Tag Archives: Hardcore

Conan, The Black Heart – Camden, 5th October 2013

A damn good show this despite Slabdragger’s untimely cancellation. If Conan were a footballer they would undoubtedly be “top, top”.

Check out the review over at Echoes and Dust.


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At the Drive-In, ‘Relationship of Command (Reissue)’, Grand Royal

Relationship of Command CoverIt is the year 2000, when Britney Spears and N*SYNC ruled the charts and nu-metal was at its apogee, dominating rock album and ticket sales and the ill-equipped indie rock press where crying out for an alternative (Radiohead were going jazz and Britpop was dead and smelling funny) – yet another saviour was required. At the Drive-In were the incendiary five piece post-hardcore group from El Paso groomed for that role and Relationship of Command duly arrived to critical acclaim. The all skinny, some afro’d, constituents of At the Drive-In were unlikely heroes of student discos in an instant with kids screaming, “Send transmission from the one armed scissor. Cut away, cut away!”

Let’s not entirely define them by what they weren’t though i.e. inarticulate rap-metal bruisers, ATD-I were loud, frenetic, tense and out of the ordinary; witness Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s ornate hyper-speed lyrical pronouncements: “intravenously polite it was the walkie-talkie that had knocked the pins down…prepare to indent, a coma that read – floating in a soundproof costume.” The album itself was a chart ready proposition helmed by nu-metal production lynchpin Ross Robinson who fired all the needles into the red. Like Nevermind before it Relationship of Command was a polished rock beast but unlike Nirvana, ATD-I didn’t sell ten million copies and produce a follow-up they broke up in acrimony instead leading to the conventional post-hardcore of Sparta and the sometimes transcendent, sometimes trash Mars Volta.

But what of the tunes? From the off Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s spidery guitar is welded close to the high tensile backing of Jim Ward’s guitar and the bass and drums of Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar. Arcarsenal rumbles with bass and piano backing and Cedric roaring, “beware!” Pattern Against User paves the way for that left field but hooky as hell floor-filler One Armed Scissor; all stop-start verses and blasting chorus and Cedric dueting with his own “get away, get away” backing and that irresistible ‘doo-doo’ ad-lib. The record offers brief respite from the maelstrom with the clinking electronic opening of Sleepwalk Capsules before the band regain their adrenal resources.

Relationship of Command doesn’t feature lots of variation across its twelve (and now thirteen via a bonus) tracks – the songs are generally about all out attack, albeit a skewed asymmetric one. Invalid Litter Dept, Mannequin Republic and Quarantined opt for more space and melody amid the strained riffing and more scream along lyrics: “Dancing on the corpses ashes” and “They call it a wasteland, baby”. So much of this record is euphoric, highly quotable, sing-along fare not that the spoken intro to Enfilade immediately supports that statement but the handclaps and rolling bassline do. Wrinkly punk godfather Iggy Pop appears on Rolodex Propaganda, a mish-mash of a song notable for its other voice more than anything else. Cosmonaut feels like an album ending song, such is its apocalyptic urgency but it gives way to the melancholic sway of piano led Non Zero Possibility. Actual closer, Catacombs boasts a metallic riff interrupted by slashing chords and staccato rhythm but doesn’t quite reach the heights of that heart-stopping first side of Relationship of Command.

This re-issue follows the pattern of the years following the band’s break-up: underwhelming, cursory backward glances at their legacy; see the tense and, to some, disappointing reunion shows last year, in that there’s only a demo of Catacombs as an addition rather than the wallet shredding multi-format, rarities and artwork of other bloated re-releases in recent years. That approach just serves to underline how great this album still is, there’s no fat just taut impassioned rock and roll and we always need that not just to save us from an overbearing, conservative mainstream from time to time.

First published RoomThirteen

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Converge “All We Love We Leave Behind” Epitaph

All We Love We Love Behind Album Cover

All We Love We Leave Behind is Converge’s 8th studio record and first since 2009’s superlative Axe to Fall. Shorn of that album’s guestlist Converge have, according to singer Jacob Bannon, “really stepped up our game on this record” and that’s the truth. Their trademark splenetic and spidery hardcore song-writing persists with complex riffs, hyperactive drumming, booming basslines and Bannon’s throat shredding vocals; there’s still fire coursing through their veins but it’s tempered by down-tempo, reflective moods and twisted rock scenery creating a coherent, mature record.

