Longtime readers know I like to get up here on my soapbox sometimes and get blustery about something or other. The collapse of society, the evils and banalities of mankind, crushing the throat of your oppressor. There are plenty of those sentiments swirling (among many, many others that boil the blood) and honest to god, there may never be a time in our lives again where we can truly rest easy. I don’t say that to alarm or depress you. I say that to say this: we are, all of us, one people under a singular heel. May we be the nails in its sole so that one day, we might all be free.
We love you. Thanks for being here. Seriously. Let’s get into it.
The Wall of Death
Vatican – Ultra (metalcore)
Savannah’s Vatican have officially set the bar for modern metalcore with Ultra – though apparently, that may be a bit of a misnomer. Elsewhere, they’ve been described as “post-modern metalcore” in a bid to be distanced from established influences and expectations. Normally I’d roll my eyes, but I might have to hand it to them; Ultra is definitely something else. What we’re really witnessing is perhaps the first seamless meld of disparate core camps into a singular sound. It’s like a big Venn diagram where every imaginable metalcore and metalcore-adjacent act circle and overlap each other in more and more intricate ways, some nailing multiple styles but ultimately lacking in another, until you reach the perfect center where one name now sits etched in gold: Vatican.
They themselves namedrop acts like Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan as influences, and honestly, how predictable. The effect those two bands alone have had on the genre over the course of the past 10-15 years is so prolific and ingrained, it’s not even a definable trait anymore. I simply don’t hear it, and I’m tired of hearing about it. What I do hear, however, are the ways in which Vatican have snatched the bag of tricks out of other, more recent genre darlings’ hands and pilfered their wares to incorporate into the metalcore Exodia that is Ultra. Vatican are doing cyber/industrial better than Code Orange and Northlane, heavy post-melody better than Thornhill (who disappointingly [to me] went full Deftones on this month’s Heroine), tech flourishes better than Misery Signals and Sentinels, and pit riffs better than Knocked Loose. “Better” in this context meaning “with restraint”. While the acts named are obviously some of the modern masters of those sounds, they’re easily oversaturated. Vatican keep their compositions moving, expertly weaving multiple stylistic threads into a single track, creating a dizzying tapestry of well-balanced melody, brutality, and speed that genuinely gets your heart pounding.
There is very little waffling, and even the slower, more pensive tracks hit like a truck with a brick on the gas. Vatican like to get in, box your ears, and get out under 3:30 every time, no matter the context or direction. You gotta respect it. For a sophomore full-length, especially from a group who seemed to get lumped in with and forgotten about in lieu of more popular revivalcore/nu-core acts, Vatican are making a hell of a statement here. The first few tracks alone are killer, with “Slipstream Annihilation” and “I Am Above” setting the tone with repeated gut-punches from the jump, all bleeding into the panicked decadence of “Reverence” and its ballad-like counterpart “Where Heavens Collide”, exuding a rather confident Bring Me The Horizon swagger in the process. Don’t get me wrong; the rest of the album slaps to high heaven. It’s bangers all the way down the tracklist, including the chilling finale “Did You Ever Notice I Was Gone?” delivered with the help of iRis.EXE.
I have no qualms crowning Ultra the best broad spectrum core released so far this year. There’s genuinely something here for everyone, and they’ve cultivated a tight, rich sound listeners from any camp in the heavy world can appreciate. Dig into the shining golden majesty of Ultra below.
Get the Shot – Survival Denied (metallic hardcore, crossover)
2017’s Infinite Punishment is one of the best and most aggressive crossover hardcore records to come out in recent memory and, while it’s unclear whether their new three-track Survival Denied single/EP heralds the arrival of a new long-player or not, there’s enough aggression on display across its two main tracks to lay waste to any and all challengers. If the Comeback Kid album from earlier this year made me want to flip all my furniture over, and the Malevolence album from last month made me want to set it all on fire, then Get the Shot’s new single(s) make me want to pick up my entire house and roundhouse kick it into the centre of the sun.
The title track is about as aggro as it gets, sounding like Machine Head’s “Davidian” played at double speed by an army of bulldozers. That this amount of spite and aggression in fact comes from a quartet of Québecois punks is a staggering achievement. The accompanying video, which touts itself as some kind of Hellraiser tribute before quickly scrapping any sense of subtlety or thematic exploration by replacing the Cenobites with a bunch of machete-wielding, balaclava-clad thugs flipping the bird, is nevertheless a glorious embodiment of the song in both its gratuitous violence as much as its (literally) pigheaded posturing.
