I don’t listen to enough hardcore these days. Until four or five years ago I couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and while I still keep an eye out for new releases from the old favourites, I’ve been pretty bad at hunting out new bands in the genre. So I’m really damn grateful to California’s At Our Heels for sending us a copy of their debut full-length, Misanthropy and Godlessness (Creator Destructor, 2010), and getting me excited about hardcore all over again.
A few minutes into my first listen of Misanthropy and Godlessness and I felt I was back in 2002. The press sheet likens the band to early-noughties heroes The Hope Conspiracy and American Nightmare, and the comparison couldn’t be more right. All the urgency, passion and anthemic quality of records like Background Music and Endnote are here in full force. Lyrics are stirring and memorable, and vocalist/multi-intrumentalist Alex Pulisci delivers them from a throat that could rival those of his heroes.
When I’m gone, I’ll leave no ghost to haunt. / I’ll rot in dirt, the world will tumble on. / No ascending stairs. No fire and brim./ No judgement cast, just nothingness. (‘Teeth and Bone’)
But don’t think that At Our Heels are stuck in the past. Far from it. Pulisci weaves a strain of blackened chromaticism into his guitar lines that could only have come out of today’s underground. Ten years ago few hardcore musics dared (or cared) to dabble in Black Metal, and those that did tended to play the comedy card pretty hard (Teen Cthulhu, anyone? – N.B. Members of that band have gone on more recently to play in the deadly-serious Book of Black Earth). Nowadays the gap between the fanbases is far narrower, and I don’t imagine many BM fans above the age of 16 have much time for the “NO CORE” attitude of their forbears.
The influence is subtle but pervasive. Standard hardcore power-chords are bolstered with rich, dark harmonies (lots of minor thirds); there’s even some blasting on closing highlight ‘Kicking Rocks’; and the lyrics often give a nod towards familiar Black Metal themes, or examine the attitudes that genre often engenders in its fans (take ‘The Old Gloomies’ or ‘Non sum qualis eram’). While definitely a hardcore record, Misanthropy and Godlessness brings an intelligent response to Black Metal that trumps any attempt at genre-crossing or ironic half-parody.
The other innovative side to this album is its structure: apart from the occasional pause for thought, tracks flow into each other with stylish precision, and work just as well as movements of a bigger whole or as stand-alone songs (Alex tells me they sometimes perform the album through from start to finish). All 26 minutes make compelling listening, but the real sting of the record is in the tail. The last three songs take a more experimental approach, and the risks pay off. ‘Rituals’ is a showcase of awesome percussion: after a few seconds of eerie goat nails, we’re treated to a brain-melting barrage of 7/8-4/4 drumming, while arcs of feedback lurch over Pulisci’s ferocious bellows. After the fantastic ‘Capture & Consume’, everything that makes this band great converges in the closer ‘Kicking Rocks’ which slides restlessly from awesome section to awesome section and ends with a killer gang-driven chorus.
I’d recommend getting hold of a physical copy of this album (here). The brilliant cover art from Shirts & Destroy’s Ryan Begley is reason enough, but really you’ve got to hear this album through without even the slightest gaps between tracks. It’s an experience to remember.