Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, fellow pit fiends. These intros are getting harder to write; there are only so many euphemisms for moshing I can conjure up before you take me out back and show me new uses for padlocks. Speaking of violence, we made it through another round of ‘is crowdkilling ethical’ Twitter discourse via Alpha Wolf, since we needed the refresher apparently. Seriously though, folks — I know we use it as a tongue-in-cheek category header here, but if you’re out at shows moshing for sport, you should maybe take up kickboxing. Or therapy! Preferably the latter.
It was another absolutely batshit month with too many good releases to bother writing about. Sometimes I think there are simply too many bands. I’m probably right about that, but it’s a good problem to have. Anyway, we’ve got the newest Dark Trails Records release in the lead-off spot, because duh, followed by some of the best up-and-comers in the game. Let’s get it.
The Wall of Death
Black Matter Device – AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS (mathcore)
It’s not like I have to explain it to anyone who reads this column on a regular basis, but when it comes to mathcore, Dark Trail Records (spin-off label from the folks behind Mathcore Index, of course), is ground zero for the resurgence of chaotic and experimental hardcore and metalcore we’ve been seeing in recent years. Taking a stroll through their back catalog is a real Who’s Who of mathcore in The New Roaring Twenties, having put out releases from SeeYouSpaceCowboy, The Callous Daoboys, Fawn Limbs, Mouthbreather, and Under the Pier, to just name a few.
Enter: the third LP from Richmond, VA six-piece Black Matter Device. This latest release from Dark Trail only furthers their status as a tastemaking machine in this corner of wonky whatever-core. Black Matter Device has referred to themselves as “false grind” and “poserviolence,” which accurately foreshadows the cacophony to follow while also highlighting the irreverence of AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS. Selected stories include: trumpets blaring over what sounds like Every Time I Die fed through a meat grinder; sass vocals, slidey guitars, and disco beats; a cowbell signaling what would have otherwise been a devastating breakdown but is instead a wash of noise, and; despite what the tags say, an actual 30-second grindcore track.
AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS is everything. It’s a love letter to mathcore executed to near-perfection. The only thing missing from the mathcore box of tricks is the abuse of a DigiTech whammy pedal, but this record doesn’t even need it, as evidenced by the mind-bending breakdown that brings the album to a close. It’s one of the year’s best so far in this corner of music, and possibly an important tentpole for the ongoing renaissance of mathcore.
Greyhaven – This Bright and Beautiful World (progressive post-hardcore)
No burying the lede here: I’m a sucker for good southern hardcore, and Louisville’s Greyhaven have delivered one of the finest displays we’ve seen in quite some time on their junior effort, This Bright and Beautiful World. In fact, it’s not everyday you hear some of the progressive persuasion, which makes it all the juicier to my swampy little ears. Disciples of He Is Legend, the quartet take that witchy, filthy swagger and rough it up a bit, walking blues riffs out of sandpaper fuzz into a woodchipper of ETID chaos and back again, stopping only for whiskey-smoke melodies and a wink before diving right back into the maelstrom.
“Of Snakes and Swans” is an immediate standout, rumbling in on a mathy run and devolving steadily into a tactical nuke of Big Ass Riffs to knock the chompers out’yer pawpaw’s gums. Lead single “All Candy” is a surprisingly well concocted ode to alt crooners of yesteryear à la Staind or Pulse Ultra, with vocalist Brent Mills really savoring showing off his chops. Tracks like “Fed to the Lights”, however, offer up a little bit of everything Greyhaven excels at: hypnotic post-90s moodiness that sucks you into a cascade of building tension culminating in a bring-it-back-but-slower melodic breakdown to put your heart through a hydraulic press.
There’s a quality to how they approach tone in softer sections that whiffs of The Arusha Accord too, especially on “The Quiet Shakes”, a topsy-turvy track that comes the closest to qualifying as a mathcore ballad as anything else. Finale “Ornaments from the Well” is a heartwrencher from the get-go, leaving you spiritually fulfilled and longing for more once it finally fades out. God, what a satisfying album front to back. This Bright and Beautiful World only gets better the more you listen to it. Greyhaven are onto something here, and I’m dialed in for good.
Heriot – Profound Morality (sludgecore, industrial, death metal)
Exploding onto the scene this month with one of the best debuts of the year is UK group Heriot. They join a growing line of forward thinking British metal like Ithaca, Rolo Tomassi, and Pupil Slicer, forging a new wave of experimentation within the well-trodden paths of heavy musical expression, while also happening not to be fronted by men. It’s stunning how much of the best metalcore-adjacent music in the world is coming out of this scene right now. What’s extra special about this scene is they all have their own pretty clear identity and style, and Profound Morality is no exception. Fusing some of the heaviest elements of metalcore, atmospheric sludge metal, death metal and industrial, this album above all is oppressively heavy.
