Thursday, February 1, 2007

Hit Me Back - Life

Hit Me Back
625 Thrashcore

Ultra-posi, thrashing punk by So Cal kids, barely out of high school, which will put a smile on your face while you’re wind-milling in the pit. This is the best, nay, the only way to describe the monster that is Hit Me Back.

The band takes a traditionally simple style of music (straight-ahead punk rock) and adds complex arrangements that give their songs a density not usually found in the genre. Their song “I’ll Never Turn in my Raffle Tickets for Your Prize” is the best example of this dynamic songwriting on “Life”.

Another example is Hit Me Back leading off both sides of the “Life” LP with acoustic passages. This is Metallica’s old trick of using quieter parts to make the heavy parts heavier. There’s more to be found on “Life” than killer riffs. Their lyrics are killer, too.

The digital age, via numerous internet technologies, has brought forth a new level of cowardly trash-talking. Hit Me Back, through their lyrics, remind everyone that you still need to be a good person, no matter where or when. Their anthems of friendship, unity, and honesty are a welcomed change of pace from the defeatist attitudes held by so many other bands.

If you think punk has become stale, then you’re not looking hard enough. Wise beyond their years, Hit Me Back say that it’s possible to have a good time while doing the right thing.

Here's a live clip of Hit Me Back playing "I Walked Outside and It Smelled Funny."

Time's Up - Discernment

Time's Up
Chainsaw Safety Records

Time’s Up is another band in the tradition of great New Jersey hardcore. The most notable thing about Time’s Up is this is the previous band of Chris and John from Burnt by the Sun. Unlike Human Remains (former band of the rest of Burnt by the Sun), one listen to Discernment and you can tell that this is the musical skeleton of Burnt by the Sun.

Time’s Up played technical hardcore with an obvious Rorschach influence. They took what Rorschach was doing, streamlined it a little, and cranked up the audio violence knob. Killer riffs, well placed changes, and a devastating rhythm section give this three song EP an unmatched brutality.

Discernment is one of those perfectly executed 7” records that makes you want to leave the house right now and search out more of their music. As a matter of fact, the songs on the Burnt by the Sun/Luddite Clone split sound so much like the Discernment EP, I can’t help but wonder if they were left over Time’s Up material.

On a side note, Discernment was recorded by Steve Evetts at Trax East Studio. How many great bands has this guy worked with? Dillinger Escape Plan, Hatebreed, Earth Crisis, this list goes on and on. It’s almost like he’s this decade’s Scott Burns, except that Steve Evetts is way better.

Sheer Terror - Love Songs for the Unloved

Sheer Terror
Love Songs for the Unloved

I bought in the summer of 2000. I was in Hastings and I found this cassette in the dollar bin. It was produced by Tommy Victor and I’ve always loved Prong, so why not? I could spare a dollar.

This was my first and only foray into the land of Sheer Terror. I had heard their name before and I knew that they made some noise in the NYC hardcore scene, but I didn’t hold Sheer Terror in any sort of reverence. I was just trying something new.

I have very mixed feelings about this album. To be polite, half of this album is utterly forgettable, mid-paced hardcore played by a band that missed the crossover boat. I had heard this before and didn’t care for it too much the first time around. However, there were some interesting things going on in the other songs.

“Jimmy’s High Life” is a mosh-a-thon comparable to Lamb of God, as is “Broken”. Both songs possess a guitar swagger that serves as convincing evidence that Sheer Terror are a direct influence on Scissorfight. “Drunk, Divorced, and Downhill Fast” is the sort of pure hardcore song that this entire record should have sounded like. That being said, Paul Bearer sounds best when he varies his vocal delivery.

It’s almost as if “Love Songs for the Unloved” is an album divided into thirds. One third is the forgettable hardcore and another third contains some pretty innovative hardcore songs. The remaining third carries this desire for innovation entirely too far with poor results to show.

