Ithaca – The Language Of Injury
Whilst the trailblazing nature of metallic hardcore in recent years has produced some of the most fearlessly important contemporary heavy music, the emergence of London-based quintet Ithaca and the simmering underground hullabaloo surrounding their debut full-length would have us believe that, yet again, the UK scene has placed a world-beating proponent in our midst. It is a giddy thrill therefore that, following just a cursory listen to The Language Of Injury, even the most ardent of hardcore purists will be forced to sit up and take notice (if they aren’t too busy piecing together their dismantled skull).
Calling to mind a post-millennial, post-Calculating Infinity strain of tech-friendly violence (think Johnny Truant, Beecher or Nightmares-era Architects), the band’s sonic bedrock harks back nearly two decades to when, much like today, UKHC bloomed, shaped by the overseas influence of the Ferret Records heyday and the homegrown rosters of In At The Deep End et al. And so, whilst the ultra-hostile din of ‘Impulse Crush’ and the the title-track’s rampaging mutant stomp deliver a wickedly unhinged assault as uncompromising as any of their peers or early ’00s influences, it is the depth and restraint displayed which is the most telling evidence that Ithaca are wise beyond their years.
Indeed, the likes of ‘Gilt’ and a wonderful ‘Secretspace’ are able to channel Oathbreaker at their most spacious and fragile, a smattering of brief atmospheric interludes and sumptuous melodies offering a welcome shaft of light through the darkness, yet it is album highlight and closer ‘Better Abuse’ that brings the bands dynamic expertise into sharp focus; lush ambience and bone-splintering hardcore colliding in a shower of dizzying emotional oomph, all before a thudding, muscular, Converge–worthy groove brings us home. The UK underground may have been on unassailable form of late, but even with the highest of expectations The Language Of Injury is a special debut. A startling rage-rush of angular, scattershot power offering a subtle taste for reinvention and an air of steely eyed conviction, Ithaca are more than a little exciting.
The Language Of Injury is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
A.A. Williams – A.A. Williams
The UK’s favourite hardcore and metal label Holy Roar seem to have great faith in their new signing, London based songwriter A.A. Williams. So much so that she has risen seemingly out of nowhere to capture our hearts, as well as the ears of Roadburn Festival where she will be making her debut performance; a staggering and unheard of introduction! And rightly so… as far as debut EPs go, A.A. Williams has broken through with a remarkably confident release that sounds like an artist who has already figured out their sound and vision.
Featuring four inseparable songs running at 20 minutes, A.A. Williams sounds like nobody else on the Holy Roar roster. The multi-instrumentalist writes highly emotive, relaxed songs that draw as much from the textures and expansive soundscapes of post-rock as they do the brittle warmth of folk music. The most obvious comparison would be to Emma Ruth Rundle, especially those powerful and soaring vocals, yet A.A. Williams has a sound that is distinctly British, even going as far to channel the chamber folk sound of Nick Drake’s classic Five Leaves Left. The future looks incredibly bright for A.A. Williams and we can’t wait to hear a full album!
A.A. Williams is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Mastiff – Plague
Even alongside their filth-encrusted brethren spewing from the UK underground of late, there’s little denying that the hellish extremity that Mastiff mercilessly thrust down our lug ‘oles is especially intense. Emerging from Hull’s shadowy underbelly in 2013, the quintet’s career thus far has been typified by a staunch commitment to aural violence, culminating in the eye-popping sadism of their sophomore full-length Plague, where the band’s head-down primitivism, down-tempo savagery and jaw-clamping ferocity meet in the most thrilling and deadly metallic onslaught imaginable.
Eschewing any empty ideals of instrumental virtuosity and dead-eyed showboating, this murderous quintet contend themselves with weaving a bloodstained patchwork of gruesome influences, leaving their foot off the gas one minute and steadily burying the listener with a series of sledgehammer blows (‘Vermin’), the next blindsiding us with nail-bomb blasts of unfiltered, unrestrained fury (‘Bubonic’). This is Pig Destroyer via Crowbar, with some nods to The Acacia Strain-esque hardcore hostility, and is unflinchingly glorious.
