s shouted vocals to beautiful melodic sections including the use of clean vocals are phenomenal. This contrast works perfectly while simultaneously acting like a release of tension. The aggression is removed altogether on the song “Hereafter”; the beautifully sung vocals coupled with a piano are just breathtaking and a major standout on the record.
The second successful ingredient is lyricism. This style of melodic hardcore tends to be very poetic lyrically and Savitski does just that. If you are looking for a positive and uplifting album, you might want to look elsewhere, as this record deals with a lot of dark personal topics: feelings of being alone, depression and personal loss. All things that everyone can relate to, giving the connection between music and lyrics more impact.
One Step Closer is the perfect recipe for success bringing back a sound that has laid dormant for nearly a decade. This, coupled with great music talent and the support of some heavy hitters in the scene, should lead them to nothing but great things with far more than luck on their side.
Employed to Serve – Conquering (metallic hardcore)
Even amidst a discography as impressive as theirs, there’s little doubt Conquering is Employed to Serve‘s best record. The album blends the best of their three already-outstanding previous records, combining the utter viciousness of 2015’s Greyer than You Remember with the sludgy experimentation of 2017’s The Warmth of a Dying Sun and the hard-hitting groove of 2019’s Eternal Forward Motion to create what I genuinely believe will go down in history as an undisputed classic of modern metal(core).
Founding members Justine Jones (vocals) and Sammy Urwin (guitar) are as ferocious as ever, with Urwin taking up a more prominent vocal role as well. However, it might just be new drummer Casey McHale (Breather, ex-Funeral For a Friend) who provides the magic ingredients that elevate Conquering above Employed to Serve’s previous records. McHale consistently lays down beats reminiscent of Vein.fm drummer Matt Wood and the late Joey Jordison which bring their own flavour and personality to the record, rather than simply backing up the guitars. McHale also helps pull the album’s ecclectic sound together, which runs the gamut from nu-hardcore ragers, crossover thrash, NOLA-inspired sludge and Helmet-esque alt rock, often all in the space of a single song.
Employed to Serve aren’t necessarily doing anything new with Conquering but they’re certainly doing more of it, while also doing it all better than anyone else – including themselves – have done it before.
Eidola – The Architect (progressive post-hardcore)
Spiritbox wasn’t the only success for Rise Records this September, as Eidola have exploded across the post-hardcore and prog scene with their fourth full length The Architect. Eidola are arguably the most “mature” of the swancore bands, an established off-shoot of post-hardcore named after Dance Gavin Dance guitarist Will Swan. Known for its mixture of progressive song-structures and noodly math rock influence, it usually keeps a brighter pop or r&b influence on the vocals. There’s nothing wrong with the angsty, more youthful, tongue-in-cheek bands of this genre, but by mature in this sense I’m referring to both their overall more alt-prog sound, and their highly spiritual and philosophical lyrical themes. Eidola are well intertwined with that swancore scene, as main vocalist/guitarist Andrew Wells has been a backing vocalist and guitarist for DGD for a couple of years now, and Sergio Media (Sianvar, Stolas) joined Eidola as a guitarist around that same time.
Eidola set the bar unreasonably high for themselves back in 2015 with their sophomore album Degeneraterra that their follow-up To Speak, To Listen just couldn’t meet. While still a good album with plenty of interesting progressive writing, it lacked personality and felt too similar to what other bands were doing. The Architect on the other hand feels like the album they’ve been building up to, the perfect, uniquely seamless culmination of their sound thus far that is distinctly Eidola.
One thing that quickly stands out about The Architect relative to earlier works is its heaviness. From the mathcore inspired intro to “Mutual Fear” also spiced up by Jon Mess of DGD’s sceams, to Andrew’s more grizzly post-metal sounding harsh vocals on the album opener, they excel at those sharp contrasts with their ethereal and introspective sides. Expanding his smoky range and execution every album, his poetically inspirational spoken word return again, where we find Andrew increasingly starting to sound like Carl Sagan.
This band is at their best when they take their time to get where they want to go, and they make the best of that journey. While there are plenty of them, “Elephant Bones” is the perfect example of this. It has an almost Karnivool approach to its steady, confidently nonchalant ingenuity. Their rhythm section drives this track, doing a lot with little in a more subdued display of talent, and the vocals taking a more relaxed approach for the most part. Traditional song structures here are replaced by a more gradual build up until the explosive finish with more of Andrew’s passionate screams, accented throughout by playful technicality and lively drum fills.
