Beatdown is one of the most maligned subgenres in the history of heavy music. Ever since it first lumbered out of the New York hardcore scene in the late 80’s, beatdown has been stereotyped as meathead, one-dimensional mosh music, which has no redeeming features other than as a soundtrack to violence. However, if you scratch beneath the surface (indeed, a Sick of It All pun), you’ll find scores of innovative, diverse and (crucially) fun bands produced by the scene. The thrash groove sounds of Killing Time, the death-infused All Out War and the massively influential Terror have all proven that beatdown is more than mindless riffage.
Most recently bands have been adding death metal flavourings to the sound to create something way heavier, while shying away from the clichés of the mainstream deathcore sound. Alongside the likes of Terminal Nation and 200 Stab Wounds, Tokyo’s Kruelty are very much at the forefront of this new wave. While the aforementioned bands mix the heaviest hardcore with razor-sharp American death metal, Kruelty don’t shy away from the sound’s punk rock roots, mixing in d-beat inflections, as well as a hefty dose of doom metal to their crusty sound. 2020’s A Dying Truth established them as a talent to watch, and now with latest album Untopia (brilliant title) they seem set for the hardcore big leagues.
Opening with the punishing ‘Unknown Nightmare’ the band set out their stall from the off, an eerie, ritualistic sounding intro quickly gives way to a punishing riff, grimy beats and vocalist Tatami’s throat shredding roar. The epic (by punk standards) length of six-and-a-half minutes allows the band to throw in both nods to crust punk and doom death, giving the audience a flavour of everything the band are about. ‘Harder Than Before’ speeds things up a little and is arguably the most traditionally beatdown/hardcore song on the record. Both ‘Burn The System’ and ‘Reincarnation’ showcases the young bands clear knowledge of their forebears, mixing elements of OSDM and even 90’s melodeath into their sound without it feeling contrived or artificial.
One of the highlights of the album is the monolithic ‘Maze of Suffering’, the huge, mid-paced riff bringing to mind the band’s debut album and shows the continuing influence that bands Asphyx and diSEMBOWELMENT have on the Japanese five-piece. The record comes to an end with the earthshaking title track, possibly the finest song the band have written to date. Despite operating at very much the extreme end of hardcore, Kruelty are no strangers to a catchy hook or melody, they are talented enough as composers to bury them deep so that you don’t actually notice how far they’ve burrowed into your brain until you’re humming them on the bus to work two days later.
Untopia is one of those rare albums where the familiar is made to feel new again, and it will hopefully launch Kruelty to a significantly bigger audience. In the classic spirit of crossover, this is an album which will unite punks and metalheads in one big moshing family.
Untopia is out now via Profound Lore Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader