Your favorite everything-core column is back, wrapping up some of the best of September (and a sneaky August) releases. This was a pretty stacked month for the genre and obviously we weren't able to get to everything, so we shined some light on a few releases that may have flown under your radar. There were big names like Harms Way (which does kick ass) and Polaris (eh), but the more memorable ones seemed to come from the underground, and particularly internationally this time around. The standout feature this month has to be given to the excellent comeback from experimental grind masters Gridlink, so lets get to it, shall we?
THE WALL OF DEATH
Gridlink - Coronet Juniper (technical grindcore)
In some ways, vocalist Jon Chang is a grindcore institution unto himself. Whether it’s Discordance Axis, Hayaino Daisuki, Gridlink, or No One Knows What The Dead Think, every grindcore project that Jon Chang touches turns out nothing but gold. Coronet Juniper, Gridlink’s first album in almost a decade, is yet another masterpiece in Chang’s long line of modern grindcore classics.
While Chang’s projects have arguably produced the most consistently high quality albums in grindcore history, the projects’ various approaches to the subgenre vary widely depending on who is involved. And that’s part of Chang’s Midas touch: his ability to recruit and maintain talented membership. This particular iteration of Gridlink once again features guitarist Takafumi Matsubara (Formless Master, ex-Mortalized) and drummer Bryan Fajardo (Cognizant, Noisear, Trucido) with recently-added bassist Mauro Cordoba (Maruta, Ramuh).
Whereas Discordance Axis reveled in dissonance, Gridlink has relied on multi-layered tremolo-picked melodies starting with the release of 2014’s genre-pushing Longhena. After recovering from a type of stroke that left his left hand paralyzed, Matsubara’s intense yet melodic sensibilities are just as, if not more, pervasive on Coronet Juniper as they were on Longhena. The band’s pensive melodic tendencies could be described as “autumnal”, evoking wistful reflection. But, considering the speed with which the songs on the album are delivered, one must imagine that deep reflection taking place while speeding 200 miles per hour down the highway as falling leaves rush by you in blurs of amber and russet.
“Ocean Vertigo” is arguably the most unabashedly melodic song on the album despite the fact that the last minute features a guitar alternating between two discordant chords. However, over that dissonance is a violin-like guitar playing notes that allude to the song’s earlier focus on melody. “Silk Ash Cascade” also does quite a bit of melodic work, bursting forth with an introduction that contains two guitars tremolo picking in harmony while a third guitar tremolo picks a melodic line on a string that alternates between open and fretted notes.
While the vast majority of the album is steeped in melody, other tracks, such as “Octave Serpent” and “Anhalter Bahnhof”, recall a more straightforward aggression found on earlier Gridlink releases 2008’s Amber Gray and 2011’s Orphan. But in all of the album’s tracks, whether the more melodious or more aggressive, Fajardo’s near-constant blasting and precise fills keep the spaciousness of the tracks to a bare minimum, which is perfectly expected in grindcore. But when Fajardo does allow space to open up, even if briefly, such as in the very beginning of “Pitch Black Resolve”, it is done strategically to empower the composition.
The only aspect of Coronet Juniper that is somewhat lacking is the production. The album seems highly compressed, and all of the instrumentation seems to be lodged into higher EQ ranges. While this does give a certain clarity to the multiple layers in the arrangements, the production causes the guitars to sound thin and brittle rather than having a depth and richness in tone. Besides the guitars, Cordoba’s bass is buried in the mix and Fajardo’s bass drums lack the punch that is so crucial to grindcore’s intensity.
Even with those minor issues with the production, Coronet Juniper is another modern masterpiece in a long string of Chang-affiliated grindcore classics. Considering that fans were under the impression for years that Longhena would be the final Gridlink album, they now have to ask if Coronet Juniper is even their final form. If it is, then what a form to end on.
Great Falls - Objects without Pain (sludgecore, post-hardcore, noise rock)
Hopelessness giving way to defeatism in light of bleak realities is not a unique theme or approach in extreme music, but there may be few albums this year that perfectly capture this downward spiral as well as Objects without Pain, Great Falls’ first full length since 2018’s A Sense of Rest.
While Great Falls themselves have been operating for more than a decade, the Seattle-based band features former members of noisecore bands Kiss It Goodbye and Playing Enemy. During that time, they have relentlessly pushed a confrontational sound that seamlessly combines elements of sludge, noise rock, and post-hardcore into an unsettling and desolate aural landscape. Objects without Pain is the culminating artistic achievement in perfecting that confrontational sound.
