Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, my fellow geriatric, retired mosh warriors. If your joints are still in perfect working order and ten seconds in the pit don’t wind you: fuck you, get out!
Just kidding. I’m pretty sure our target audience are icing their knees this very instant at the thought of coming out of retirement, but if your body hasn’t betrayed you yet, we’re rooting for you from the bar, bud. Anyway, this past month saw the massive return of some of UK’s finest southern rockers, as well as the advent of a certain Twilight Zone-themed mathcore unit, some primo new screamo, and fuckin’ CAVE IN, baby! Let’s get it!
The Wall of Death
Gospel – The Loser (progressive post-hardcore)
Progressive screamo darlings Gospel returned this May with their long awaited follow-up to their brilliant 2005 debut The Moon is a Dead World with the more succinctly titled sophomore release, The Loser. While they were one of very few bands to bring a progressive rock influence into their oldschool ‘skramz’, or early post-hardcore sound, it’s clear after 17 years that prog sound is still something they hold dearly as its presence is even more abundant here. Yeah, it’s debatable whether Gospel are even a screamo band anymore, but they’ve retained enough aggressive post-hardcore spirit to appease fans of both the old Gospel, and hopefully some -core fans anew.
Vocally, Adam Dooling’s performance is similar to the likes of newer Fucked Up or older noise rock like The Jesus Lizard. He has a deeply gruff, harsh delivery, combined at times with that deranged energy of a certain former vocalist of Daughters in tracks like the single “S.R.O.”. The vocals play a fairly steady presence across the album and bring a consistent contrast to the swirling, psychedelic complexity of the guitar work, synths and that sweet 70s organ tone. While the instrumentation is undoubtedly abrasive in its dense layering and technicality, there’s a certain vintage polish to it augmented by those ever-present organ chords. The palpable anxiety and manic passion in the vocals such as the explosive closer (and personal song of the year contender) “Warm Bed” adds to the abstract obscurity that is The Loser.
This is sort of an album lost in time. When most people talk about progressive post-hardcore these days, it’s implying bands of the “swancore” ilk like your DGDs and Eidolas. The progressive side of that coin is more of a poppy math rock influence with touches of modern prog metal. The Loser on the other hand is something much more old-school, fusing the raw emotionality of early screamo with older prog rock bands like King Crimson or Yes. The keyboards and drum performance are a huge part of pulling off that sound, and largely what elevates this triumphant 17-year return into something incredible. Kurt Ballou (Converge) and Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna) deserve a shout here for their production and mastering. There’s a lot of distinct textures and layering that the unpredictably fluid songwriting demands a lot from, and they keep it sounding both modern and digestible, yet nostalgic to their roots.
Gospel hasn’t missed a beat over the years. The Loser not only meets the high bar set by their debut, but stands on its own as something refreshingly creative and dearly needed in the post-hardcore scene, and is without a doubt one of the standout releases of 2022 so far. Catch them live in Toronto this summer headlining the best screamo line-up of the year, New Friends Fest, from July 29-31.
Malevolence – Malicious Intent (metallic hardcore, melodic sludge)
Murmurings of Malevolence’s brilliance have been a staple of the UK hardcore scene for nearly a decade now. Yet, while their Pantera-meets-Hatebreed-by-way-of-Crowbar approach to the genre seems tailor made to suit my tastes, I’ve never been blown away by the band’s previous outings, which largely suffered from stilted songwriting and undercooked production. The second issue was mostly rectified on the band’s self-produced and released 2020 EP The Other Side and with the step up to a larger label in Nuclear Blast, following an intensive post-lockdown touring campaign, the band have finally brought the songwriting chops to match their burgeoning profile.
Malicious Intent is an absolute beast of an album. The formula remains the same—the Sheffield quintet one-upping Kingdom of Sorrow’s literal Hatebreed sings Crowbar approach by coming at things from the other direction and daring to wonder, what if Crowbar sounded more like Hatebreed though? It’s a longstanding formula that has seen them well this far. What sets Malicious Intent apart from the band’s previous material though, other than the updated production, is the sheer quality of the songwriting. Every single song on the album is packed with riffs that make your body move, colossal breakdowns to stop it in its tracks and massive Crowbar-style choruses—courtesy of the band’s very Conan-esque rhythm guitarist Konan Hall—that instantly elevate the material above Malevolence’s previous efforts, while also making it more memorable. The standout performance, however, is that of lead guitarist Josh Baines, who seems to have spent the entire lockdown period mastering the art of shredding, so that Hall’s sludgy, NOLA-inspired delivery is now matched by a high-octane lead performance worthy of groove metal heavyweights like Lamb of God, DevilDriver or fellow Brits Bleed From Within.