The Massachusetts progressive hardcore four piece have evolved consistently over time but unlike say Radiohead, they haven’t ditched their roots – they’ve diversified without diminishing. Songs like opening one-two Aimless Arrow and Trepasses show they can still blast out a spiky song to compete with the best of them but Bannon’s lyrics recounting the heartache of a life dedicated to music are stark: “to live you the life you want and abandon the ones you need…the ones who love you, the ones who need you more” are what can be “sacrificed in order to survive”. Further songs like Tender Abuse, the twisting turning rage of Sadness Comes Home and the hammer blow of Empty On The Inside leave no doubt about the real pain those sacrifices can inflict. As Bannon explains himself, “Every song is rooted in real life, documenting what I have experienced over the past few years.”

Whilst those songs are firmly rooted in the Converge canon there are a number of left turns on and within tracks on All We Love We Leave Behind. Empty On The Inside collapses and reforms itself halfway through before the mid-album point when Glacial Pace abandons the frantic pace for a song of dynamic contrasts: snaking, almost psyche guitar trading space with a number of crunchy riffs with Bannon roaring the song home. The big departure is the mellifluous yet stygian Coral Blue a mid-paced rock song with its words and Kurt Ballou’s chugging guitar dripping with dread and a big hooky chorus: “Coral Blue grows in you. Coral Blue tells the truth”. A chorus that begat a spaghetti western meets surf tremolo guitar breakdown and squealing outro demonstrating the band’s varied repertoire. Precipice features a similar taste for new tones with it’s thin metallic beginnings building via clanking percussion into the title track’s menacing bassline, circular drum beat and broken refrain “you deserved so much more/Than I could provide/Thank you for loving me and bringing light to my eyes/ All we love we leave behind.”

Time moves on and people and tastes change too but so do Converge – they haven’t rested on their laurels and soaked up the accolades but have developed. Their spasmodic attack, coloured by tempo switches, classic rock textures and melancholic lyrics and their belief in taking chances make All We Love We Leave Behind one of the albums of the year regardless of genre. Converge in 2012; still fiercely intense and inventive but also considered and positively plaintive.

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Summer Loving

Went to some gigs recently in London town that couldn’t have been more different: My Morning Jacket at Somerset House and Black Breath at the Borderline. One, a stately manor by the Thames; the other a sweatbox off Tottenham Court Road.

My Morning Jacket were a welcome blast from the past only emphasised by the surroundings and the familiar faces in the crowd. The weather was ropey at best, ducking in and out of umbrellas, but the band were electric. Now it must be said, MMJ are responsible for one of the greatest gigs of my life at the Academy 3 at the University of Manchester Students’ Union in 2003 just as It Still Moves  was releasesd – so they are in massive credit with me but conversely always have a lot to live up to.

Back in the UK playing the sort of venues they should’ve graduated to some time ago were it not for cancelled tours, they’re plugging new record Circuital which to my ears is a return to form after the somewhat wayward Evil Urges. Jim James loons about in the opening electronic numbers warming up the crowd before a raft of ‘oldies’.  ‘Wordless Chorus’, ‘Gideon’ and ‘The Knot Comes Loose’ all from Z rocket by and people respond to the recognisable vibes.  It only gets better from here with drummer Patrick Hallahan showing off his chops backed by the heart melting and blood boiling dualism of Carl Boemel’s guitar and Jim James voice especially on ‘The Way That He Sings’ from At Dawn.

‘Run Thru’ is an earthbound epic that pierces the grey skies before the urge to kick out the jams takes over on the ‘Whole Lotta Love’ style middle section of the melancholic ‘Dondante’. First single off Circuital, the good time referencing ‘Holdin’ On To Black Metal’ engenders a massive singalong as Jim arses about with a cape and towel outfit.

My Morning Jacket are a genuine treasure – a classic American band – earnest yet experimental and endlessly enthusiastic. A band still going places.

That brings me to the fast up and coming blackened hardcore crew Black Breath who take to the Borderline’s pokey stage at 21:30 precisely for 90 minutes of raging satanic rock and roll. Their fans look like you’d imagine (though certainly not all male) i.e. tattoo’d, black shirt wearing metalheads. Their mixture of brute hardcore force and more sinewy black metal guitar lines works. Even if it didn’t Black Breath’s sheer desire would’ve forced the audience’s appreciation. As it was a hefty pit emerged and fans communed with singer Nate McAdams at will giving just as much on the two new songs they debuted from upcoming second record as they did to renowned shitkickers like ‘I Am Beyond’.

But the best part was the chat with the twitching, adrenaline fuelled Black Breath sticksman J Byrum who, while coated in sweat, told me and a mate about how poor Metallica had been at Sonisphere..”I’ve got their records but I don’t have to like them now.” Nuff said, the new rubs up against the old.

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