Yet, there is a greater sense of urgency here than what we’ve heard before, at least when the album calls for it. That frenzied desire in their collective writing and delivery that grabs a hold of you by the collar and shakes you to its attention. There’s an undeniable beauty in that tension and its relationship with their frequent dreamy elegance. It’s still too early to say The Architect will hold up as strong as Degeneraterra, but it’s a special piece of music that shows there’s room to expand in this quickly crowding niche sub-genre.
Valley of Snakes – Abandon The Light (deathcore)
Fan of the Aussie deathcore masters I, Valiance? We’ve got a treat for you. Their original guitarist David Freeland and vocalist Mark Poida (also ex-Aversions Crown) have teamed up for a new deathcore project called Valley of Snakes. The project released a two-track EP last December, but have returned with a longer 6-track EP this time around, called Abandon The Light. Why this project exists when I, Valiance seems to still be going strong, dropping III back in 2019, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe David just wanted to have all of the writing and instrumentation to himself, which seems to be the case here with Mark providing the lyrics and vocals of course. Whatever is the case, I’m grateful for more I,V adjacent tunes as they have consistently brought some of the more interesting takes at the genre over the past decade.
But maybe even more so, I’m grateful to just hear Mark’s absolutely beastly deathcore vocals. This guy is at the top of the game with his range and sheer ferocity in his delivery and it shines through here. On “The Mouth of Hell” there’s a part where he gets gradually lower after every verse, like slowly succumbing to daemonic possession. Just listening to him flex his versatility with that sinister snarl is rewarding enough, but he really pushes this project to the next level. A number of tracks, with “Of Human Depravity” being a notable one, have a modern progressive feel to them and Mark’s ability to adapt his vocals to different situations really shines. Freeland on the other hand boasts his talent on the instrumental side. Eerie, unsettling ambient chords often repeating over a mixture of groove-oriented, atmospheric and technical riffing give this project the kindling to which Mark is able to ignite.
The tight modern production by Lance Prenc (Alpha Wolf, Polaris) makes everything punchy and crisp, but it could be argued also makes it sound a little bit too much like the myriad of other deathcore bands with the same production. But that’s hardly something you can hold against them, and the attention to detail and little things they do across this EP have pushed Abandon the Light into the upper-echelon of 2021’s deathcore releases.
We Butter the Bread With Butter – Das Album (metalcore, trancecore, deathcore)
Remember these guys? Like many, I got into them over a decade ago with the release of their debut Das Monster aus dem Schrank, and blasted the title-track and “Breekachu” in my car, screaming incoherent German to myself, before frankly forgetting about them for some time. On a whim I checked out one of their new singles “N!CE”, and what the hell, this slaps? Behind the whole jokey name and generally not taking themselves that seriously (which is super refreshing for deathcore/metalcore) it’s easy to forget how legitimately talented they are. They’ve managed to nail down that balance of engaging and interesting metalcore/deathcore songwriting with a carefree, jovial enthusiasm and catchiness. Sure, it’s cool when deathcore sounds like a Mariusz Lewandowski painting, but sometimes you just want a buttered up slice of bread.
The surprising highlight of Das Album is really its range. There’s a ton of variation in styles, tones and tempos. A big part of this is WBTBWB have improved greatly at their playoff between the synths and guitars. On their 2008 debut (which holds up decently by the way) they often just let the keys carry most of the melody, with the guitars really just being there for the rhythm section. Here, there’s plenty of tasteful deathcore and metalcore riffs, and the two instruments often harmonize with another like on the upbeat synthwave-inspired “Jump ‘n’ Run”. Even the vocalist, who is highly underrated and underappreciated in the genre as far as I’m concerned, has plenty of range in delivery. From throwback raspy highs to ridiculous bree-bree lows, even mixing in some decent melodic screaming such as the chorus of “Piks mich”. He does a lot of rhythmically interesting things as well, such as harsh vocal polyrhythmic “oughs” along to the beat or just upping his tempo to match more upbeat sections.
At worst, this is probably the most fun you’ll have listening to a deathcore or metalcore album this year. One of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year in a year that’s been full of them. As the impressively euphoric album closer “Letzer Song” fades over you, you’re left with a strange sense of satisfaction. Did not expect this much depth, talent and sheer infectious song writing from We Butter The Bread with Butter, but here we are. Butter me up.
