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The Wall of Death
Wounded Touch – Americanxiety (metallic hardcore, mathcore)
Sometimes you hear an album that’s dialed in so precisely it trips the sicko mode switch in your primitive, spongy little brain. Michigan’s Wounded Touch have it – that x-factor – the killer instinct that separates the good -core from the uninspired mosh fodder. I mean, that’s the ultimate goal of this sort of music, right? To get a little feral? To tap into that hot-blooded pulsing between your ears and let your eyes unfocus, body given as sacrifice to the promise of sublimation in annihilation? Whatever that elusive thing is we seek in hardcore, Wounded Touch have it in spades.
With solemn, dutiful nods to fever-dreamy millennium alt and careful attention paid to titans like END, Wounded Touch deliver caustic, blunt-force hardcore with enough gas to hypnotize everyone in earshot and turn them into an unwitting sea of fists. It’s gritty, split-knuckle, spittle-flecked vitriol in pill form, with enough melodic callbacks to acts like Poison The Well and A Perfect Circle to feel nostalgic. And while there’s certainly topical anti-American, anticapitalist sentiment throughout, Americanxiety reaches beyond the political and touches the raw, unmoored, emotional nerve woven into metalcore since the early 2000s.
I was floored by this record and still am every time I put it back on. This is the sound of fresh blood in the air. This is the music of an angry, disillusioned populace, hopeful for better days but resigned to bitter truths. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but Wounded Touch have their finger on the pulse and have placed themselves firmly on my radar moving forward.
Without Waves – Comedian (mathcore, progressive metal)
Let’s start off with the album cover. I’m all for atypical artwork in metal, and what at first glance appears as a tragic photo of a flamingo meeting its bloody demise at the beak of another is certainly that. However digging deeper, this is actually just the regular occurence of flamingo’s red vomit dripping down for their off-spring to consume, a bit of a fake-out that is a bit telling of how this album will play out as well. We kick things off with the single “Good Grief” which very clearly feels inspired by the usual suspects of Car Bomb and The Dillinger Escape Plan with it’s rhythmically frantic groove immediately kicking you in the face, and sort of deranged vocals pacing along in syncopation. But then we’re hit with some alt metal or almost Jonathan Davis sounding clean vocals? Alright. Lets see where this goes.
If you aren’t familiar with Without Waves earlier material, they have two albums out already dating way back to their 2011 debut, with their 2017 release Lunar gaining some hype among the progressive metal spheres. This material was largely that sort of progressive alternative metal, so it should be expected to see it carried over here. This head-first-dive into more avant-garde extreme metal stylings and mathcore however is something relatively new, and it’s this experimentation that has pushed this release among the best, or certainly most interesting of the past month.
Lets jump ahead to the peculiar “.algorithm.” A track that starts with more of that rhythmic vocal pacing along to an off-time groove, this time repeating a ten-digit number that I’m assuming is a phone number. If you didn’t realize you were in for a bit of a weird-one, this should seal the deal. This builds into some heavier mathcore riffs and harsh vocals that carry into the up-tempo syncopated panic chord madness that is the start of “Set & Setting” with dissonant downtuned death metally tones and riffs that sound like the very first notes of Protest the Hero‘s “Bloodmeat.” This picks up into a massively in your face section where some Devin Townsend is filtered in nicely with these heavy theatrical vocals over equally dramatic instrumentals. And then all in the space of this 7-minute track, we finish it out with a couple minutes of more of their expressive modern prog style, with mid-range, somewhat Tommy Rogers-esque vocals.
These early tracks are mostly representative of the places that Comedian will take you, and as impressive as a lot of these moments are, I sometimes got the sense this album didn’t know exactly where it wanted to go. The lighter, progressive-alt metal sections at times felt like they overstayed their welcome. And while I consistently praise effective use of contrasting styles and dynamic shifts, with how impressive their mathcore side is, their more restrained songs seemed to suck a bit of the energy out of the album affecting its flow. Overall though, this is still by far one of the more bewilderingly cool albums you’ll find this year that most mathcore fans should really appreciate.
Helpless – Caged In Gold (grindcore, mathcore)
This find came courtesy of the friends at Mathcore Index, who always prove to be an invaluable resource when it comes to music discovery in all things mathy, -core-y, and/or chaotic: UK’s Helpless may be a new name for a lot of you, but they’ve been around for a minute. You’d be forgiven for missing out over the last five years, when things were relatively quiet: their self-titled four-track EP was self-released in 2015, which caught the attention of Holy Roar, who would later release their 2017 debut full-length Debt to some minor buzz and acclaim. Holy Roar, at that time, was just becoming THE label for all things interesting in UK hardcore and adjacent genres before the label boss was center to some allegations in 2020 and the bands and core label personnel lead to a mass exit in the wake, leading to the formation of Church Road Records, which now continues to be a beacon for not just UK, but global forward-thinking whatever-core. We love them — and if you’re reading this column, chances are, you do too — and we’re happy to see those bands and the good people involved in their rise have a happy home.
All that to say: the former Holy Roar and now current Church Road Records name comes with some expectations when it comes to approximate genre and quality, and Helpless certainly doesn’t fail to maintain those high expectations. Their sophomore LP Caged In Gold is a grindy and frenetic record that brings all the abrasive panic chords and hardcore fight riffs that you could ever want. Within each track, Helpless moves seamlessly between mid-era Converge style mathy hardcore and the type of grind that acts like Brutal Truth or Terrorizer employ, and share a close proximity to the type of dark sonic destruction of Gaza and/or Cult Leader. They’re a dexterous bunch, trading in the kind of genre-ambiguous noise that those who adored last year’s Pupil Slicer debut will surely appreciate and keep atop their year-long shortlists.