But beneath the bellicosity are more nuanced and vulnerable feelings: fear, anxiety, and depression. According to the album’s Bandcamp page, the album acts as “a snapshot of the turmoil and indecision that occurs after the initial realization of someone’s misery, and before the ultimate decision to end a decades-long partnership”. The pain in exploring this theme is palpable through several elements throughout the album, most immediately vocalist/guitarist Demian Johnston pained, unhinged vocals as they often crack as he is barely able to contain his despair.
While many bands playing this style of music rely on a very intentional use of dissonant chords and intervals, Great Falls utilizes dissonance in a more “natural” way, for lack of a better term. Whether through slight bends, disharmony between guitar and bass notes, or the deft use of open strings clashing against fretted notes, the dissonance seems unforced. The latter is especially evident during the ending of “Born As an Argument” as Johnston’s clean guitar picks fretted notes that create shrill friction against open strings. This more “natural” use of dissonance has the effect of making the anguish throughout the album seem entirely genuine. In short, so much of the string work on this album just sounds wrong, but in a manner that compliments the album’s authentic emotional and mental agony.
The album’s bottom-heavy sound, thanks in large part to bassist Shane Mehling’s rumblings as well as Kowloon Walled City’s Scott Evan’s engineering and mixing, envelopes the listener under its lumbering weight. But there are more subtle elements littered throughout the album that add to the general malaise. Toward the end of “Old Words Worn Thin”, there is a warm, warbling synth, sounding straight out of a 80s horror film, that wavers between tonality and atonality against the strumming guitar. The beginning of “Dragged Home Alive” features a cold drum machine beat with sparse, rung-out chords while reverb-drenched pick scrapes and a woman’s indecipherable whispers ominously color the background.
When freedom means loneliness and belongings mean painful memories, the result is internal turmoil that can leave us paralyzed with anxiety and anguish. Whether through its moments of overt violence or unobtrusive subtlety, Objects without Pain is an exercise in withstanding that very paralysis with all of its emotional and mental torment in tow.
Chaver - Of Gloom (blackened metallic hardcore)
Chaver are one of those immensely heavy metalcore bands, where the term metalcore doesn’t really do it justice. There’s death metal, sludge, metallic hardcore, and with a surprising evolution from their previous works: black metal. I had the pleasure of covering their impressive debut for this column back in 2020, so I was stoked on the follow-up, and it certainly lived up to expectations.
You may however have already heard of this release, for nothing to do with the music itself. In a strange and confusing turn of events, the artist responsible for Of Gloom’s artwork, (Dusty Ray, who also did the cover of their previous releases), seemingly licensed nearly the exact same artwork to pop-star Doja Cat. Eventually Doja Cat changed the artwork to a different spider illustration by the same artist, but the entire saga is troubling and confusing and as of yet, none of the parties involved have commented on it. One positive to come of this however, is the underground German metalcore act getting their name dropped in publications such as Rolling Stone and Exclaim, as well as talked about on Doja’s socials. Was this all some strange publicity stunt to begin with? Who knows, but more ears on Chaver’s still-underrated output is something I can’t complain about. Anyway, back to the music.
Lets start with that black metal influence, a surprising but welcome standout component to the sound of Of Gloom. It brings a specific sort of oppressive, smothering heaviness that only really black metal can accomplish. The guitar tones landing in the realm of chainsaws helps there too. Channeling d-beat, neocrust and war metal, while you’re also being chokeslammed by these consistently brutal hardcore riffs and breakdowns, it’s a wicked fusion of heaviness. That slow riff in “Abysmal Wave” has to be one of the heaviest things I’ve heard this year. It’s just relentlessly punishing, and the 30-minute run-time is the perfect length to keep you engrossed from start to finish without feeling like a dead horse before it’s over. Vocal wise, they’re generally a consistent pained mid-range growl with enough viciousness to match the instrumentation. Chaver have stepped up their game with this release and are an absolute force to be reckoned with.
Serration - Simulations of Hell (metalcore, metallic hardcore)
Personal new favourite discovery from the month of September goes to the Alberta, Canada based group Serration, with their new album Simulations of Hell, out now through DAZE. They’ve released a couple of EPs leading up to this record, including a split in 2018 with Dying Wish. Serration look to follow the breakout hype of their split-mates, and based on the reception and the quality of this release alone, they’re well on their way to doing so. Simulations brings an eclectic mix of hectic, metallic metalcore with a bit of an old-school vibe, akin to the likes of Sanction (who feature on the track “Altar of Guilt”), Vamachara, or Chamber. What distinguishes Serration from these groups is their willingness and ability to embrace more melodic elements and ambience. Lead single “A Suicide Note in Midi Format” is a great example of this. Between the sampling and choppy punch-to-the-face riffs there’s some strong guest clean vocals from Emma of Dying Wish. Equally as impressive is their ability to write for these moments, which seems to come naturally, and certainly opens the door for more inclusion of that in the future. It’s a balance that Ithaca really nailed on their latest full-length and something refreshing to hear more of.
