As spring deepens and warms into early summer, the blood begins to boil and leave us all restless. Luckily, there's a big, fresh batch of violent, angry music to help release the tension and steel the mind against the woozy heat. Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, pit fiends.
This month, we're joined by yet another new face (voice? spectral hand guiding words into your mind? who knows) – JD! Let's give him a warm Heavy welcome and get right to the good stuff.
The Wall of Death
Bandit - Siege of Self (grindcore)
Siege of Self is Philadelphia grindcore band Bandit’s first full-length and their first release in five years. According to an interview with vocalist Gene Meyer, he has spent the last several years addressing his mental health issues. Meyer is not shy about discussing his mental health struggles and has stated that the album is titled in recognition of those struggles while the lyrics detail his experiences with them. Among the songs focused on Meyer’s struggles with mental illness, “Juniata” tells the story of Meyer being admitted to a mental hospital associated with Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
“Juniata” is also an early highlight of the album and is illustrative of the musical progression that Bandit has made since the band’s previous release, Warsaw. Warsaw saw guitarist Jack McBride stepping away from the powerviolence stylings of earlier Bandit releases and instead taking on a style more reminiscent of Pig Destroyer’s Scott Hull with an emphasis on Hull’s technical, rhythmically complex, thrash-inspired riffing. McBride’s writing on Siege of Self largely continues nodding toward Scott Hull’s influence while also sprinkling many more off-kilter breakdowns (à la Car Bomb and Meshuggah) throughout the album. A fact which will surely cause grindcore purists everywhere to scoff haughtily.
Throughout the album, recently added drummer Gobinda Senchury (also of Nepalese-born, American-based grindcore experimentalists Chepang), nimbly answers McBride’s complex guitar work in kind with numerous cymbal mutes, technically-precise fills, and stop-on-a-dime rhythm changes, often all within the span of a 90-second song.
Bandit has been without a bass player for many years now, and a perennial issue with bassless grindcore bands, such as Discordance Axis and Insect Warfare, is filling out the low end both in the studio and on stage. However, this is generally not an issue on Siege of Self. Between the Colin Marston production of Senchury’s thunderous bass drums and the McBride’s hefty guitar tones, the lack of bass is only briefly noticeably absent toward the end of the track “Siege of Self” when McBride delivers an ascending tapping pattern in the higher register. Aside from that, the lack of bass guitar is hardly noticeable.
Siege of Self has allowed Bandit to reach the echelon of grindcore bands pushing at the genre’s limits without sacrificing the genre’s foundational characteristics. With that in mind, Siege of Self is one of the best grindcore albums of the year thus far and is sure to be topping many grind freaks’ 2023 AOTY lists.
fromjoy - fromjoy (experimental metalcore)
Steadily building hype since their 2021 debut It Lingers and a string of celebrated EPs, Houston metalcore outfit fromjoy have forged their own path in the wake of atmospheric metalcore acts inspired by the likes of Loathe by blending devastating Digitech-pedal-abusing breakdowns and feral mathcore with vaporwave and atmospheric drum n’ bass. The results are mystical and intoxicating, and the group are only further perfecting their diverse set of sounds on their sophomore self-titled full-length.
The sheer sonic prowess on display here is astounding, both in its wide berth of influences and the band’s ability to not only pull them off, but pull them together in a way that feels cohesive. It all just feels very fromjoy, from the PeelingFlesh slam collab “docility” to the ambient pop of “of the shapes of hearts and humans.” The band’s ability to command dizzying breakdowns and churning ambiance is unrivaled; the self-titled track “fromjoy” is a perfect example of the band’s baseline metallic operation in that regard. It’s the window dressing of tracks like “Helios” – which features campy Casio keyboards and saxophone with earth shattering palm muted chugs – that truly forecasts the band’s brilliance at genre fusion.
fromjoy are pulling off what we’d all hoped Code Orange would end up doing, we just didn’t know what we really wanted was Vildhjarta breakdowns pitted against vaporwave and nostalgic dance pop choruses. fromjoy are easily one of the most promising young creative forces in metalcore, and they just keep getting more daring as they go. Get in and invest in fromjoy while we’re still early.
Jesus Piece - …So Unknown (beatdown hardcore)
I’ve been a casual fan of Philadelphia’s Jesus Piece for a few years now. I encountered them originally through their vocalist Aaron Heard’s 2020 guest spot on The Acacia Strain’s Slow Decay, a really fantastic album, but in a notably different style than Heard’s primary project. Jesus Piece is beatdown hardcore at its most knuckle-dragging and most bone-crushing. The riffs are gargantuan, the breakdowns are cataclysmic, and Heard’s vocal performance is the cherry on top of this, a whirlwind of roars, shouts and shrieks that leaves the listener breathless and craving more. This is music meant to piss you off, to leave you raging, and to make you want to break shit, and I love every second of it.