“Skinhead Girl” is an awkward, but mildly entertaining attempt to capture the Neurosis/Sepultura tribal vibe. “For Rudy the Kraut” is a ridiculous attempt at making a classic drinking song, complete with a Flogging Molly/Pouges style horn line. Most curious is the “Rock Bottom of the Kitchen Floor”. With this song, Sheer Terror are either making fun of Life of Agony or poorly impersonating one of Life of Agony’s singles “This Time”. Life of Agony once said that they used to get no respect in the NYC hardcore scene, so I’ll give Sheer Terror the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were ridiculing Life of Agony.

These songs are indicators that “Love Songs for the Unloved” was an ambitious attempt to create a diverse album. Unfortunately, no one has ever succeeded at being everything to everyone and the record leaves Sheer Terror without much of an identity. Does Sheer Terror want to wave the old school flag? Do they want to be the good time party band? Do they want to represent for the floor punching youth crews? Regardless, the result is a bland album with a few killer tunes. “Love Songs for the Unloved” is just good enough so that I’ve never sold it on eBay, traded it, or gave it away, so I suppose that it’s a testament to Sheer Terror’s mediocrity.

Here's the promo video for "Unbroken" by Sheer Terror.

His Hero is Gone - The Dead of Night in Eight Movements

His Hero is Gone
The Dead of Night in Eight Movements
Prank Records

His Hero Is Gone plays devastating, crusty hardcore. It’s the sort of music that makes the genre worth your valuable time. These Tennessee natives don’t believe the hype and prefer to let their songs do the talking. “The Dead of Night in Eight Movements” is a perfectly executed EP and proof that at least someone is keeping punk alive.

Produced by Noah Landis (of Neurosis fame), someone who knows what quality hardcore sounds like, “The Dead of Night in Eight Movements” is a truly dark piece of aggressive rock music, bypassing any genre restrictions. His Hero Is Gone use the Metallica dynamic, where the use of slow passages make the heavy parts heavier, to great effect. The best example of this is the use of piano in the songs “Epidemic” and “The End Result”. Don’t get me wrong, His Hero Is Gone do not indulge in Isis-style, mellow guitar licks. This is as brutal as any power violence/crust gets. With their furious thrash assault, creative, melodic (gasp!) tempo changes, and anti-technology slant, His Hero Is Gone doesn’t care about trends, only music.

In recent years, the members of His Hero Is Gone have gone on to form the band Tragedy. Their name has changed, but the game stays the same. Top notch musicianship coupled with the total creative freedom provided by the DIY ethic allows His Hero Is Gone (and now Tragedy) to create a modern masterpiece. If you are in any way, shape, or form a fan of punk music, then search out a copy of “The Dead of Night in Eight Movements” immediately.

Here's a live clip of His Hero is Gone from the More Than Music festival in Columbus, Ohio.

Eighteen Visions - The Best Of

Eighteen Visions
The Best Of...
Sober Minds/Trustkill

Eighteen Visions were such a good band before they decided to sell the fuck out. Their buddies in Avenged Sevenfold are going to help them reach the platinum promised land. This isn’t a case of the little band in my back pocket is too big to fit their anymore, so now I’m pissed because they’re not my little underground secret anymore. That’s never bothered me. I’m as big a fan of Queens of the Stone Age fan as you’ll ever meet.

What bothers me is that I’m always suspicious when bands drastically change their sound prior to signing with a major label. Cave In is the only band I can think of where the style change actually was an artistic move. Usually, it’s a crass business move and this is what I suspect Eighteen Visions of doing. Is their old sound “the real 18V” or is it the corporate rockers?

“The Best Of” is not a greatest hits record, as the title incorrectly implies. Rather, it’s Eighteen Vision’s old 7” material re-recorded for this LP. This is a very clever idea and more bands should employ this tactic, if you ask me. In 2005, Dimmu Borgir did it when they re-recorded the “Stormblast” LP. That record and “The Best Of” provide a band an opportunity to make that early material sound as good as their later output.

In the case of Eighteen Visions, the “No Time for Love”, “Yesterday is Time Killed”, and “Lifeless” EPs get polished here. The new recordings sound great and, if you heard the original EPs, you can tell that the time spent playing together over the years has tightened up this band.

