Review: Pariso/Svalbard – Split

Pariso and Svalbard are two of the most prolific, hard-working and downright fucking fantastic offerings from the section of UK hardcore. They are acts that hold such oft-forgotten notions as integrity in high esteem. You won’t find either of these bands on package tours sponsored by energy drinks companies or sauntering round in high-quality music videos in Supreme caps and Hype t-shirts. This is D.I.Y hardcore at its most confrontational and artistically inclined, showcasing the best aspects of each band in all their ultra-heavy splendour. Teaming up for this unique split-album, the record consists of seven tracks composed individually by the respective bands plus two more which are collaborations between the musicians. Judging by the result of this experimental endeavour, it is a practice that produces some truly edifying results, each band upping their game considerably to produce some of the best work either has written thus far.

Pariso’s contribution is a succinct continuation of the stylistic approach sought on their sublime and punchy record Consanguinity, released last year. With crushing hardcore as its base, the songs are alive with metallic flourishes whilst the heaviness seems to have only increased, the Slipknot influences being more open than ever before. Once a band known for the brevity of their tracks, Pariso have evolved into exceptional craftsmen, able to hold town tight grooves and assemble true ‘songs’ rather than a simple repertoire of crudely conjoined riffs. A cleaner production style aids in the translation of a new-found dynamics, although it benefits the post-hardcore stylings of Svalbard to a much greater degree, accentuating the rift between the band’s quieter and more melodic motifs with their driving intensity. Elsewhere, riffs of particular barbaric intensity, such as the demonic trawl through a particularly doom-laden passage at the close of Pariso’s ‘Underground Notes’, impact with assured viciousness. As in Consanguinity, many of the riffs can easily be construed as ‘hooky’; those that form the central attack on ‘Helios, The Demise’ are particularly memorable examples.

Whilst Pariso bring the muscle in the form of pulverising riffs and imposing physicality, Svalbard’s disposition often seems more cerebral and melodically inclined. ‘Ripped Apart’ exudes skyward-bound post-rock guitars and delay-soaked lead lines that give way to a particularly violent chug. Similarly, ‘Greyscale’ rushes by in a storm of blastbeats, flirting with black metal tropes in frenetic flurries. Reaching a particularly epic apex, it comes across like a snippet of a Guides By Voices track given a screamo makeover. The high-octane mood is lowered exponentially for ‘Allure’, a song whose intro is a work of measured fragility, hushed guitars slowly gathering in pace and volatility until the track opens up into a restless hardcore gallop.

By far the highlights on the record however, are the collaborative tracks which combine the defining elements of each band into an impeccable stew of pure unbridled brutality that includes a particularly bone-headed three note breakdown alongside Svalbard’s favoured melodic guitar lines. ‘Faceless’ posits an instantly tangible thrash influence given the hardcore treatment, warped into a marauding brute of a track. Yet it is opener ‘Floating Anchors’ that really impacts with a composition that is both accomplished and irrevocably heavy, combining a dual vocal attack into a track that nears perfection.

As a showcase for the UK’s hardcore underground, the record posits Pariso and Svalbard as the leading lights within the D.I.Y scene. Immeasurably brutal, yet possessing a more cerebral inclination on the part of both bands, this is a hardcore record to remedy the growing prominence of base and one-dimensional beatdown music. What’s more, it is proof that heaviness and intelligent compositions are not mutually exclusive.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: They Ate Isengard – Abstract Corn Cloud

Abstract by name, abstract by nature. They Ate Isengard is an ambitious project by experimental musician and Gothenburg resident Harvey Parker, who produces disjointed electronica in a kaleidoscopic miasma of screamed vocals, glitch synths and tumultuous moments of frenetic blastbeats, all of which are assembled within the context of some thoroughly rough-hewn lo-fi production. It’s every bit as discombobulating as it sounds and with little conventional melody or even the briefest of grooves to latch on to, Abstract Corn Cloud is a sufficiently challenging listen.

Oftentimes, it comes across as the goth-tinged dance-metal of Combichrist put through an industrial blender and reassembled by the twitching hands of a paranoid schizophrenic, utterly devoid of much needed medication. Tracks such as ‘Laudanum’ consist of seemingly disparate elements colliding and sparring with each other, only occasionally resembling what could be commonly constituted as a ‘song’. It’s cybergrind in cahoots with fairground organs, effervescent synthesizers and columns of glaring white noise, all uneasily co-existing in consistent and unceasing abrasion and attempting to redefine the notion of what a song should be. With copious elements vying for attention, it fractures the consciousness through a searing Totalism, filling every space with opposing elements. For the most part, it’s nothing short of an aural maelstrom of violent twitches and throat-tearing vocals that have been further distorted beyond all recognition. Perhaps the most conventional track is the beat-heavy ‘When The Moon Tilted Backwards’ which manages to refrain from delving too far into the abstract and instead maintains a vaguely coherent shape throughout its three minutes. Emphasizing processed beats, it almost resembles an extremely experimental work of contemporary hip hop in the vein of LA noise-rap trio Clipping minus any notion of languid flow.