It’s impressive in how many ways they’re able to capture what we mean by “atmosphere” in a musical sense. Be that through just the gravity-bending heavy distorted guitar tones, the eerie cinematic electronics, or vocalist Debbie Gough’s haunting singing. Right from the opener/intro “Abaddon” we’re hit with some of those synths, drawing from the dark expanse of industrial music while also striking a bit of a sci-fi edge. It’s not unlike something fellow heavy-weights LLNN capture really well to give their blend of sludgy death metal that sense of the bleak terrifying void of space. As the opening chunky groove kicks in it reminds you a little of something off the last Loathe album, however instead of shifting into a moodier soulful direction, Heriot make things much more vile.
The grinding death metal opening of “Coalescence” hits you like a truck, matching some of the heaviest of powerviolence you can find before things slow down and Debbie’s vicious delivery effortlessly swings to a beautifully ghostly melody. Despite these big dynamic shifts from dense heaviness to the almost ethereal, they’re able to avoid much whiplash as the general tone or feeling of the album is largely consistent regardless of the particular style they’re going for at the time. And those gothic, Julie Christmas meets Chelsea Wolfe-esque clean vocals effortlessly fit the sinister evil of Profound Morality.
The one quibble with this release is for something that calls itself a full-length, over 8-tracks it tops out at just over 20-minutes. Yet to their credit, even with what could be considered interludes, they still manage to pack so much into this with nothing feeling like it over or under-stayed its welcome. Credit some of that to the relentless efficiency of powerviolence, as they channel some Full Of Hell throughout. This is really just a brief masterclass of some of the best things happening in heavy music right now, and it makes for such a rewarding and digestible listen with a ton of replay value.
Crossed – Morir (metalcore, blackened screamo)
This is one of those albums that I feel like has been going vastly underappreciated and I want to scream from the rooftops about it. It’s some of the best bits of screamo, metalcore, crust and black metal squeezed into a ball of pulverizing fury. Like Heriot’s Profound Morality, this is another album that doesn’t mess around and hits you repeatedly across its 10 tracks before fleeing into the distance and leaving you in a battered, confused, yet satisfied pulp. They too make the best of their grind influenced song-structures, this time in more of a fusion of emoviolence and blackened metalcore with most of the tracks falling in that 1-2 minute range. The result is 18-minutes of pure fucking hatred.
The vocal style is of those found in blackened screamo or emoviolence, similar to a Yearning or Ostraca in their higher raspy desperation. Not a surprise as they’re on one of the standout screamo labels in the biz at the moment, Western Canada based Zegema Beach Records. But there’s also a bit of crust and sludge to keep things a bit rougher around the edges, somewhat like the excellent Morrow release from earlier this year. The instrumentation however is more relentlessly heavy metalcore, somewhere between END and Death Goals as they’re not afraid to throw some chaotic bounce into their step. And as much as you can talk about how violently evil Morir is, it’s undeniably addicting and fun. At the end of the day, you can’t ask for much more.
ANNA SAGE – ANNA SAGE (mathcore, sludgecore)
Mathcore time. While outshined understandably this month by Black Matter Device, a release equally deserving of your time came from French group Anna Sage with their debut self-titled full-length. With two EPs under their belt dating back to their 2012 formation, Anna Sage have played the long-game here and really came into form on this release. Not your typical frantic and dizzyingly technical mathcore, they’re influenced more from the sludgecore approach of bands like Yautja. But don’t let that sludge factor make you think this is going to be some sort of glacier-paced post-metal release; they vary the tempo really effectively. There’s a refreshing amount of fast paced melodies and blast beats, bouncy punk riffs and just the prerequisite amount of panic chords.
The standout factor here however is really in the diversity of their song crafting. While not straying from their core sound all that much across the 40-minute runtime, there’s just so many unique riffs and breakdowns throughout, and it feels like they never take the same path to get to them. There’s great attention to detail in their layering of at times pretty dense sounds, and the production is far from over-polished but crisp enough to not let things get muddied and buried. Just a really solid release from top to bottom, and an excellent addition to 2022’s growing collection of standout -core releases. It’s currently PWYW on bandcamp so why not give it a spin.
The Circle Pit
A Wilhelm Scream – Lose Your Delusion (melodic hardcore)
Bodysnatcher – Bleed-Abide (beatdown)
Caliban – Dystopia (metalcore)
Cancer Bats – Psychic Jailbreak (hardcore punk)
Candescent A.D – Dissociation In Three Fractions (metalcore)
ISOLATOR – Vanishing Gray (old school metalcore)
Memento. – A Chorus of Distress (old school metalcore)
Monuments – In Statis (progressive metalcore, djent)
Northlane – Obsidian (progressive metalcore, djent, electronica)
Null Valley – Null Valley (sludgecore, industrial doom)