I always liked how Eighteen Visions brought a “fabulous” element to the Earth Crisis/Pantera/Hatebreed/Machine Head style of metallic hardcore. When considering their pre-“Obsession” records, you had a band that could do clean vocals and not sound like pussies. You also had a band that could write devastating breakdowns that didn’t sound like the soundtrack to football practice.

“The Best Of” is a reminder of a time when Eighteen Visions was a deadly hardcore band. This material is also from a period before Eighteen Visions lost band members to Bleeding Through and Throwdown. With that in mind, “The Best Of” is a brutal release by a solid band before they got into bad haircuts and girls jeans.

Finally, I’d like to mention that this LP was licensed to Sober Mind Records from Trustkill. Just like Eighteen Visions, I’m suspicious of Trustkill. When a label stops pressing their own vinyl, that same label attempt to get their CDs into Wal-Mart can’t be too far behind.

Here's Eighteen Visions' video for "Motionless and White" from "The Best Of..."

Books Lie - I Felt Like Such a Loser...

Books Lie
I Felt Like Such a Loser, Until I Realized I was a Winner
Level Plane Records

Books Lie is quite an unusual band. I suppose this is what is called “post-hardcore” but I hate that phrase and I won’t use it. I will say that Books Lie is the musical middle ground between The Locust and The Mars Volta. Books Lie also reminds me of the more cerebral bands like Keelhaul and Anodyne.

Books Lie has a great drummer and they make effective use of keyboards and other electronics, but they don’t ever forget how to rock. “Marker” has riffs in the same vein as Every Time I Die and Between the Buried and Me, but doesn’t sound metalcore in any way, shape, or form. Then, Books Lie turns it around and gives you a song like “Thanks Easter Bunny”, which is similar to Refused’s electronic weirdness.

Books Lie may not be the most original band, but they are able to combined different aspects of the music you love in an original way. “I Felt Like Such a Loser...” is great for scratching that adventurous itch in your listening habits.

The Warriors - War is Hell (Redux)

The Warriors
War is Hell (Redux)
Eulogy Recordings

Hardcore, by the kids and for the kids, is standard procedure for The Warriors. These California natives’ pair their pure-bred mosh riffs with lyrics that sting the soul. Uncompromisingly straight edge, The Warriors pick up in the confrontation department where Earth Crisis left off. The difference, however, is that The Warriors have far more in common, musically, with Terror than Earth Crisis. With only a slight metal influence, they make effective use of Slipknot style noodling over what would otherwise be another by the numbers hardcore album.

I do think it’s irresponsible to compare their suburban California lives to warfare when two wars are being fought right now. There are soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan getting shot at everyday and their experience holds nothing in common with some brat who’s feeling were hurt when someone made fun of their Give Up the Ghost hoodie. I doubt that I’m the first person to point this out and I don’t say it to defend one political side or the other. I say this because The Warriors are a very talented band and it would be a shame if this oversight turned off people who would other wise dig the band.

War Is Hell (Redux) is an incredibly tight album. The two bonus tracks on Redux (this is the reissue of War Is Hell) showcase the band’s remarkable progress after a year of touring as professional musicians. As good as the record is, I walk away anticipating what their future material will sound like. The Warriors are only a few years out of high school and, if they can keep their heads on straight, this young band should have many years of creating quality hardcore ahead for them.

Here's a live clip of "Set the Stage" from "War is Hell".

Phobia - Get Up and Kill

Get Up and Kill
Deep Six Records

As a long time Phobia fan, I was thrilled to see “Get Up and Kill” on the shelf at Vinyl Edge. I immediately snapped it up and put it on the turntable as soon as I got home. A new Phobia release never disappoints, but “Get Up and Kill” was even better than I expected.

“Get Up and Kill” isn’t exactly a proper new album. Side A has eleven new song of killer socio-political crusty grindcore and Side B has six live track recorded in Newport Beach. The new songs are as good as any that Phobia has recorded. If you’ve heard this band before, then you know the drill: blast beats, low-vocal grunts, high-pitch tortured screams, and blistering guitar work.