Caged In Gold is a thick slab of mathgrind that is immediately and deeply satisfying, packed with inventive and memorable riffs, with shifting modes and tones that will surely keep you on your toes and potentially help Helpless break out of their relative obscurity. They deserve it for this one.
Yarotz – Erinyes (metallic hardcore, blackened mathcore)
Yarotz, formerly known as The Third Eye, are a French blackened / metallic hardcore band with a thirst for both brooding atmospheres and banging riffs. With them quoting both Nails and Chelsea Wolfe as their main inspirations on Bandcamp, it’s easy to hear how both of these sides are incorporated into their dynamic sound. Certain tracks do lean more into a powerviolence approach, but they mostly operate in that darker mathcore influenced territory of bands like Cult Leader or This Gift Is a Curse. With how fun and creative some of their more melodic riffs are, this is something I wish they utilized a little bit more. But I can’t really complain about the frenzied panic chords and hardcore punk riffs. Towards the second half of the 38-minute runtime, we hear more of their impressively bleak post-metal influenced sound that actually transitions quite seamlessly with the sinister aggression of their hardcore. On the whole, this is an album with enough violent energy to dust off the ol’ moshin’ shoes for, but with adequate reprieve throughout to stretch out your back while contemplating the rise of the proletariat.
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems (hardcore punk, experimental hardcore)
If hardcore indeed has a heart and soul, Soul Glo are the pulse, checking temperatures heading into the bleak, bleary future. “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))” seems a pretty fitting lead single in this regard, showcasing their dancy, relentless energy and biting commentary about the realities of being Black in America. No one in hardcore has a hold on that quite like Soul Glo do, and they’ve become a powerful voice in the scene for it.
There’s really nothing they can’t do if they set their minds to it, from the devolving grindcore breakdown of “Fucked Up If True” to the southern hip-hop of “Driponomics” ft. Mother Maryrose and everything in between. Even with loftier goals than most groups, Diaspora Problems excels at absolutely everything it reaches for, setting a high bar for the rest of hardcore moving forward this year. This is a can’t miss album from one of the most important bands in the space today. Do not sleep.
Chalk Hands – Don’t Think About Death (screamo, post-rock)
From the breathtaking shot across the bow that opens “Fail, Grasp, Restore” to the drowning finale of “The Bridge”, Brighton’s Chalk Hands burrow deep and commandeer your heart for the duration. Debut full-length Don’t Think About Death is a journey you won’t soon forget. Steering the listener through tempestuous seas of full-throated skramz catharsis, sunny post-optimism shining through the clouds, and the deep, uncertain ocean that separates them, the group have crafted an album as heartening as it is weary.
Morrow – The Quiet Earth (neo-crust, atmospheric sludge)
Crust punk isn’t a genre I’ve spent considerable time with, but my perception of it is generally less than favorable. Like most things in life however, when you merge it with elements of hardcore, screamo and black metal it becomes so much more. Sometimes labeled “neo-crust”, this offshoot has been capturing my attention for the last little while with bands like Oathbreaker, Yautja and Svalbard taking it in their own creative directions. A lesser known but equally impressive act doing this right now is London, UK group Morrow. Where those other names work more prominantly with blackgaze, mathcore and post-hardcore, Morrow, like Fall of Efrafa draws heavily from atmospheric sludge and post-metal while still maintaining a grimey d-beat hardcore side.
The arguably defining, or at the least standout aspect of Morrow’s music is their incorporation of cello and violin. Those deep, twanging string tones harmonize with heart-rendering passion with the emotional fury of the rest of the band creating a deeply impactful and unique sound that has been resonating with me since I first heard their previous album Fallow back in 2017. With The Quiet Earth, all of those best elements are still intact, but this time accompanied by an impressive 14 different guest vocalists from the likes of screamo group Drei Effen, to the black metal Archivist, and a variety of other heavy neo-crust bands. You’d think this cluster-bomb of guest appearances would feel a bit jarring, but they all tap into that same viscerally-pained from how much of themselves they’re putting into it sounding delivery that demands your emotional attention.
To Be Gentle – Wounded (screamo)
Wounded is the sort of raw and abrasive screamo that pays a lot of homage to early names like pageninetynine, with tormented and somber heaviness. With lyrical themes tackling mental illness and convoluted trauma, the pained honesty is translated in their delivery before even reading the lyrics. Those hit too though, with suicidal ideation and self-harm content warnings abound. While these themes remain consistent, the instrumental approach sways from track to track in a flowing and rewarding path from heavier black metal and metalcore influence to the more openly delicate emo and post-hardcore. For how harrowing Wounded is in substance, it’s strangely amusing in how rewarding of a listening experience it is cause it’s just that good. The cognitive dissonance of heartbreak and having a good time.
Crown Magnetar – Alone in Death (deathcore)
The deathcore renaissance happening in 2022 is absurd. Crown Magnetar have been one of the most promising up-and-coming acts in recent years, often overshadowed by more established, heavier hitters. With Alone in Death, however, there is no denying their insane prowess. This is some of the best straight up, no-frills deathcore written in years. It hits just like it should: three-thousand BPM blasts and fills roil your blood as some of the biggest fuck-you riffs (produced to a pristinely sickening tone) lock your jaw shut in a permanent scowl. Broad spectrum brutality at its finest, engineered to make you feel like you’re shitting your pants on the world’s most breathtaking rollercoaster. It doesn’t get better than that, baby.
The Circle Pit
Angelmaker – Sanctum (symphonic deathcore)
Jesus Wept – Psychedelic Degeneracy (metallic hardcore, death ‘n’ roll)
Joshua Travis – No Rest (prog deathcore, djent)
Paleface – Fear & Dagger (beatdown metalcore)
thrown – Extended Pain (heavy hardcore)