Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, fellow pit fiends. I’m not going to bore you with some long-winded exposition or get on my soapbox this month. As a matter of fact, as soon as this post goes live, I’ll already be on the road to a weekend getaway with my wife. Hope y’all have a good one, too. Let’s get it.
The Wall of Death
The Callous Daoboys - Celebrity Therapist (mathcore)
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? A lot, as it turns out. I mentioned in my initial long-form review that Celebrity Therapist was my most anticipated release of the year and it blew even those lofty expectations out of the water. Many have painted it, myself included, as one of the cornerstones of the new mathcore landscape. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a release from a relatively young band, but the comparisons remain apt after a month with this album in rotation and it seems almost impossible to heap enough superlatives on this release without first giving it more time to sink into the collective unconscious.
Time and distance really are the only indicators of what sort of ubiquity or influence an album will generate, but something feels quietly monumental about the sophomore full-length from The Callous Daoboys. The cheeky pop sensibility that underpins a lot Celebrity Therapist—both metaphorically through its thematics and references in Carson Pace’s esoteric lyrics or the modern Brit-pop influence via The 1975—gives the album an intoxicating listenability even as the group piledrive you through table after table of stop-start jazz and brutal sleight of hand.
While the construction of its components are clearly part of its manic charm, it’s the scathing brilliance of songs like “Title Track” that give Celebrity Therapist its sense of cultural importance. Here we find the Daoboys slowing down to very deliberate pacing, delivering one of its core messages by using that very pop sensibility to decry pop sensibilities in the wider cultural arena. Of course, the Daoboys would be remiss if they didn’t flip that on its head one last time by sending us off with a big catchy singalong on “Star Baby”, reveling in the filth and shame of giving in. It’s just great songwriting all around, and the perfect cap to a wild tongue-in-cheek ride through the quiet genius of The Callous Daoboys fully coming into their own.
We may be losing the battle for our souls in the digital hellscape of late-stage capitalism, but I don’t want my MTV or murder podcasts – I want more Callous Daoboys. Thankfully, the gang seem to be settling into their new role as mathcore idols, and I can’t think of anything more tragically on-the-nose than that. With any luck, we’ll be enjoying Daoboys long into the future as we engage in exactly the sort of behavior Carson is spitting down our throats for on Celebrity Therapist.
Stray From The Path - Euthanasia (hardcore, nu-metalcore)
I’ll be honest – I haven’t always given Stray From The Path the time or attention they deserve. While it’s easy to agree with their politics, the music always felt a little juvenile or performative for my tastes, and that’s got a lot more to say about me than the music. They’ve been jocking Rage Against The Machine pretty much since the beginning, and I don’t think I was ready for someone to try and take that crown yet. With Euthanasia, Stray have completely changed my mind, and their brand of bombastic nu-groove woven into the fabric of modern hardcore is both nostalgic and refreshing while being a major force to be reckoned with.
Album opener “Needful Things” introduces us to their scorched-earth, with-us-or-against-us attitude, as well as the album’s motif of old television samples to remind us that despite the illusion of progress, our society has never shaken the problems that lay at its foundation. The propulsive rhythms and Andrew Dijorio’s rapped delivery feel kin to Hacktivist without the overt djentfluence, establishing their modern take on old school hardcore sounds right off the bat. “III”, the third entry in their “Badge and A Bullet” series on police violence is a big highlight with so many quotable moments it’s hard to keep track. If you’re not bouncing off the walls with righteous anger by halfway through this track, it might be time to turn off the rest of the album, because this is Stray at their truest and most straightforward. The Zack de le Rocha school of vocal delivery is on full display here in all its infectious, zealous glory, and Dijorio pulls it off perfectly. I’m not hyperbolizing when I say “III” is as effective and memorable as tracks like “Bulls on Parade” and has the potential to command a similar staying power, albeit in a smaller musical circle.
The whole record sizzles with the urgency and vitriol you always want out of hardcore, and does it better than most releases I’ve heard in recent years. Even in the more pensive, melodic tracks like “Bread & Roses” featuring Jesse Barnett of Stick To Your Guns (has anyone else had trouble separating these two bands due to their names?), Stray keep the energy up so as to not flatten the trajectory of the album. Euthanasia is a masterclass by a band that’s creeping up on two decades in the spotlight, and to drop something as career-defining as this album so late in the game deserves major props. They made me a believer after all this time, and if you’ve been sleeping on Stray From The Path as long as I have, now’s the time to dive in.
