First things first: As We Draw sound a lot like Converge. Of course, the same could be said of plenty of modern hardcore bands, but what makes this French trio’s second LP exciting is their ability to take the dirge-like, sludgy-but-not-quite-sludge elements of 90’s metalcore, post-hardcore and (ugh) mathcore to create a unique brand of hardcore which favours cerebral thrills over visceral ones.
Opener ‘The Window’ sets the tone for the album, its ten minutes serving as a comprehensive introduction to the sonic space explored through the later tracks. The sound is anchored by a satisfyingly heavy rhythm section, in which busy drum work combines seamlessly with dense, fuzzed out bass. Rather than blending in with this rhythm section, the guitar is given its own space and floats over the track. A more traditional approach to guitar tone might draw the music towards atmospheric sludge in the vein of Thou; instead the distance left between guitar and bass gives the feel of early post-hardcore bands such as Moss Icon and Lungfish, or even second-wave black metal. Jagged guitar leads are layered on top of one another, while the bass and drums move the song along with only an occasional semblance of rhythm guitar to help out. Although the song moves through a variety of complex time signatures and drifts in and out of tonality, the breakneck transitions favoured by similar bands are eschewed in favour of a gradual evolution which feels more indebted to 20th century minimalism than classic hardcore.
The rest of the album follows a similar tack. Most of the songs are possessed of a movement somewhere between plodding and floating, with tricky time signatures keeping the music out of well-trodden sludge territory. Inventive tom-heavy drum work consistently builds tension, and although the music often threatens to boil over into chaotic thrash, the mood is for the most part ominously subdued. In particular, the brutal intro to ‘Fata Bromosa’ feels like it could have been lifted from the last Nails album, but instead of an excursion into grindcore the violence collapses into an unsettling off-time dirge which in turn gives way to Sleep-like riffing. ‘Denial’ is as close as things get to traditional hardcore, with light use of blast beats and a propulsive introductory riff. Throughout the album, songs evolve by increments, and guitar lines interweave both melodically and discordantly. Mirages is most definitely a guitar album, although it avoids both the riff worship which lies at the confluence of modern death metal, crust punk and sludge, and the wall-of-sound shoegazing which has recently found its way into everything from surf punk to black metal. All three band members are credited as vocalists and it’s hard to say who’s doing what, but for the most part it’s a gravelly take on classic screamo which is at its best when it’s most aggressive. In more vulnerable moments the vocals sound rather too much like angsty post-hardcore, but a powerviolence-like grunt occasionally surfaces to add a pleasant dash of viciousness to the songs.
At fifty minutes, Mirage is a long record, and whilst none of the material present could be considered filler, it’s perhaps not varied enough to warrant the album’s length. The majority of the album is given over to post-rock-meets-hardcore dirges, but several short instrumentals punctuate the tracklist, ranging from Spaghetti Western surf to ambient noise to a waltz-like number reminiscent of Pg. 99’s more gothic moments. These instrumentals form an interesting aside to the rest of the album, and suggest that As We Draw are capable of a much more eclectic approach to hardcore than is found on this album.
4 out of 5 high fives!