What is a scene, really? Maybe it is the concoction of music journalists, or maybe it’s just a way for fans to distinguish their native sounds from their close or faraway competitors. Oftentimes, scenes take on the feeling of rival sports teams, with typically estranged cities (Boston and New York, Boston and L.A., and well, I guess Boston versus everybody) constantly reenacting their municipal, cultural, and athletic animuses out in the world of recorded sounds. The hip-hop world is well-known for this type of mentality, with rappers frequently proclaiming “(insert city here) Over Everything.”
Less known to the outside world is hardcore music’s brand of tribalism. Similar to hip-hop, several hardcore scenes can claim to be the birthplace of innovation, from Washington, D.C.’s invention of straightedge to New York’s crossover thrash. In today’s hardcore community, boastful proclamations of civic pride abound, but very little tends to distinguish modern hardcore bands from one another. Los Angeles’ Terror sound more East Coast than West (which might have something to do with the fact that their singer is from Buffalo, one of their guitarists is Canadian, and their bassist is from Richmond, Virginia), while Buffalo’s Every Time I Die are often lauded for their incorporation of Southern rock. Complicating matters even more are the foreign bands, many of whom sound strictly all-American.
One of the very few deviations from this trend is the so-called “Second City.” Chicago, besides being America’s repository for violence and a byword for political corruption, is home to one of the more interesting scenes in hardcore. On an even smaller level, two Chicago bands stick out in particular as being the leaders of Chi’s certain sound - Weekend Nachos and Harm’s Way. Both of these bands play together and both contain members who are openly straightedge - a lifestyle that seems out of place in the beer-loving Midwest. Nevertheless, Weekend Nachos and Harm’s Way have established themselves as the preeminent bands from Chicago, despite (or maybe because of) their similar, yet quietly dissimilar music.
Weekend Nachos, who have a weird fascination with Freddy Kreuger and a goofball aesthetic, approach hardcore with a blazing need for speed, a growling thirst for grind. The band’s apotheosis, 2011’s Worthless, is a berating testament to the power of powerviolence, the more punk-inspired brother of grindcore. Worthless has fourteen songs full of ear-bleeding chaos, with unrelenting drums and a tempo that rarely dips below the speed of sound. Clearly, Weekend Nachos are more inspired by hardcore punk’s formative years rather than it’s current climate.
Harm’s Way take a slower road. Combining hardcore’s visceral anger and oft-stated loathing for society with death metal’s thunderous love of the “beatdown,” Harm’s Way have carved out a nice little niche as one of hardcore’s most intimidating bands. Much of this has to do with their lead singer - the obscenely muscular James Pligge. Watching Pligge live is akin watching a caged animal break free, and his furious arm swings might be the only frightening things left in hardcore.
Matching Pligge’s intensity is the music of Harm’s Way, which is an indescribable hodgepodge that embraces hardcore, death metal, djent (the style of metal that is most often associated with Meshuggah), powerviolence, and a little bit of goth rock. While Pligge growls along the lines of Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway, the rest of the band (Chris Mills, Bo Lueders, and Jay Jancetic) are busy hammering out volatile sonatas of scorn.
This, in a nutshell, is Blinded, the band’s newest EP. As their first release on Jacob Bannon’s (of Converge fame) Deathwish Inc. Blinded shows an improvement in the band’s production, which, to be fair, was never terrible. Their earlier full-length, 2011’s Isolation, had plenty of pristine production, but Blinded sounds just a little better. Cheers to engineer Andy Nelson (who has also worked for Weekend Nachos) for this high quality.
Good production is important for heavy bands (with the exception being black metal) because it helps to crystallize the absolute bile of the music. Blinded is no exception, and from “Frontal Lobe” to “Live to Loathe,” the latest from Harm’s Way is a mean motherfucker. As with their previous releases, Blinded weds the band’s misanthropy with tales of paranoia, revenge, and simple, brutal anger. “Mind Control,” which has an equally disturbing video, is a particularly bewildering jam that is anchored by one of the year’s toughest breakdowns. Similar to “Mind Control” is “Blind Stare,” a sordid tale about struggling to live amongst the all-pervasive darkness of life. Harm’s Way cannot be accused of positivity, and their thoroughgoing negativity infects the core of Blinded. There are no breaks on Blinded, for the EP, which only contains five songs, will not let up, even for energetic hardcore kids. Basically, Blinded is the EP for short bursts of anger and long-simmering hate. Readers, you have been warned.
1. Frontal Lobe
2. Mind Control
4. Blind Stare
5. Live to Loathe