The ambition and sheer wealth of ideas is irrevocably commendable and the project is smothered with a stringent audacity most musicians would rather shy away from. Yet, the nature of the tracks as overwhelming in their disparity and furore renders Abstract Corn Cloud as nigh on unlistenable to but a few avant-garde and experimental aficionados. Despite the valiant efforts of Harvey Parker, it seems a veritable long-shot that this brand of avant-garde screamo oddity will penetrate much further beyond the role of niche blogspot curiosity.

2 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Fange – Poisse

Poisse is not a record for the faint of heart or those with a quaint disposition. It is the tortured confines of purgatory personified; awash with abrasion, sliced with bouts of ear-splitting feedback and delivered in a drop-tuning that resides in the lower end of the human capacity for aural recognition. Poisse threatens the destruction of the sturdiest speaker stacks, overflowing with a seething rage; a caustic fury from which there is no salvation. Melody is not a word recognised by Fange, a band consisting of members who have already honed their demonic subversions within the French underground metal scene. It seems that for Fange, the main objective is nothing short of outright decimation, to pummel the listener into submission through crushing riff after crushing riff- occasionally breaking into a laboured gallop and flaunting a groove so mired in sludge and muddy distortion as to render it almost incomprehensible. Every aspect of the record is subsumed in such resolute discord that Poisse is solidified as a supreme work of uncompromising outrage. The vocals, surely unintelligible even to French speakers, amount to nothing less than a hellish gurgle, as if the vocalist is delivering his ragged growls whilst in the throes of being waterboarded.

Fange: a French word which translates as ‘mire’, and therefore becomes the most impeccably apt title for a band since ‘Coldplay’. To expose oneself to Poisse is to wallow in a mire of desolation and depravity of the most extreme order. As such, the record carries an appeal that is hugely limited; radiating a sound of such merciless malevolence as to place Fange into a tiny niche of sordid heaviness. It’s the blistering destructiveness of such powerviolence luminaries as Nails and Weekend Nachos being torn apart by cataclysm, the pace of their onslaught dragged back to a crawl.

The intensity is so extreme, however, that after even a few tracks listeners will be reaching for some Death Cab For Cutie to retain a semblance of balance. Poisse is no doubt a commendable feat of aural extremism, but that very extreme postulation is also the record’s downfall. Dynamism and variety remain defiantly absent and as such the crushing chug and incessant blasts of feedback soon become monotonous. As an experiment in extremity, Poisse is a veritable success. As a rewarding listening experience it is decidedly less so, unless of course, you’re seeking a soundtrack to a bout of good old fashioned violence.

3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: More Than Life – What’s Left Of Me

Since 2008’s esteemed EP Brave Enough To Fail, More Than Life have metamorphosed from scrappy hardcore kids, with a distinct knack for penning memorable melodies, to perhaps the finest and most refined outfit in the healthily crowded sub-genre of melodic hardcore. It is, of course, a genre of paradox: vocal introspection and self-reflection are consistently on par with Morrissey’s levels of ultra-sensitive soul-baring, and it is he whose song ‘Angel, Angel Down We Go Together’ quite fittingly provides the lyric from which More Than Life derive their namesake. Yet, such pained contemplations are usually delivered with a vitriolic catharsis, a throat-shredding furore with which the hardcore contingent once typically rallied against social injustice and heavy-handed police tactics. Whilst hardcore’s more overtly aggressive sphere busy themselves with upping the stakes in terms of belligerence and sheer brute force, acts such as More Than Life, Landscapes and Hindsights ruminate upon fraught emotions whilst casting a net of visionary influence that spreads further than the genre’s self-imposed restrictions.