Leaving us a bloodied and broken pulp with the torturous, slo-mo wretch ‘Black Death’ (a nine-minute lesson in cripplingly languid horror), Mastiff bow out having left no stone unturned in their crusade to make the most thoroughly fucking unpleasant music conceivable. A disgusting treat throughout, Plague utterly kills.
Plague is out now on APF Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Judiciary – Surface Noise
Judiciary‘s take on metallic hardcore has been done by others before, but often it’s derivative to the point of being indistinguishable from the next crew with Integrity records and long-sleeve shirts. Not with Judiciary. Granted, debut album Surface Noise is built on the tropes of heavy hardcore (and a few of Slayer‘s), but when you stumble across those kind of riffs on a fretboard or catch that kind of band at a show, there’s just no way you’re not going to weaponize it. How else is an energetic pit going to occur?
Surface Noise is a propulsive 27 minutes, possessing a single mood: anger. The lyrics are also traditional hardcore fare – opposition, struggle, suffering – done right. Several times over Judiciary offer up lyrical specifics that make them that much more engaging. It takes very little imagination to hear ‘Stronger Than Thou’ as an anti-fascist anthem, ‘7.65mm’ as about gun control, and ‘War (Time Is Nigh)’ describes what sounds a lot like a certain president.
Judiciary aren’t reinventing the wheel, but riding it for all it’s worth. In lesser hands this approach could be one dimensional, but the fat–free songwriting and Slayer–inflected lead guitar means Surface Noise is for heshers too. Hardcore kids are definitely spin kicking each others’ faces at Judiciary gigs, and now maybe the headbangers are joining in too.
Surface Noise is out now on Closed Casket Activities. Purchase here.
Words: Gregory Brooks
Astronoid – Astronoid
A touch of the otherwordly never goes amiss in metal, and there’s always something intriguing about a band with an ethereal sheen to their work. Of course, there’s always the risk that that added lustre can give way to copycat pandering, but Boston newcomers Astronoid navigate around this particular potential misstep well on their second full-length. The five-piece’s gleaming riffs are likely to be compared to those of Alcest and Deafheaven, but the band are less devoted to blastbeats than their blackgaze cousins. This self-titled album is instead driven forward by churning rhythms and soaring harmonies, touching at times on the driving momentum of thrash metal or the lofty aspirations of post-metal but never fully becoming either.
Above this cacophony of metallic guitars are muted but majestic vocals that flit delicately and poignantly above subtle time signatures, adding to the celestial atmosphere but also infusing it with enough emotion to truly grip you at times. Metal is often obsessed with raw power and brutish muscularity, but there’s no reason why it can’t also be used for more complex and expressive compositions. This dreamy deluge will likely prove too polished and soothing for many, but if you’re willing to accept you’re metal alongside a considerable dose of soothing delicacy with gossamer vocals, then this is a captivating listen.
Astronoid is out now on Blood Music. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Sofy Major – Total Dump
Already a candidate for least inspiring title of the year, Total Dump is French outfit Sofy Major’s fifth release, and contains a song called ‘Franky Butthole’. As its predecessor Waste had a song called ‘Iron Butt’ and the cover of this record is a grinning beard thick with cream, perhaps we’re not make to take this all that seriously. This would be a shame though, as the rammy contained within is categorically worth a listen. Furnished with a hilariously solid production, from the granite plunge of the title-track onward, Total Dump does a damn good job of elevating the band beyond their previous releases while not straying too far from the sound they’ve clearly worked hard to cultivate.
If you think the Melvins are nose-in-the-air wankers and can picture Kowloon Walled City if they were fun, there’s a lot to love in tracks like ‘Strike’, ‘Kerosene Mike’ and the idiotically-titled ‘Tumor-o-rama’. In truth, this goes beyond its noise-rock descriptor and pumps out material that wouldn’t be out of place on a record by Karp or Ten Grand, with hulking muscle plopping out of its ears. Fabulously raucous, massive-sounding and ace.