City of Caterpillar - Mystic Sisters (post-hardcore, post-rock, screamo)
Imagine being a screamo/skramz fan in 2005 and falling into a coma. You wake up in the year 2022, eager to listen to your two favourite screamo bands Gospel and City of Caterpillar. The nurse informs you of your plight and 17-year long slumber and you bust out your Napster and Winamp to find that shockingly, these two bands both also arose from a coma in the same year and dropped fantastic sophomore albums that rival the power of those cult classics. I'm not sure how well that anti-meme converted into text-form translated, but you get the point. The year of screamo has blessed us with an abundance of great releases and refreshing surprises, and Mystic Sisters certainly tops that list.
Relative to Gospel, City of Caterpillar have mostly retained the screamo and post-hardcore roots of their 2002 self-titled debut with their signature old-school post-rock influence. The biggest change is a bit more of a noise-rock vibe and slightly tighter and more modern production, but otherwise this is still that signature CoC sound. Somehow managing to return with the exact same line-up also helps there.
Overall, Mystic Sisters captures a dark, gritty urban feel. Like a swirling, disorienting ride into a dimly lit city while the apocalypse looms in the distance. A slow burn at times, it harnesses the rarely achieved Godspeed You! Black Emperor levels of unnerving end-times. The title track "Mystic Sisters" especially achieves this. The roughly 5-minute long build-up nails that ominous and anxious tone GYBE play on so well, with delicate meandering dissonant chords that toy at your senses like a slowly onsetting delirium. This gradually builds up to a post-hardcore take at this same energy, that bands like Fear Before the March of Flames excelled at. In retrospect, this is all just what has always made City of Caterpillar iconic and unique. Stretched out nervous tension that pulls at your heartstrings in ways post-hardcore and screamo bands have been trying to emulate for the past two decades.
The vocalist has that unhinged, off-kilter noise rock style delivery, mixed with a bit of old-school screamo charm. It compliments the overall bleak nihilism of this album. Beyond any technical flare, "wow factor" or "message", what this band does best is setting a mood and making you feel something. And the fact that they've managed to recapture those same sort of feelings a decade later is a testament to City of Caterpillar, and Mystic Sister's musical prowess.
Recoil in Horror - Amalgam (progressive deathcore)
Fan of that brand of magnetic-pole-reversing-heavy deathcore cultivated by the likes of Humanity's Last Breath? Tune in for this one. Recoil in Horror are a newer progressive deathcore group from Portland, Oregon (possibly named after the To The Grave song?). They've released a couple of singles since their 2018 formation, but Amalgam marks their first official long-play release, and damn they knocked it out of the park. There's usually 2-3 lesser known bands outside of the Vildhjarta-extended universe coming along each year marking their name as a worthy challenger of this growing sub-style of deathcore, and Recoil in Horror are at the top of my power rankings right now.
While the immediate comparable for me is the aforementioned HLB, they also draw from the likes of symphonic deathcore bands like Lorna Shore. However, the keyboard usage here is much more subtle, adding haunting little accents here and there to up the spooky-season factor. I appreciate that those symphonic elements are not over the top to the point where it becomes their identity, and the more guitar and percussion-centric aspects of their writing can shine through.
Now I can't name drop Vildhjarta and HLB and get this far without muttering the words "thall" in this write-up. Thall. Now that that's out of the way, those djent elements are actually not all that prominent, but show up enough to draw the comparisons and give the album a 'progressive' leaning sound, while also just being stupidly heavy. Take "Lamia's Wrought" for instance which kicks off with in-your-face blast beats and this jack-hammering-ly rapid groove that's genuinely one of the heaviest things I've heard this year.
Adequately brutal guttural lows pace along with the rhythmic chugs, at times stretching with long-held "ouughs" that give it that devilishly rotten atmosphere. The vocals can feel slightly buried in the mix. Whether this was an intentional choice or not I'm not sure, but it doesn't take too much away from the listening experience. Vocalist Ian Gray mostly stays in his comfort zone, not veering too much from the lows he excels at, possibly to the dismay of some hardcore deathcore fans, but again these are pretty minor complaints. They spice it up enough anyway with some guest vocals from Wormhole (and ex-Rose Funeral) vocalist Julian Kersey on single "Emissary Of The Butchered'' and their manager Metalchick Mentality on "Palindrome".
Amalgam is one of the better deathcore releases this year, with compelling songwriting that tells a story from start to finish, it draws you in and keeps you entranced beyond just the shock factor of a dark and heavy sound. Recoil in Horror's debut LP is available now, released independently through Bandcamp.
END / Cult Leader - Gather & Mourn (metallic hardcore, progressive hardcore)
I briefly mentioned in this month’s Editors’ Picks that if you’ve been creeping around the -core scene but need a solid first toe in the water, this split from behemoths END and Cult Leader is probably a good bet to wet your whistle. The unflinching, unforgiving delivery of END truly sits somewhere in the ether between hardcore, metalcore, and deathcore, but no matter which way your ear pricks for it, it is ruthless and inescapable. “Eden Will Drown” (RIP) and “The Host Will Soon Decay” are perfect entries into their canon, blistering through teeth-grating fight riffs before dropping off the deep end into terminal breakdowns. The industrial edge that END have always toyed with is much more present on the latter track, giving us the sort of sound Code Orange flailed about with but ultimately never mastered.
