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ROTTEN TO THE CORE // AUGUST 2023

Back from hiatus, we round-up of our favourite releases from June and July. Featuring Chamber, Chepang, Johnny Booth, Ostraca, and more!

10 months ago

The dead speak! (bad Star Wars reference). Yes, Rotten to the Core is back after a summer hiatus with a new editor (hello), to wrap up some of our favorite -core releases from June and July. Shoutout former editor Calder for his amazing work steering this ship over the past three years. Moving forward, we’re looking to get things back to the same monthly schedule you’re used to, as August already has delivered some heavy hitters we’ll get to soon. Oh and don't sleep on the The Circle Pit list at the bottom. There were too many releases in the past two months to cover in one column, and certainly some worthwhile releases there worth exploring that might end up on some year end lists.

On a personal topical note, I’m still riding a post-festival high being able to attend perhaps the premiere screamo/emoviolence/grind fest in the world right now, New Friends Fest in Toronto, Canada. Headlined by early-00s screamo legends pageninetynine, queercore/grind icons The HIRS Collective, and the grinding, crusty, genre-bending insanity of Cloud Rat. With support from some RTTC darlings of the likes of .giffromgod, Dreamwell, and locals Respire, the festival delivered three days of nonstop great music, pits, passion, and more than anything, community. A place of like-minded, accepting people being their most authentic, unabashed selves and living in the moment. I encourage anyone into the scene to make the trek next summer, you won’t regret it! Anyway, let's get to it.

-Trent Bos


THE WALL OF DEATH

Chamber - A Love To Kill For (mathcore)

What with the incredible renaissance that mathcore has been experiencing over the last five years, I feel like if I just wrote “mathcore.” in this section, that would be plenty enough supporting evidence to sell this album as a must-listen for the previous two-month period in -core, but Chamber deserves more. You deserve more.

Nashville’s Chamber describe themselves as “psychotic mosh” which is a fitting enough descriptor of their sound. They lean heavy on the hardcore side of genre aesthetics with absolutely violent breakdowns, but the air of chaos and unpredictability makes A Love To Kill For such a fun record. Chamber aren’t exactly avant-garde or anything like that - no Mr. Bungle worship here, at least overtly - but it’s the songwriting choices that make A Love To Kill For so engaging and enthralling. I’m not sure where I expected Chamber to take me after the beatdown in “When Deliverance Comes,” but that intense drum break with swarming atmospheric guitars wasn’t my first guess.

Left-hand turns, stuttering guitars, and panic chords abound, but Chamber arrange things in a way that fans of Botch or Ion Dissonance will love, while simultaneously forging a name and sound for themselves. This record is pissed the fuck off, and teeters precariously between channeling that anger productively with a sinister beneath-the-surface simmer and a full-blown dissociative tantrum. It’s a terrifying roller-coaster of a record, which is exactly what you would hope for.

-Jimmy Rowe

Chepang - Swatta (grindcore)

Swatta is the third full-length album from New York-based, Nepalese-born grindcore band Chepang. According to the band, writing for Swatta began in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and writing finished as the pandemic was coming to an end. Given the circumstances surrounding the writing of the album, the band describes the main theme as one of “hope and finding happiness in chaos and negativity.” As soon as I understood what Swatta consisted of both conceptually and musically, and how it was divided into different sections, I started referring to it as the “grindcore event of the year”, but now I consider it to be the “grindcore journey of the year.”

At times, it feels as though Swatta is indeed taking the listener through an iteration of the monomyth in which the hero experiences unbridled chaos and impenetrable darkness but comes out the other side, bruised and tattered, into the shining light of hope. However, the album seems to narrate this journey in reverse, starting with ten tight and tidy tracks, all entitled with single words starting with “A”. These tracks display a vibrancy and angular melodicism filled with the aforementioned feelings of hope (the first track, “Asha”, being the romanization of the Nepalese word for “hope”). The off-kilter sense of melody in songs like “Anurodh” and “Anumati” are not entirely dissimilar to Rob Marton’s contributions to The Inalienable Dreamless by Discordance Axis. Many of these first ten tracks are also layered with ethereal electronic noise or interludes of beatless guitar-produced ambience that add to the feelings of having transcended challenges in order to reach enlightenment.

The first section bleeds into the second section, which comes off sounding like the climax of a story. It consists of four collaborative tracks that feature saxophonist Patrick Shiroishi (who is a primary collaborator for The Armed on their upcoming album Perfect Saviors). According to the band, this section is intended to be a “journey through darkness.” The electronic and noise components of Swatta are even more prevalent on the second section of the album. “Bid”, which opens up the second section, starts with a purely electronic section and ends with Patrick Shiroishi sounding as if he is fighting off monsters with his . “Ba” features the contributions of new Chepang member Derek (aka Wreckless Life) who provides numerous noise elements that sound insectoid in nature, from a rapid warbling to a rising cicada-like pierce.