At a runtime of 27 minutes (a wonderfully crisp yet fleeting length for an album of this style) there is absolutely no fat to be trimmed here. Early highlights “In Constraints” and “Tunnel Vision” lay the groundwork for the aural pummeling to come, while album highlight “An Offering to the Night” provides a peak in the latter half of the album to keep the listener engaged and focused through the end. The production is loud and abrasive, yet clear enough to hear everything that is being played. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that this brand of hardcore is designed with hooks in mind, Jesus Piece does a stellar job of providing earworms scattered throughout the malignant heaviness.
This is a spectacular sophomore album by a band that I’d love to get the mainstream recognition of hardcore sweethearts like Knocked Loose, and I cannot stress enough how quickly any fans of the genre should give it a listen. Just go in ready to get your teeth kicked in by those riffs.
Portrayal of Guilt - Devil Music (blackened sludge, chamber music)
From their roots as a gritty, young screamo group from Texas, over the past six years Portrayal of Guilt have evolved into something transcending a lot of the broader genre labels. The band has gotten progressively sludgier and noisier, but black metal has increasingly dominated their sound with each release. Their second release of 2021, Christfucker, seemed to be the tipping point fully into that grim world. And while there has always been a sense of ‘evilness’ about their music, they’ve taken that to another level with their new equally appropriately titled album, Devil Music. On top of this being their most diabolical album to date, it’s arguably their strongest, and surely most ambitious. I’ve been burying the lede here in that this is in a sense a double-album, with the latter-half being these medieval, string-driven chamber music renditions of the first half. The genre prefix “art” has always felt a bit pretentious and contrived, but “art” is truly one of the first words that comes to mind when experiencing the second-half of Devil Music.
Before listening to that second half (the tracks with roman numerals), I’d highly recommend you check out the short film produced by the band to accompany them. Seemingly inspired by the likes of Ingmar Bergman or more recently, Robert Eggers works, you can clearly see the passion and grind this band puts into everything they do. This black and white film captures the satanic imagery and unsettling atmosphere of these compositions beautifully, elevating the music to a greater theatrical level. Now while this half has the same devilish vocals, this sort of avant-garde classical instrumentation certainly isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. The first half still offers over 15-minutes of the best of your classic Portrayal of Guilt experience.
Going back to Side-A and the compositions themselves, what they’ve really nailed here is both their ability to, and knowing when to, slow things down. The energy and vigor of black metal and crust are frequently apparent, but right from the opening notes of “One Last Taste of Heaven” you’re hit with the effectiveness of their sludge influence. Some of the more downtempo riffs here are absolutely oozing with filthy, rotten stench. Beyond just the riffs, tracks like “Burning Hand” include an almost post-punk inspired ending with a gradually conjuring spoken-word chant that could have been stretched even further, however brevity seems to be something they’ve really focused on here and I can’t fault them for that. The production work does an impressive job of giving every instrument and voice the most vile feeling they could have, while leaving space for your necessary ominous blackened atmosphere.
This is a band not afraid to take unexpected risks, doing whatever they want and remaining at the top of their game. Devil Music is one of the most unique and memorable releases of 2023 so far and is sure to have something to latch onto for anyone into dark, dissonant and disturbing extreme music. Next time your mom or whoever asks you if you’re still listening to that “devil music”, you can in complete earnestness respond with a resounding "yes."
PSYCHO-FRAME - REMOTE GOD SEEKER (old school deathcore)
MySpace Top 8 with your mosh crew. Misogynous impact font foil skinny tees. Basketball jerseys, two inch gauges, and snakebites. You know – the genesis of deathcore. Guess what baby? We’re so fucking back.
If we’re to abide by the generally accepted cycle of cultural trends becoming retro and back in vogue twenty years after their heyday, we’re a bit early for the full classic deathcore revival, but here we are. And honestly? I think it’s right on time. Deathcore has been, for the most part, stagnating into irrelevance for quite some time. Outside of the fabled Deathcore Day in early January of last year, it’s been a long stretch of recycled, brutal-for-brutality’s-sake garbage. Thank absolute fuck for young Floridian bands like Tactosa and Tracheotomy priming the scene for this new (old) onslaught. With brand new powerhouse PSYCHO-FRAME at the helm, the vanguard of old school deathcore is complete.
The biggest shift in focus from the classic genre trappings is of course towards being beatdown-centric. I don’t think that’s surprising anyone considering the trajectory hardcore and all its progeny have taken over the past decade, and it’s a weirdly refreshing recalibration using all the same bits and bobs you’d expect. It’s the ouroboros biting its tail. Considering beatdown as we know it was born from deathcore bands like Black Tongue dropping much of the evil tremolo riffing for ten ton breakdowns, we’re back to square one with new beatdown bands just aping the OG deathcore sound with trash can snares and hammer-on earworms. Time is a flat circle and I’m fucking moshing.