I’ve seen more than a bit of feedback about this record from supposedly long-term fans decrying the band’s more anthemic direction, the increase in melodic choruses, and sludge-ballad “A Higher Place” as a symptom of selling out. Malicious Intent is certainly a cleaner and more melodic record than Malevolence have produced in the past, but those crying “emo bullshit” would do well to pick up a Crowbar album—any Crowbar album (although I recommend 2001’s Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form, which has had a profound effect on the UK hardcore scene)—or even just any of Malevolence’s own other albums. The melodic choruses have always been there as have the sludge-ballads, dating back to “Turn to Stone” from 2013’s Reign of Suffering. The band may have upped the melody this time out, but they’ve also upped the brutality and the riffage to meet it. Everything about Malicious Intent is simply bigger and better than anything Malevolence have previously put out, as well as anything their peers have released so far this year. When it comes to hardcore, this is the album to beat in 2022.
Cave In – Heavy Pendulum (progressive post-hardcore, spacey alt-rock)
I’m putting this down with the Crowdkillers because I’m really not too sure how much Cave In have to do with hardcore these days, if anything. Don’t get it twisted though, Heavy Pendulum is yet another masterful addition to the metallic hardcore pioneers’ lauded and eclectic discography and absolutely one of the best records of 2022.
The addition of Converge’s Nate Newton on bass is immediately apparent, as is Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou’s presence behind the production desk. Openers “New Reality” and “Blood Spiller” are both built around grinding riffs reminiscent of that band’s No Heroes (2006). The spacey alt-rock and wiry post-hardcore noodling that surround them are pure Cave In, and, as the album progresses, they continue to settle into a softer style more reminiscent of 2000’s genre defying classic Jupiter. There’s still plenty of aggression to be found along the way. “Floating Skull” sounds like alt-rock Mastodon while mid-album highlight “Careless Pendulum” brings to mind early Devin Townsend with its bouncy prog riffing as much as it does Neurosis come its grinding climax. The other major point of reference is Alice In Chains, whether it’s the depressive sludge of “Blinded by a Blaze” or the sullen, acoustic harmonies of “Reckoning”, Jerry Cantrell’s influence is all over Heavy Pendulum and it proves a compliment to Cave In’s already expansive sound.
The only downside to the album is its extensive length. At over an hour and ten minutes, Heavy Pendulum can be a bit of a struggle to get through in a single sitting and some of its latter offerings, such as the under-nourished “Waiting for Love”, seven-minute psyche-out “Nightmare Eyes” or twelve-minute closer “Wavering Angel” tend to meander a bit more than necessary and could perhaps do with a bit of tightening up. Beside being perhaps too much of a good thing, however, Heavy Pendulum is an absolutely faultless record that does away with the need for genre boundaries—throwing back to the band’s golden Jupiter-era while also incorporating everything Cave In have done since, and much, much more.
Antagonist A.D. – Through Fire All Things Are Renewed (metallic hardcore)
Through Fire All Things Are Renewed is the culmination of three EPs Antagonist A.D. have released across the last three years, and might just be the best thing the New Zealand turned Melbourne metallic hardcore crew have ever put their name to.
I shouted out the first of the three EPs, 2020’s Through Fire when it was first released, claiming it contained “some of the best straight ahead hardcore songs you could ask for” in “A.P.M.D.”, “No Justice” and the visceral “Pure Fear”. The subsequent EPs, All Things (2021) and the simultaneously released now Are Renewed (2022), have only followed suit, while maintaining the band’s blatant brand of progressive politics and anti-fascist rhetoric. The bluntly titled “The System is Racist and Oppressive” contains an all-time great moshcall in “Fuck you, you racist cunt!” and ends with a voiceover offering knives to cut of the hands of domestic abusers and offering razor blades for cutting out racists’ tongues. It’s ruthless stuff, and the music is more than brutal enough to match it.
Antagonist A.D. are perhaps only deceptively pig-headed these days, however. Stand-out new addition “Angels at Your Feet, Devils in Your Head” and “Motherland” contain some serious death-metal-style riffing in amongst their hardcore assault, while “Time Waits For No One” contains some of the heaviest and catchiest hardcore songwriting I’ve heard outside of that new Malevolence record. Whether album or EP compilation, Through Fire All Things Are Renewed is a serious show of metallic hardcore that doesn’t pull any of its punches. As a long-time fan of the band, it’s really great to see how much they’ve refined their sound while sticking to their guns. Now get these guys on a bill with Burn in Hell and let’s throw down!