As the album continues into the third and fourth sections, the journey becomes ever darker and more chaotic as if the hero is facing ferocious monsters. But the hero won’t be facing monsters alone as the third section features guest appearances as wide-ranging as guitarist Takafumi Matsubara of Gridlink fame, avant-garde guitarist Tashi Dorji, and current Megadeth drummer Dirk Verbeuren, among many others. While most of the collaborative tracks tend not to veer too far from grindcore, the sheer variety in collaborators allows for Chepang’s style to be even more malleable by being stretched into slightly different shapes like playdough.  

The fourth and final section is essentially an experiment in AI and is by far the most chaotic of the four sections. To produce the last five tracks of the album, the band fed AI tracks from the previous three sections to create artificially-generated tracks. But, to add to the chaos, decided to also add in original splices from tracks from the previous three sections. What the listener hears is something very close to actual grindcore songs, but it sounds as if there are several grindcore songs being simultaneously played over one another.

As their Bandcamp page states, “Swatta is [a] record where one will find everything from Chepang, sonically and collaboratively.” But, compared with Chepang’s past releases, it seems that they are reaching for expanses far beyond the limitations of grindcore in order to find a sound that is more wholly their own. This, in turn, is their own grindcore version of the hero’s journey.

-JD

Johnny Booth - Moments Elsewhere (metalcore)

Johnny Booth are one of those bands I’ve always felt I should like more than I actually have. That is, up until this new album, Moments Elsewhere. This is their third full-length since they formed way back in 2008, and it’s fair to say it’s their strongest to date. Johnny Booth play that timeless form of metalcore where hardcore is still ever present, yet there’s a healthy amount of melodies, post-hardcore, southern rock influence, and just enough mathcore to appease that crowd. Comparisons could be made to newer Greyhaven, or even Letlive (RIP) in the way that energetic southern swagger seeps in.

More present on this album than before are some well executed alt metal and tasteful pop moments such as the electronic beats in single “Full Tilt” or the R’n’B leaning chorus of “Only By Name.” This also feels like vocalist Andrew Herman’s strongest performance to date, with a good amount of range from those Letlive-y strained shouts to your typical mid-range metalcore scream, and some refreshingly strong clean vocal melodies not unlike those from Loathe. He’s not afraid to stretch out those notes to bring some needed atmosphere and contrast in pace from the break-neck speed of a few of the heavier punk influenced tracks.

The riffs here are a plenty, getting quite progressive in a swancore way at times, while never straying too far from crushing breakdowns, with enough panic chords thrown in to keep the spin-kicks flying in the pit. They also adopt that Loathe (or Deftones) vibe notably on “Why Becomes How” to give some nice variation in pacing.  As you can tell this album goes quite a few places, yet does them all impressively well. I can see this album expanding their reach, as there's really something here for every modern metalcore fan. Moments Elsewhere is one of the best surprises of the summer so far, and among the strongest metalcore albums of 2023.

-TB

THE CROWDKILLERS

Øjne - Sogno #3 (screamo, post-hardcore)

Øjne are a young Italian screamo band who broke out in 2017 with the release of their debut full-length Prima Che Tutto Bruchi, which personally remains one of my favourite modern releases in the genre. After some down time, the group has finally returned with a much anticipated new EP Sogno #3, complete with 22 minutes of emotionally-brimmed melancholic skramz. I actually had the pleasure of catching these guys live at last year's rendition of New Friends Fest, of which they were one of the highlights.

Musically, they’re on the lighter post-hardcore side of things, with instrumentation not unlike that of a La Dispute, or other more post-rock leaning screamo such as Viva Belgrado, State Faults or Boneflower. As such, their sound is fairly approachable and not overly noisy or overpowering. Yet, they’re still able to convey intense passion through both the baring-his-heart-out vocal delivery that cuts deep into the feelings without even understanding the Italian lyrics, and in how those vocals accent the climaxes and valleys of the songwriting. There’s a good balance of uplifting and catchy melodies and life-contemplating midwest-emo and post-rock riffs coming together for a well-rounded and dynamic listening experience. Hopefully this release is a holdover until a second full-length in the near future, but so far they’ve proved they’re worth the wait and one of the best up-and-coming bands in the scene.