Accompanying B-side “Deathbound”—which follows instrumental beatdown intro “Unholy March” is equally volatile, though notably less hostile, encouraging the listener to sing along with its array of intimidations instead of leveling it all directly at them. Lionheart’s Rob Watson showing up and shouting about how he’s the “wrong wolf to fuck with” is fairly cringeworthy, perhaps crossing the line into unknowing caricature rather than the cartoonish excess that propels the rest of the song and single. Every other second of the single’s exhilarating ten-minutes, however, is sheer, adrenaline-inducing ecstasy. These songs are huge, hulking slabs of the most rudimentary and unsubtle hardcore; they utterly and undeniably ridiculous, and that’s why I love them.
Alexisonfire – Otherness (post-hardcore, stoner rock)
“There’s really no reason for us to be here. It defies all logic. A band like us, as strange as we are, 20 years in and 13 years since our last record. It’s madness – like finding a brick of gold at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
But here we are, resurrected, stronger and sharper than ever with a brand new offering and we’re pleased as hell to share it with you.”
This is how Alexisonfire, the Canadian post-hardcore darlings, first introduced their new album via social media. I wanted to share that quote because it really does sum up just how wild it is that it’s the year 2022 and we’re getting a new Alexisonfire album. As a Canadian growing up in the 2000s, getting into Alexisonfire was almost a rite-of-passage for getting into hardcore adjacent music. I remember 12-year old me seeing the video for “Pulmonary Archery” off their Self-Titled debut on Much Music and being blown away by the raw emotion and talent. But over the years I grew to accept the fact that this band had moved on. Clean vocalist / guitarist Dallas Green was well submerged in his solo-side-project City and Colour and the other members all had other new projects they were working on. Yet, somehow, some way, on their new album Otherness they’ve found that collective post-hardcore gold once again – or at least a few nuggets of it.
Now, two decades after that Self-Titled debut, AOF are back with greyer beards and a grungier aesthetic, but still kicking just as much ass. Sure their sound has evolved quite a bit; guitarist Wade McNeil adds a lot of his vocals, George isn’t quite as emo, and in general their sound has evolved into a more alternative, stoner rock influenced approach to post-hardcore. They’re certainly “not the kids they used to be” but they’re still decidedly Alexisonfire. Soulful, bittersweet, passionate,and perhaps more so than ever, loud.
Both in aesthetic and sound, you can tell they’ve been listening to a lot of Black Sabbath. Everything here is pretty intentionally rough around the edges, especially in the guitar tone and production, which emphasizes that stoner rock and bluesy edge that began to creep prominently into their sound back on Old Crows. Here that feels a little more realized, and Dallas’ booming vocals which are still as strong as ever really fit that grungier mood. I was a little disappointed by the relative lack of George Petite (the harsh vocalist), as he serves as more of a back-up vocalist, but there’s still moments where they harmonize brilliantly together that stand as some of the highlights of Otherness.
I found myself being drawn oddly towards the slower, intimate songs on this album – a departure from what I loved about their early material. Tracks like the standout single “Sans Soleil”, or personal highlight “Blue Spade” are a great example of this. They just nail those low-tempo melodies that Dallas can flex over, and they still know how to write some damn solid riffs. For whatever reason the more up-beat, punk-influenced stuff on this album didn’t do as much for me. Tracks like “Conditional Love” seemed too verse-chorus-verse, and lacked enough dynamics to keep me interested, but your mileage may vary. The album ends on the surprising “World Stops Turning,” an 8-minute track that begins with a minute of acoustic chords that build into a wailing guitar lead and some more heart-wrenching Dallas Green moments. The instrumentation eventually takes it away with an extended Pink Floyd-esque guitar solo, just doing everything it can around the underlying chord-progression while George screams into the void in the background. One hell of an outro, and a fitting send off to the pleasantly surprising return of my favourite post-hardcore band.
Thornhill – Heroine (alt-metal, metalcore)
I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with Calder above in that it’s not all that disappointing that Australian alt metal outfit Thornhill have “gone full Deftones.” I love that shit. It was cool when Loathe did it. It was cool when Varials did it. It’s cool when Thornhill does it. We’re just getting to the point in time where dudes who were teenagers when Diamond Eyes dropped are starting to form bands and flex those influences, and it helps that they’re all dipping into the sound and folding it into their hardcore and metalcore roots in different ways. In the broader discussion of hardcore and metalcore bands doing nu-metal, I believe it’s doing more good than harm, but you could pick worse bands to rip off than Deftones.
Heroine is a fun record that comes out swinging with the bouncy and hazy “The Hellfire Club,” aptly named and timed to capitalize on the Stranger Things cultural moment. It has that unmistakable Deftones melodicism and atmosphere that Loathe tapped into with “Two-Way Mirror,” albeit less subdued. Throughout the album, expect to hear vocalist Jacob Chalton adopting the patented Chino croon against djenty takes on those (not flat) Earth-shattering Stef Carpenter grooves a la “CMND CTRL” on tracks like “Leather Wings” and “Arkangel”. The haunting “Valentine” and fleeting moments on “Raw” even offer up trip-hop, which has been a core aspect of Deftones’ sound since White Pony. There’s also the upbeat and swagger-filled “Casanova,” a textural delight of a song that moves through the whole playbook and plays with the rare guitar solo. Glimpses of Muse are folded into the record as well, particularly on the track “Hollywood”, in case you forgot that Thornhill were supposed to be a prog band in a past life.