Static Dress – Rouge Carpet Disaster (post-hardcore, metalcore)
Holy scene-kid-nostalgia, batman. Is the 2000’s myspace-core revival being overdone right now? Yes. Does this album still do that scene and its revival justice? Also yes. As someone who actually wasn’t that crazy about SeeYouSpaceCowboy or Wristmeetrazor‘s takes at this throwback sound, I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed Rouge Carpet Disaster, the breakout debut album from the Leeds, UK based Static Dress. Part of that is likely because this album is very okay being post-hardcore above all else. While there’s some panic chords and breakdowns, it’s more strongly driven by its catchy melodies and emo flair, taking influence from the likes of The Used, Funeral For a Friend, and They’re Only Chasing Safety-era Underoath. In a sense, what I’m getting at is the metalcore side of this revival feels largely played out, but there’s still room for more armbands and straightened bangs-inducing post-hardcore of this ilk, and Static Dress have put in a strong pitch to cement themselves at the forefront of this movement.
We’re covering all our bases here at RTTC, as I’ve gone from covering an authentic to its genre “screamo” band in Gospel, to the type of band that intentionally or not, appropriated the “screamo” label from everyone and their mother back in the 00s. I’m surprised this album didn’t have a Hot Topic exclusive vinyl. Even the lyrics scream 2005 MSN status:
But most of all
Did you really need me?
Were we just a passing phase?
Like cigarettes in movie scenes
Hell yeah. While Olli Appleyard’s vocals are tilted more often to the clean side where he delivers a ton of passionate melancholy and angst, it’s his raspy Sonny Moore circa From First To Last channeling screams that are the cherry on the top. They’re a needed injection of a niche sort of nostalgic-brutality that breathes some ferocity into what would otherwise still be a decent melodic emo album. And there are some tracks that embrace that for what it is, like the grungier, Deftones influenced “Attempt 8” and the incredibly mellow “Marisol”. These tracks bring a bit of balance to the more youthful charisma that carries most of the 40-minute runtime.
Static Dress have been building anticipation over the last 3 years since their first single “clean.” dropped, and Rouge Carpet Disaster was worth the wait and deserving of its hype. For all its cliches and mallcore energy, there’s something undeniably grabbing about this release that given the cyclicle nature of music, could be a glimpse into both the past and future of post-hardcore.
Serling – Next Stop, Willoughby (mathcore, tech deathcore)
Time for some unbridled chaos and smacking-you-in-the-face heaviness. Next Stop, Willoughby, the debut full-length from the Twilight Zone inspired mathcore group from Maine should at least temporarily satisfy an itch for new The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza or Ion Dissonance. Most of the songs here oscillate between dizzying, fretboard-mashing mathcore riffs and more deathcore-adjacent heavy chugs. It’s not the most complex or progressive take on this style, but I can applaud them for sticking to what they know, and are clearly good at. They’re in and out in 30 minutes spread over 13 succinct tracks that don’t overstay their welcome, while still leaving you wanting to come back for more.
A surprising two-piece, the vocals, guitars and bass are all handled by Caleb Marsters, while Brandon Doughty fills out the percussion. Vocally, they’re your fairly standard mathcore affair, bringing a mix of mid-to-low range growls akin to other newer groups like Under The Pier, but with their own unique vicious snarl that gives this album more of its own identity. Next Stop, Willoughby should be recognized for what it is: a debut album. There’s certainly room for more experimentation, melody, and a little better production (the bass is notably lacking). But if you’re looking for a fusion of heavy mathcore and deathcore with no shortage of technical bombardments, this is more than worth your time.
The Circle Pit
A Dozen Black Roses – Treading Ever So Deeply (old school metalcore)
Casket Feeder – Servants of Violence (metallic hardcore)
Chamber – Carved In Stone (metalcore, metallic hardcore)
God Mother – Obeveklig (sludgecore, grindcore)
Harbinger – A Letter To Anguish (deathcore, melodeath)
Meow Grave – Our Only Reason To Live (experimental mathcore, cybergrind)
Scary Kids Scaring Kids – Out of Light (melodic metalcore, post-hardcore)
Simulakra – The Infection Spreads (metallic hardcore, death metal)
Trophy Hunt – The Branches On Either Side (skramz, emoviolence)
Windwaker – Love Language (melodic nu-metalcore, alt-metal)