-TB

Needle Play - Townie (mathcore, jazzcore)

It’s a pretty great time to be a mathcore fan. You’ve got a number of bands keeping that Dillinger sound alive, Ion Dissonance worship, bands bringing back the sassy myspace days, stuff like Chamber fusing it with a modern metalcore sound… Then, there’s Needle Play. This project fully embraces the raw, unbounded nature of the genre, experimenting at every turn and being worthy of the ‘jazzcore’ bandcamp tag. This is not an easy listen, beyond just the pure insanity of the compositions, the vocals are split between harsh screams and distressing spoken word sections with a grim subject manner. That said, the lyrics are genuinely quite confronting and good, with a strong anti-fascist and anti-capitalist rhetoric. It has that unhinged Chat Pile like delivery and the instrumentation to match it. There’s a sort of amateurish feel to some of the production and vocals, but this arguably works in its favour? This is not a happy listen, but for many this is not a happy world and Townie gives a voice to that.

As an addendum, this has apparently been a turbulent year for this band, now turned solo-project. They posted on social media that this might be their last release, and the original drummer/song-writer is now the only remaining member and is actively looking for new members. So hey, if you’re in the Massachusetts area and can play guitar or bass and are into weird-ass mathcore, hit them up!

-TB

Mental Cruelty - Zwielicht (blackened deathcore, symphonic black metal)

Time for some more of that “blackened” (see: symphonic) deathcore then. Symphonic deathcore bands calling themselves blackened is basically a meme at this point, but Germany’s Mental Cruelty do the subgenre justice with their fourth full-length Zwielicht, released this June via Century Media. The obvious comparison these days for any band in this realm is of course Lorna Shore. While you're not getting the Will Ramos show and as explosive of breakdowns, the song writing is more interested in genuinely bridging deathcore with melodic black metal riffing and epic Rotting Christ moments. Mental Cruelty were forced to bring on a new vocalist for this album (deathcore vocalists stop being pieces of shits challenge) in the form of Lukas Nikolai who shines bright in his debut, delivering of range of great gutturals and piercing blackened shrieks.

One of the things that stands out the most about Zwielicht is how much there is to take in beyond the vocals. There's something just authentically European feeling about it for one, with touches of folk metal influences and some Dissection worship sneaking in. Of course this is still a deathcore album at its core, but the balance reached here is one of the more interesting and compelling examples you can find. They're not afraid to dabble with grand guitar solos, and the contrast with some of the extended breakdowns like the wicked filth that is the middle section of "Pest" feels natural and earned. I'm not sure how much more there is to explore with this sound, but Mental Cruelty seem eager and capable of challenging that assumption.

-TB

Ostraca - Disaster (screamo, post-metal)

Ostraca are another band I had the pleasure of catching at New Friends Fest earlier this month, and it’s evident they’re rapidly becoming one of the biggest and most important names in the screamo scene. Of the support bands, they easily had one of the largest and most engaged crowds, and after listening to their new LP Disaster, it’s no surprise why. This album is both their most post-metal oriented release to date, and yet their heaviest. There are some serious echoing-from-the-bellows of hell moments here, contrasted with thoughtful and patient post-rocky rhythmic buildups, not unlike early City of Caterpillar. It's worth noting for a screamo band dabbling in the metal world, how little black metal there actually is on here, which is often the case. On Disaster, that influence is taken much closer to an Amenra or the neocrust of a Downfall of Gaia than say Deafheaven, which is refreshing.  

Album opener “Constellation” gives a great taste of what you’re in for here. They ease you with their cathartic upbeat emoviolence and shrill screams, until a piercing high guitar note is sustained for longer than expected, and then boom. One of the most effective, yet relatively simple breakdowns of the year laced with some devastating low vocals unlike much else you can find in this genre. Disaster is such a complete package of noisy, atmospheric dissonance, brimming with existential dread and angry raw passion. This is not only one of the best screamo albums this year, but one of the best albums period.

-TB

The Circle Pit (Best of the Rest)

Abyss Above - Embrace the Abyss (deathcore, thall)

Adrienne - Summer's Beginning (90's metalcore)

Burner - It All Returns to Nothing (metalcore, death metal)

Cel Damage - No Volume (mathcore)

Crisis Sigil - God Cum Poltergeist (cybergrind)

Elwood Stray - Gone With the Flow (melodic metalcore)

Darktide - No One, Nowhere, Nothing (deathcore)

Dwellings - Little Garden (swancore)

Koningsor - Death Process (mathcore)

Loma Prieta - Last (screamo)

Memorrhage - Memorrhage (nu-metal, metalcore)

Organ Dealer - The Weight of Being (grindcore)

Pupil Slicer - Blossom (metalcore)

Rabbit - Bardo (metallic hardcore)

Seasons Worm - A Flower in Faith (old-school metalcore, screamo)

She - Goodpaster (powerviolence)

Signs of the Swarm - Amongst the Low and Empty (deathcore)

Statis - Six Days of Red (metalcore)

SUNAMI - SUNAMI (hardcore)

Vexed - Negative Energy (metalcore)

Wreathe - The Land is Not an Idle God (neocrust)

Trent Bos

Published 10 months ago