Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: HARM's WAY "Isolation" (Closed Casket Activities)

Harm’s Way play brutal hardcore, but unlike many peers, they are as solid and heavy as it can get without any melodic ear candies or other trendy elements inside. In the present album Harm’s Way put together the grooviest and heaviest styles from hardcore and metalcore, to transform them into a sound uniquely theirs. You can be sure that this record is going to conquer your soundsystem in heavy rotations!

At first listen, Isolation does not sound that startling or extraordinary, rather tardy worn out and cliché, nevertheless it grabbed me from the neck with its megatone heaviness. Slowly as the tracks went by, I started realizing that Harm’s Way stand out from the crowd of ‘chugga-chugga’ thugs and copycats. Especially after listening the title track things got more interesting and addictive to the point that I kept repeating the tracks again and again. Isolation contains at least three of my favourite brutal hardcore numbers of the last years, namely ‘Breeding Grounds’, ‘New Beginnings’ and of course ‘Isolation’.

Here’s the recipe: 90’s mid-paced brutal hardcore ala Buried Alive, Hatebreed, Strife, Terror,  Naysayer etc., pounding open-chord progressions reminiscent of Machine Head (‘The more things change’-period), Throwdown, Soulfly etc (but totally hardcore and personalized). They make some occasional use of thrashy but warm and tuneful Merauder-like riffing of Master Killer era (pay attention to the 2:18 of ‘Slither’ or the starting riff of ‘Pretender’). There are some influences from darker hardcore acts like Integrity or the newcomers Xibalba but also slow downtuned boneshaking Crowbar grooves alongside doom hints. Yes, there are also breakdowns, but given in the band’s plodding and harsh style.

All is delivered in Isolation under an ice cold, introvert yet devastatingly heavy prism with black & white aesthetics. It is anguish, nihilism and soreness that drives Harm’s Way, not the street attitude. It is not another band that produces plastic copy/paste patchworks by the pound; the more you dive into Isolation, the more you realize that it is a cult album that paradoxically deviates from the standard macho style in spite of its heaviness and dance parts. Even though Harm’s Way is a straight edge band, this fact passes totally unnoticed throughout the record.

The songs are perfectly-crafted to reach their ends of pulverizing despair and anger: riffs, moshing grooves, breakdowns put in just the right place to create a flow of different tempos. The severe throaty vocals are sparingly used to force repetitive abstract words into the music like nails and make the crash absolutely harder (in ‘Becoming’ the phrase "cast a shadow. plead. freed" is repeated throughout the whole song). That is a real departure from the tiring endless screaming used by most bands nowadays. 

There are also some more subtle elements that push this record even further like the 2:55 minute mark of the ‘New Beginnings’, where the open-chord groove is molded into pure distorted heaviness that brings sludge/drone mantras in mind (especially the opening riff of Torche’s ‘Charge of the Brown Recluse’). When the vocals kick in the outcome is scorching! Another super effective creative detail is the mellow, quiet end of ‘Slither’ that has an Oceanic era Isis touch (and all the feelings of detachment and withdrawnness it denotes). It lasts only 50 seconds but is again repeated in ‘Pretender’ (the album’s closer) which finishes off with a  synth-assisted epic doom riff.

Isolation is honestly delivered, not overproduced but it has definitely a crashing production (by Andy Nelson at Bricktop Studios, mastered by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering) and highly danceable grooves that can tear any moshpit apart. Harm’s Way deliver mid-paced metallic hardcore of monstrous heaviness; a homage to the 90’s with a reclusive personal twist. While they incorporate a dark image and a hard sound they do not mix many styles (crust/black etc.) like other contemporaries do (see Rise & Fall, Oathbreaker, Trap Them, All Pigs Must Die etc.), they prefer to stay on the straight side of brutal hardcore. Not a single note drifts away from hardcore sound, rather all instruments are packed together like a fist of concrete. Thumbs up also for the great cover illustration by John MacNair!

Harm’s Way have been always changing, steadily focusing their sound on what culminated into Isolation, which is by far their best effort to date. Since it is a relatively young band, the expectations are sky-high for their next steps.  I would be surprised if there are any bands out there that can do any better metallic hardcore than these guys from Chicago.

Harm’s Way previous discography:

(2007) Imprisoned 7’’ EP (Organized Crime records, Tooth Decay Records)
(2009) Reality Approaches (Organized Crime records)
(2010) No gods, No Masters EP (Closed Casket Activities)

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