Amygdala / Listless – Split (blackened screamo, hardcore punk, sass)
Invalidation, survivor’s guilt, racism, sexism, poverty, depression, sexual violence, transphobia, queer revenge — all lyrical hallmarks of Amygdala and Listless, two of the most vocal hardcore outfits currently serving sonic justice to a world that wants them dead. When I heard they were teaming up to release a split, I couldn’t think of a collaboration more well-suited. Both groups lean into a rougher, rawer, blackened sound, with Amygdala’s pained punk roots setting up the perfect one-two punch to Listless’ venomous, noisy metalcore assault.
A release like this feels absolutely vital to highlight, especially in the face of the thousands of white, straight male-led hardcore outfits that leave little room for talented, important bands like these to flourish. Voices that are frequently trampled and buried deserve the soapbox more than anyone, and even a cursory glance at the lyrics will convince you why. Amygdala and Listless are acts born from generational violence and active modern oppression, lashing out with vicious precision at the systems that bind them. The music itself perfectly reflects their justified anger, with more than enough caustic, cacophonous rage to go around. That isn’t to say there isn’t still nuance, as reflected in the Cursive-esque intro to “Caught in the Crossfire” and the dreamy old Poison The Well vibes heard in “Darling”.
This is must-listen material from two of hardcore’s best rising stars. They deserve your undivided attention – and your money.
Momentum – Momentum (metallic hardcore, crossover thrash)
The California hardcore scene has been a hotbed for new bands as of late. Not only is there a large number of them, but they are all killing it. Bands that rise to the top of the heap include Terror, Dare, Drain, Sunami, Gods Hate, Vamachara and Gulch (who are in the process of announcing their final tour). Well, let me add another band to the pile. LA’s Momentum combine crossover thrash and metallic hardcore to create a sound that mixes the best of bands like Merauder, All Out War and Gods Hate. The group has been honing their sound since 2016, but with their most recent lineup (which includes a member of fellow Californians, Vamachara,) they were able to release their debut full length, produced by Gods Hate’s own Taylor Young at The Pit. Taylor’s production is instantly recognizable and hits hard as nails, which is exactly what the band does. In a recent interview with No Echo, the band was asked where they get the best reception in regards to metal or hardcore as they tow the line and surprisingly, it was hardcore. Well, there is hope that the metal scene comes around, as there is a lot to enjoy here. The highlight and surprise of the album occurs at the midpoint, “Dive Down”, where vocalist Jordan Jenkins takes a back seat and allows drummer Josh Orellana to completely nail clean vocals with the band firing on all cylinders behind him. It is a nice change of pace and doesn’t feel out of place on the album, bringing to mind New York heavy hitters Life of Agony.
This is a solid debut from the LA outfit that will appeal to both metal and hardcore fans equally.
Tempter – Tempter (crossover thrash, heavy metal, punk)
What if I told you there was a band that combined members of Nosebleed, Candy and Ekulu? Well, let me introduce you to Tempter hailing from Richmond, Virginia. Erase everything you know about the bands mentioned above from your mind, because they play balls to wall heavy metal with some crossover thrash and punk ala Venom or early Metallica. This is their debut EP and it flies by, only slowing briefly for the track “La Lluvia” that is just fuzzed out noise in the best way possible and could appear on an old slasher flick from the 80’s or Netflix’s Stranger Things. The production on the album is perfect and nails that fuzzy/grimy unpolished sound to give it an even filthier edge.
The last track, “Pestilence”, is the perfect closer as it continues from the interlude mentioned above. Starting with a ton of feedback and then going into a full-on face-melter, solo included, for good measure. It just so happens to be the longest track on the album at 4 minutes. For an EP with 6 songs that lasts less than 15 minutes, it left me wanting more. I hope we see more material in their future because this hits that sweet spot where punk and metal intersect.
The Circle Pit
Blind Equation – LIFE IS PAIN (cybergrind, nintendocore)
Carnifex – Graveside Confessions (deathcore)
Demersal – Death Routines (screamo)
Flames of Betrayal – The Rain Reeks of Heaven (old school metalcore)
Foreign Pain – Death of Divinity (metallic hardcore punk)
Grace – Grace (hardcore)
Mourn – The Next Life (metalcore, melodic deathcore)
My Fictions – Time Immemorial (melodic hardcore, emoviolence)
No Coffin – All Life Must End (southern hardcore)
Signs of the Swarm – Absolvere (brutal deathcore)