Total Dump is out now on Corpse Flower Records. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light
Following the glorious decadence of 2015’s Songs From The North (a 154-minute compendium spanning three flawless records) we could be forgiven for thinking that the sheer girth and sonic adventure of this magnum opus was a peak that Swallow The Sun simply could not surpass. However, with the untimely passing of Aleah Stanbridge, the life-partner of band mastermind Juha Raivio, When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light represents the sort of evocative, sorrow-channelling journey that is both as emotionally dense and absorbing as any of their previous work, bridging griefs every shade and shadow.
Starkly fragile vocal melodies (‘Never Left’), swelling strings (‘Clouds On Your Side’) and plaintive keys (‘Here On The Black Earth’) all add to the sumptuous whole, the record’s stately ebb and flow uniting the hellish power of death-doom’s glacial crawl with some of the most beautiful dynamic interplay, and not only retooling Swallow The Sun’s craft into something (remarkably) even more real and raw, but reaffirming their unerring ability to weld the gruelling and thunderous to the delicate and melancholic. Less generous in scale than Songs From The North perhaps, but WASIFIL is every bit as audacious, opulent and heart-breakingly intense as its predecessor.
When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light is out now on Century Media. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Pulchra Morte – Divina Autem Et Aniles
Following up from their limited edition 7” back in September last year which featured a bollock-dropping cover of ‘Painless’ by Paradise Lost, Divina Autem Et Aniles is Pulchra Morte‘s debut LP, with fittingly grim cover art by Jordan Barlow. The album features former and present members of Eulogy, Exmortis, Wolvhammer, Harkonin and Withered, alongside guest contributions from Naarah Strokosch on cello and additional vocals by Heather Dykstra and 1349’s Tor Stavenes.
Slickly produced by guitarist Jarrett Pritchard, whose production credits include the likes of Goatwhore, Exhumed and Gruesome, this is a savage but crisply accessible record that sits mostly on the brutal side of the spectrum, albeit with ascetically-nuanced qualities that help it stand out from the rest of the pack by incorporating more melodic elements. ‘Thrown To The Wolves’, ‘Ignis Et Tempestas’, ‘Black Ritual’ and ‘Fire And Storm’ are all standouts, each one striving to demonstrate the group’s abundant talent. If you’re a fan of death-doom (think My Dying Bride and the aforementioned Paradise Lost) then this one’s going to make you very pleased. A thoroughly solid first album for a band with plenty of prior experience under their belts, and it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on these guys from now on.
Divina Autem Et Aniles is out now on Ceremonial Records. Purchase here.
Words: Josh Langford Coxon
Bogwych – Coffin Birth
Bogwych is the new drone solo project from Craig Paul, guitarist and vocalist of Sheffield post-metal favourites Archelon. Band members of heavy bands having their own drone, ambient and/or noise projects isn’t a rare thing these days, and as you’d expect, Bogwych brings a small part of the charm and personality gone into Archelon. Coffin Birth is the debut release, listed as an EP despite running at 43 minutes over three distinct movements. Naturally you should expect thick cavernous walls of amp-laden guitar hum, fuzz and feedback, carved in atmospheric and textural ways. Occasionally vocals – spoken, chanted and screamed – drop in at particularly intense moments, but are used very sparingly.
What impresses most about Coffin Birth is that it captures a moment and a vibe. The compositions don’t have a particular direction, they just hang in the air, evoking a journey into the depths of a dark cave. Even the most quiet and minimal moments add to the experience, but of course there are plenty of loud parts too, with the middle composition definitely channelling those Sunn O))) vibes. Like most drone, this is patience testing, but varied and rewarding. Perfect music to hear on headphones at night.
Coffin Birth is out now. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French