Their second full-length, What’s Left Of Me, is the fullest realization of More Than Life’s dynamic blueprint which was laid down in more rough-hewn terms within their debut full length Love Let Me Go. Now though, they’re afforded a markedly clearer production quality, allowing for the consideration of nuance and a newfound sonic depth which benefits these nine tracks to no end. First single ‘Do You Remember’ is a prime example- soft, even wispy backing vocals align with delayed guitar and sparse piano lines in perhaps the most instantly affecting outing on the record. Vocalist James gifts his once abrasive screams a melodic edge whilst sacrificing none of the startling conviction behind the delivery. It allows not only for greater clarity in lyricism; it cements the totality of the band’s conscious evolution toward tones that draw farther from the hardcore oeuvre which existed as the main pool of reference amongst their previous output. What is soon palpable is that the distance between More Than Life and their peers is growing, the band throwing off the shackles of their more overtly bellicose past and fronting practices concurrent with Brand New’s more hushed and laconic work. ‘Love Is Not Enough’s’ gorgeous closing coda provides succinct example: an acoustic passage made all the more mournful by the inclusion of a cello- always the go-to instrument with which to denote a sense of sorrow. That’s not to say More Than Life have totally uprooted themselves from their punk sensibilities, tracks such as ‘You’re Not Alone’ and ‘Weight of The World’ carry more than enough kinetic force to incite circle pits of ferocious tumult.

Much of the band’s once blistering drive has now given way to expansiveness. At times, almost shimmering guitars, now devoid of once overdriven tones, cut lyrical passages through the mix. Such a newfound emphasis on aural undercurrents proves More Than Life now possess a clearly defined cross-over sound that they can truly call their own. Of course, they could stand accusation of toning down their once visceral approach, but although they have successfully ridden themselves of clear-cut “mosh parts”, the same cannot be said for the lyrical output which has only been exacerbated in fraught disposition since their previous outings. Mathews offers a lyrical repertoire that is nothing short of a verbal self-flagellation, his reminiscence on lost love and youthful naivety subsumed in a melancholy that’s clearly painful to recollect. Yet, he does so unflinchingly, wearing his emotional scars for all to see.

With decidedly less outward rage with which to mask the bare sincerity of the lyrical palette, More Than Life, and James Matthews in particular, have enacted a particularly brave turn in direction that sees the hardcore influence diminished whilst the melodicism becomes the central facet. Ultimately, it is a development that has more than paid off and the band’s inclinations towards the epic, coupled with a more multi-dimensional approach to songwriting, such a move only points towards their devoted fan-base of sensitive souls growing exponentially.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Naga – Hén

When you think of the Italian musical canon, bone-crunching and gratingly scuzzy doom metal are not high on the list of stylistic attributes often associated with the Italian musical output. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you’ll find the Mediterranean nation is adroit at spawning some downright hellish bands whose aggression is festered by a socio-political landscape in a perpetual state of tumult. The country may seem to possess a low profile in comparison to its European mainland cousins in regards to its output of confrontational bands whose repertoire lays in the realm of the aurally destructive. However, angry music is alive and well in Italy, especially in college towns where the country’s youth search for mediums in which to vent their fury at the incompetence of the self-serving political elite.

Recorded in Naples, in the shadow and ever-ominous presence of Mt. Vesuvius, Hén is a monolithic slab of down-tuned bulldozer riffs and thirteen-minute tracks that drag the listener through several stages of aural attrition. Despite Naga consisting of just three members, they produce tracks with fuzz several inches thick that is both impregnable and all-consuming. A swampy palette is sliced intermittently by shrill screams and vicious gurgles from noise-mongering guitarist/vocalist Lorenzo de Stefano, the exact nature of his vitriol obscured by contorted gargles to such an extent that whether his vocal barrage is delivered in Italian or English is a matter of ambiguity.

Sabbath-inspired riffs are dispensed with the venomous scourge of Toni Iommi. This is, if the hero of heavy metal had stubbed his toe immediately prior to recording the take and vehemently attacked his six-strings with a uniform derision. Hellish power chords are enlightened with discordant open-note stabs whilst some riffs remain employed for several minutes at a time, grinding down the listener with a pummelling monotony. Such monotony is amplified by the languorous pace at which the lumbering riff-machine advances, rarely diverting from a stoic plod that seems to sit at the perfect BPM to enact the ritual of supremely stoned head-banging.

The album’s namesake, ‘Hén’, indicates The One: the divining principle that rules over the entirety of reality. It is what Becoming implies. Although it is dubious whether any divine affinity can be extracted from Hén, the album itself practically forces listeners to stare directly into the abyss, inducing a state of existential uncertainty through its endlessly repeating sludge from which the only salvation can be found in the self. Hén is a record with enough outward malevolence to constitute a satisfactory casual listening experience. However, it is only when you fully immerse yourself in the pulverising scuzz that the record provokes a reaction that transcends the usual rhythmic bodily twitches into notions that offer insight into the nature of one’s true self.

3 out of 5 high fives!