On the Cult Leader side, “Ataraxis” wastes no time in blasting you with crusty dissonance just to deliver you unwittingly into a mesmeric off-time breakdown that sends your stomach lurching for the remainder of the split. “Long Shadows” might be one of the best tracks they’ve ever written front-to-back, really showcasing their range and ability to push and pull you through different aural textures and leave you feeling spiritually sandblasted by the end of it all. Both bands deliver masterstrokes in the ways only they can, giving us a clear view of who’s at the top of the table and who’s left picking up their scraps.
Fawn Limbs - Oleum (brutal avante-garde mathcore)
Another year, another Fawn Limbs release to cover for this column. Fawn Limbs drops are becoming my little Christmas to myself. They are just as reliably punctual and magically effusive – if you’re a freaky little imp who loves blackened, noisy, angular mathgrind that skirts the border of good taste and pure madness. Oleum is a 4-track EP that’s collectively shorter than whole songs by other bands, but it’s just as impactful and memorable in that minute amount of time than it has any right to be.
There’s almost no point in even picking out a standout track since none of the four exceed 2 minutes in length, and the whole EP plays pretty easily as one cohesive derangement. There is simply no one else who sounds like Fawn Limbs or manage to be as prolific with such a distinct sound, and for that, they will always have a place in this column. Just press play and get fucked, idiot.
rotting in dirt - I Am Eating My Shame (blackened metalcore)
North Carolina’s rotting in dirt have created one of my favorite artisanally blended microgenres with their patented sound, taking sassy, chaotic mid-oughts metalcore and infusing it with generous dashes of black metal and sludge to synthesize the perfect dram of ugly, beautiful, triumphant core you’ll keep coming back to over and over. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve spun I Am Eating My Shame. It delivers in such a specifically satisfying way it’s hard not to keep on repeat. There’s a dirty, almost death-doom gloom to their sound nestled in the filthy licks and fuzz that’s absent from a lot of their contemporaries’ work, and I Am Eating My Shame is all the better for it.
They can do the in-your-face pit stomp with ease, but their ability to weave melancholic interludes and a weirdly woozy, romantic atmosphere into the tracks is one of the reasons they’re a standout. With such a robust sound, rotting in dirt could easily be opening for anyone from Chat Pile to SeeYouSpaceCowboy… to fellow North Carolinians He Is Legend. I’m expecting great things from this group as they continue to grow and further develop their distinct approach.
156/Silence - Narrative (nu-metalcore, mathcore)
Slowly growing into one of the more consistent bands in the metalcore scene, the Pittsburgh-based 156/Silence dropped their 4th full-length this September, Narrative, their second release with Sharptone Records. As the follow-up to their breakout release Irrational Pull, the expectations were pretty high coming into this album. While being slightly overshadowed as it was released on the same day as The Callous Daoboys and Sunfl'oer, 156's approachable, fun and engaging take at modern metalcore have made it one of my most listened releases over the past month and it lived-up to if not exceeded those expectations.
I saw this pitched as having more nu-metal influence, which I don't really hear relative to Irrational Pull at least. Yeah there's definitely some Slipknot and touches of industrial going on here and there, but if you're expecting rap verses, scratching or funk you'll be a little disappointed. If anything, Narrative has more of an emotional and atmospheric side, drawing further from post-hardcore. The overall sound is somewhere between Silent Planet and END. The vocals especially take on that heart-on-their-sleeve approach, with a pained desperation coming through Jack Murray's delivery. You can just picture him reaching out to you trying to make a connection. The riffs are your pretty standard, somewhat mathcore-adjacent nu-metalcore style with dashes of technicality, panic chords and a full-serving of breakdowns. While not setting the world on fire or re-inventing the genre, there's just so few weaknesses to this album. The production is exactly what I want for this sound, and their writing is varied enough to keep you engaged start to finish. Mosh time.
The Circle Pit
Armor For Sleep - The Rain Museum (post-hardcore)
Escuela Grind - Memory Theater (grindcore, powerviolence)
Grief Ritual - Spiritual Disease (metallic hardcore)
Mindforce - New Lords (hardcore, crossover)
Proceed On Your Way To Oblivion - Ceremorphosis (tech deathcore)
SLUGCRUST - Ecocide (grindcore, crust)
Sunflo'er - all these darlings and now me (mathcore, post-hardcore)
The Devil Wears Prada - Color Decay (metalcore)