Phobia is the rare grind band that benefits from proper studio production. The studio polish doesn’t make them sound any less raw. Phobia is the even rarer grind band that plays political hardcore, but never sounds redundant. Quite an accomplishment.

The live tracks slay. This is Phobia in their natural environment, harassing emo kids and inspiring riotous behavior. No one got hit with a bass at this show, as far as I know. (We all know the Real TV story, right?)

Deep Six Records did an excellent job with the packaging of “Get Up and Kill” and the label always makes an effort to keep prices down. I encourage all of you to order “Get Up and Kill” directly from Deep Six and help keep quality hardcore in the hands of the people and out of the hands of big business.

Here's Phobia playing a house party somewhere in California.

KMFDM - Rules

Wax Trax!

“Rules” is a 12” single the way they used to get made. You know, remixes that are actually interesting to listen to and are executed in a creative way. Having been a casual KMFDM fan for years, I bought “Rules” at Renaissance Records in Killeen, TX back in 1997. I remember being very impressed with the song “Son of a Gun”. It was more danceable than Fear Factory, but heavier than Nine Inch Nails. Then I moved several times, the years passed, and I virtually forgot about this record.

Flash forward to the summer of 2005. I’m listening to “The Sound and The Fury” (the all-night metal show) on Syracuse’s K-Rock radio station late one night. Lo and behold, they play “Inane” from the “Rules” EP. I immediately got that warm and fuzzy feeling. “I have that record”, you know? Having heard the song through fresh ears, I found a new respect for KMFDM.

As previously mentioned, KMFDM are one of the few acts who know how to do remixes properly. They also legitimately combine metal and dance music together, unlike other industrial acts. They didn’t forsake the guitar like Consolidated and Nine Inch Nails often do. They avoid abandoning their dance roots by effectively using keyboards and synthesized percussion. The modern hip hop producers should take notes on how to do it right.

Plus, who doesn’t love the artwork of Brute? Like always, he did the cover art for “Rules”. All in all, “Rules” is a great record for when you can no longer fight that urge to shake your rump and do the bedroom mosh at the same time.

Here's a clip of "Son of a Gun" from "Rules", live in Atlanta.

Flesh Parade - Kill Whitey

Flesh Parade
Kill Whitey
Relapse Records

Deep from the bowels of Louisiana, Flesh Parade has crawled out of the bayou and they’re not having it. These maniacs have dispatched some of the most brutal grind ever recorded. Released in 1997, Kill Whitey stained the already prolific New Orleans metal scene and has been causing post-traumatic stress disorder in listeners ever since.

The vocals are delivered by a pure madman. It’s the finest in tortured “vo-kills”. Buzz saw guitars keep one killer riff after another flying out of the speakers. Flesh Parade’s devastating rhythm section will beat you into submission, and then bang your wife.

Take the best elements of Suffocation, old Napalm Death, and Mortician, add Abita Beer and Tabasco Sauce, and you’re left with the best grindcore band in the south. I have the 7” (gray marble vinyl, ha ha), but the CD has bonus tracks on it. If you’re into grind, go get Kill Whitey right now.

Although the band was devastated as a result of Hurricane Katrina, they’re currently working on new material.

Flesh Parade - Kill Whitey


Dead Wrong/The Banner - split EP

Dead Wrong vs. The Banner
Split EP
War Machine/State of Mind Recordings

Dead Wrong is more boring than Blood for Blood and even less original. Their side of this 7” is the sort of by-the-numbers moshcore that you ve heard a million times before. Dead Wrong’s Cro-Mags-inspired hardcore sounds like what would happen if Terror binged on pain pills. Fortunately, Terror will never binge on pain pills. Unfortunately, Dead Wrong did record this music.