The only downside of this "album" is the length. When you take out two interlude-esque tracks there’s only about 12-minutes of metalcore here, which makes it hard to consider it a full-length and definitely leaves you wanting more. The largely sub-two-minute track lengths do work for them with their grind-like efficiency, but with how well everything is executed it feels like a tease. Yet the songs themselves don’t feel too short, the chaotic visceral violence of their sound lends itself to these calculated bursts. In other words, the actual listening experience isn’t hindered by the length, until well, it’s over, and you find yourself restarting the album again because it’s just that good.
POLYWHY - Wanton Psalms (mathcore, post-hardcore)
Serbia’s POLYWHY is another group that came out of nowhere to blow me away in September, with their second full-length Wanton Psalms. An impressive barrage of frantic mathcore and old-school post-hardcore, with a touch of blackgaze and post-metal? There’s not much not to love. They shift effortlessly between moody atmospheric post-hardcore of bands like Locktender with some of a throwback sound of The Bled, to Svalbard-ian blackened tremolo riffs that explode into disorientating chaos. There’s plenty of dissonance in the heavier moments too. The dizzying noisiness of it is reminiscent of the latest Orphan Donor release, an underrated standout from 2021. Do you like panic chords? Hell yeah. Riffs that sound like a futuristic machine slowly becoming self-aware and evolving itself? Check. There’s just nothing dull about this album, the chaos is fun and engaging, the slower and blackgazey parts are emotive, introspective and uplifting. It simply nails everything it sets out to do, with adequately punchy production to back it up. Don’t sleep.
Правда (Pravda) - Культура (mathcore)
The Russian and eastern European -core scenes have quietly been churning out a ton of quality underground music lately. With Serbia’s POLYWHY mentioned above, dšgb channeling some Botch earlier this year, Bagdadski Vor being one of the cooler newer screamo bands, not to mention they were arguably the first to embrace this nu-metalcore revival sound (the track suits have to help). But a standout of late has to be the St. Petersburg based Pravda, or Правда as written in their native cyrillic. Their new album Культура is their second full-length, and surprisingly a comeback release nearly 20 years after their debut from 2004.
This album actually dropped back in August, but this desperately needs more ears on it so I’m making an exception as it’s simply some of the best mathcore or chaotic hardcore you’ll find this year. It’s melodic, riffy and fun, and consistently just damn impressive. It brings some of the relentless jubilant energy of bands like Every Time I Die, with the same engaging and memorable song-writing yet with the chaos taken up a notch. There’s also a certain maturity to their song-writing approach, allowing things to build and feel earned which is often not the case in this genre. I would have been okay with a more amateurish production given their style, but everything is tight and crisp without hitting that over-produced barrier. The lyrics are entirely in Russian, which arguably adds to it. Maybe subjective, but the Russian language just translates super well into harsh vocals and it meshes perfectly with their sound without really needing to know what they’re saying. It adds to the escapism of the listening experience in a sense, as this really is an easy album to get lost in. Pravda have delivered an absolute gem of a mathcore record here of which very few have rivaled this year. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 19 years for the next one.
THE CIRCLE PIT (More Core to Explore)
Geist - Blueprints to Moderate Sedation (blackened hardcore, crust)
Sprain - The Lamb As Effigy (noise rock)
KEN Mode - Void (sludgecore, noise rock)
Dead Soma - Pathos (mathcore, deathcore)
Blind Equation - DEATH AWAITS (cybergrind, nintendocore, hyperpop)
MY HAIR IS A RAT'S NEST - Tornado Siren (screamo)
Pain of Truth - Not Through Blood (hardcore)
Polaris - Fatalism (metalcore)
Empire State Bastard - Rivers of Heresy (post-hardcore, sludge)
Magnitude - Of Days Renewed... (metalcore, hardcore punk)
The Sound That Ends Creation - Exactly What You Thought, But Worse Than You Imagined (mathcore, avant-garde)
Harms Way - Common Suffering (metalcore, beatdown)
The Hirsch Effekt - Urian (prog metal, mathcore)
Termina - Soul Elegy (prog metalcore, djent)
Rorcal - Silence (blackened sludgecore, post-metal)