I do understand the critique that Thornhill have leaned a little too far into biting Deftones on Heroine, but it’s a more engaging Deftones album than Ohms was, and as a Deftones fan, it’s easy to enjoy this record. On the other hand, if you expected them to follow in the trajectory of Aussy prog alt-metal measuring stick Karnivool after the hype of 2019’s The Dark Pool, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Don’t set expectations too awfully high, and let Heroine be the lovely foray into romantic alt-metal nostalgia it seeks to be.
Terminal Nation / Kruelty – The Ruination of Imperialism (metallic hardcore, beatdown)
Two of the biggest, baddest metallic hardcore bands from across the globe have teamed up to suplex the life out of us with The Ruination of Imperialism – Little Rock’s Terminal Nation and Tokyo’s Kruelty. For all intents and purposes, this is really just a low ‘n’ slow, dirty fuckin’ death metal release, but tracks like “Sacrificial Capital” with their mesmerizing two-step sections and Stan’s trademark big-dick mosh calls like “120 miles an hour of terminal velocity, from penthouse balcony to the sidewalk of Wall Street” supernaturally compel you to commit heinous acts of harm to your surroundings.
Opening with two tracks from Terminal Nation and closing with three of Kruelty’s, there’s no time for soda and popcorn. This is meat and potatoes, beat the living shit out of you music. You keep your fancy solos and tricky tempos; this bus doesn’t go over 180 BPM, and it’s here to flatten everything in its path. Each vocalist guests on tracks by the other’s band, bringing this ouroborus of assault and battery full circle in true east-meets-west harmony. Kruelty’s brand of slow-burn sludgy beatdown is the perfect cap on the split, with “Suppression” and “Under Your Pressure” in particular bringing the big hammers out to pulverize everything in sight.
This is a can’t miss tag-team exhibition match from some of the biggest heavyweights in the genre. Get the fuck into it.
Candy – Heaven Is Here (industrial powerviolence)
Plenty of hardcore bands have jumped on the industrial bandwagon in Code Orange’s wake, but none have managed to take it to such extremes or make it as wholly their own as Candy do on their sophomore effort Heaven is Here. Rather than leaning into the alt-rock flourishes that characterised their acclaimed 2018 debut, Get to Feel, the Virginian trio have gone more or less full powerviolence on its follow-up, sounding like a mish-mash of early Godflesh, Eyehategod, and Napalm Death, with occasional flourishes of Ministry. Heaven is Here is a devastating album to say the least, but there’s more to its arsenal than mere brutality. Stand out offering “Return to Wet” and later tracks like “Kinesthesia” and the almost-psychedelic wall of noise that is “Perverse” show a real understanding of the industrial side of the band’s newfound direction, that many jumping on the industrial bandwagon sorely lack.
Burner – A Vision Of The End (metallic hardcore, death metal)
Burner are a newer London-based four-piece fusing death metal and hardcore in a way that’s surprisingly not very deathcore. Genre pigeon-holing aside, this 17-minute debut EP is absolutely a ‘burner’ – unrelentingly explosive in every way and bleak and terrifying enough to live up to its title, A Vision Of The End. The vocals alternate between these vicious, raspy screams (not really of your deathcore variety but closer to something you might find on a blackened sludge album), and more typical metallic hardcore type lows. I could easily see this band touring with anyone from the likes of Darkest Hour to Cult Leader to Gatecreeper.
But man, the riffs. They’re almost melodic and chaotic at the same time, like a fun place between Gothenburg-core and mathcore while also letting you know they still listen to a lot of death metal. The dynamic approach to their writing keeps everything buoyant yet unpredictable, and the panic chords and breakdowns still hit hard enough to make you want to come out of mosh-retirement. A Vision Of The End was easily one of the standout releases of June and among the best debuts we’ve heard this year. Can’t wait to hear what comes next.
The Circle Pit
awakebutstillinbed / For Your Health – Hymns For The Scorned (screamo)
Dragged Under – Upright Animals (post-hardcore, pop punk)
Earthists. – Have A Good Cult (melodic metalcore, j-rock)
Iron Tomb – Vile Retribution (metallic hardcore, crossover)
LIMBS – Coma Year (post-hardcore, metalcore)
Moodring – Stargazer (alt-metal, gazecore)
Nerver – Cash (post-hardcore, noise rock)
No Pressure – No Pressure (pop punk)
Spiritbox – Rotoscope (progressive nu-metalcore)
Still Stayer – EVEREND (melodic metalcore)
The Algorithm – Data Renaissance (progressive metalcore, breakcore)