PSYCHO-FRAME bring the high octane, blood-in-your-eyes, stomach-dropping mosh antics of As Blood Runs Black and Suicide Silence back to life with some cheeky All Shall Perish and Job For A Cowboy nods to boot. There isn’t a single miss on the six-track debut EP, but “DRAGGING NAZARENE” and “NEWJACK ERADICATION” might have gotten me to loosen some teeth I-Am-Jack’s-Clenched-Fist style. Handle with care and look out for much, much more of this in the coming weeks, months, and years. Deathcore is back in a big way.
Graysea - Weight in the Water (mathcore, screamo)
Serving up a fun combo of mathcore and screamo, the Wisconsin-based Graysea dropped one of the strongest EPs of the year this April. Emerging last year with their debut EP Under the Surface, they’ve followed it up just a year later with Weight In the Water, an equally banging release that serves as a thematic sequel, with depressing lyrics about depression, loss and separation and living with the weight of it all. This time around they’ve stretched their range, bringing on more melodic elements as well as calling up Underoath vocalist Aaron Gillespie for the final track “Save Face”. The divisive element of Graysea for listeners will probably be the vocals. Vocalist David Tarantino has a desperate wail similar to Peter Rono of Kaonashi, with a touch more sass involved. If you’re on board with that brand of pained, manic, anxiety-laced screams, there’s a lot to love here throughout the 5-tracks spanning a digestible 23-minute run-time. Instrumentally, there’s panic chords galore, sludgy breakdowns and Greyhaven-like melodies, which are given an appropriately raw and immersive production work by Will Putney.
For as morose as most of the lyrics here are, there’s an undeniable element of ‘fun’ in their song-writing. Take the hand-clap-accented riffs in “Manipulation” and frequent unpredictable tempo changes, or the surprisingly catchy clean vocal melodies of “Abandon Meant” and “Less Than Three <3” (which has some riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a prog metal album). Weight in the Water is a tightly and efficiently composed slab of emotionally charged and chaotic -core music from one of the most promising up-and-coming bands in the scene.
Squid Pisser - My Tadpole Legion (noisecore, experimental hardcore, noise rock)
The core of Squid Pisser is made up of Tommy Meehan (Deaf Club, Cancer Christ) on guitar and Seth Carolina (Starcrawler) on drums, but My Tadpole Legion comes off as a wider collaborative effort. The album features a broad range of guest vocalists as diverse as Yasuko Onuki (Melt Banana), Nicholas Calonne (Nekrogoblikon), and Arrow Dewilde (Starcrawler). Additionally, Tera Melos drummer John Clardy is also featured on three tracks.
The primary musical reference point for My Tadpole Legion, the band’s debut, is The Locust as well as many other Justin Pearson-associated bands such as Deaf Club and Retox. This is especially true in terms of the Squid Pisser’s spastic approach, which utilizes frantic drumming, chaotic dissonant chords, and oscillating insectoid sounds. And just as The Locust were never one for long-windedness, Squid Pisser breeze through the album’s 9 tracks in just 19 minutes.
However, Squid Pisser should not be relegated to the status of a mere clone (despite also having adopted identity-obscuring masks) because the styles explored on My Tadpole Legion can vary well beyond the scope of The Locust. Whereas album opener “Liquified Remains” more closely resembles The Dillinger Escape Plan at their most riotous, “Vibe Monster” could almost be mistaken for a Brainiac song. The album ends with outlier noise track “Lord of the Frog” (featuring DJ Embryonic Petit Sac), which sounds as if several Boredoms tracks had been put together in the same unwashed low-speed blender.
The variety of styles is also the primary aspect that makes the album sound like a truly collaborative effort. At times, it seems as though Meehan and Carolina crafted each song to fit with the style of the individual vocalists and musicians featured on each track, rather than vice versa. Whether that is actually the case or not doesn’t matter, but the fact is that the style of each vocalist and musician almost impeccably matches the music of the individual track on which they feature.
If noisy, experimental hardcore is the name of your game, then the successfully collaborative effort of Squid Pisser’s My Tadpole Legion should be a priority listen.
The Circle Pit
Brand of Sacrifice - Within Death and Dreams (deathcore)
Cave Moth - Paralytic Love (deathgrindcore)
DEVILOOF - DAMNED (deathcore, visual kei)
dšgb - dšgb (ETID)
moshimoshi - GREEN LP (math rock, screamo)
Scenario. - When All is Said and Done (post-hardcore, skramz)
Sleepsculptor - Divine Recalibration (mathcore, metalcore)
Teeth (not that Teeth) - A Biblical Worship of Violence (brutal metalcore)
Vamachara - No Roses on My Grave (hardcore, metalcore)
Tunic - Wrong Dream (post-punk, noise rock)