Dead Wrong plays mid-paced “chugga” riffs coupled with the same drum rolls, crashes, and fills that Sick Of It All played on Blood, Sweat, and No Tears. Dead Wrong is a competent band, but I don’t want to hear another band that plays old-school hardcore. You’re much better off actually listening to the Cro-Mags and Sick Of It All instead of Dead Wrong.

The Banner is the reason to listen to this 7”. The Banner also plays tough guy moshcore, but they do it with a horror-inspired flair. Not like the Misfits and certainly not like AFI, think more along the lines of recent Himsa. Unlike Dead Wrong, The Banner understands that this sort of music needs to be played FAST. Effective breakdowns and shout-along choruses that make you want to punch the floor and terrorize your neighbors. “No Surrender” is a mosh pit anthem. Like many of the other split EPs actually worth your valuable time, only one side is worth listening to. Take a wild guess which side that is.

Dead Wrong vs. The Banner


Cave In - Perfect Pitch Black

Cave In
Perfect Pitch Black
Hydrahead Records

By now, everyone knows the story of Cave In’s struggles with RCA, so I’ll spare you the details. It would be glib of me to say that their Foo Fighters songs didn’t work out so they had to go back to playing Slayer riffs again. Though, as always with Cave In, there’s more going on with this band than just what’s on the surface. It would be equally glib to say that Perfect Pitch Black is the album they should have made instead of Antenna. If they could predict the future, then they would rule the world.

So what are we left with? Perfect Pitch Black is the ultimate combination of their old sound and their new sound. This album has the brutal intensity of Beyond Hypothermia and the thoughtful musicianship of Jupiter. Perfect Pitch Black is just what the doctor ordered to get Cave In’s career back on track. Perhaps it was Dr. Thompson who issued that prescription, but certainly he would understand the necessity of this band to regroup and recommit to what made them so unique among the other Northeast metalcore bands.

Many of the songs on Perfect Pitch Black were intended to be their second album for RCA. When that record contract was dissolved, Cave In went ahead and finished the recording process, adding a few more one-off tracks along the way. Hopefully this is beginning of the third chapter in the Cave In saga, as opposed to a swansong for the band. If there were any justice in the world, “Down the Drain” and “Trepanning” would be Top 40 hits instead of Fall Out Boy, The Killers, and all that other horrible crap. “Screaming in Your Sleep” is the kind of high-energy song that these Bostonians have not written in years. Cheers to Perfect Pitch Black and cheers to Cave In. It’s great to have you back.

Here's Cave In playing "Trepanning" off of "Perfect Pitch Black", live in Paris.

Cave In - Perfect Pitch Black


Cursed - I

Deathwish Inc.

I know this doesn’t actually pertain to the music on the record but, with my inner record collector screaming at the top of his lungs, I have to mention this and then we can get down to business. Every band that cares even the least little bit about the packaging of their albums should have Jake Bannon do all of their artwork.

I love all of his Atomic designs material and Cursed is no exception. The digipak for I is one of the most elegant designs I have ever seen for a CD. The black and white artwork (along with the accompanying layout) placed on the cardboard supplements the dark and disturbed music within.

Back to business, I by Cursed is face melting hardcore. Simply put, it’s Black Flag and Negative Approach played with Entombed’s guitar tone, but it’s never that simple with these Toronto natives. Their music is ferocious and the lyrics are sinister. Some have complained that this band is simply volume over ability, but I could not disagree with that more. First, it’s ex-members of the Swarm, so what do you what? Second, these guys write too many good riffs and put to many clever time changes into their brand of hardcore to dismiss their musicianship.

These guys are probably in their apartment in Toronto, planning the invasion of Buffalo, and trying to decide for how much they’ll ransom it back to Albany. Great stuff. These guys wrote an incredibly nasty song about their own conception, "1974.:  How fucked is that? I love it.

Does Headbanger’s Ball got you down? Tired of metalcore, Trustkill, and “bros going off”? Then Cursed is the cure for what ails ya. Hardcore the way it was meant to be played. There’s a little bit of a metal influence to keep things interesting, but I is still punk as fuck.

Cursed - I


No Funeral invades the interweb

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