The music blog that feels so good
I normally have my ear to the ground pretty intently in order to find out about what’s coming out and new releases in the world of hardcore punk and like-minded genres. Rarely one to pass up anything, I rigorously sift through quite a lot of releases for my listening pleasure. Occasionally digging up some worthy gems, or cursing those releases that foul my ears; but the subject of this review almost passed under my radar- this easily would have come and gone by me without it troubling me. I’m rather thankful it didn’t pass me by. This has definitely got to go on my top 10 EP’s of this year. Let me tell you why.
The members of Spine hail from Chicago and Kansas City, but far more surprising is the list of bands this rather young and (at least I thought so at first) a deceivingly unknown project come from. With current members of Weekend Nachos, Sorry Excuse and Kicked In (as well as formerly constituting a small portion of Harm’s Way) behind the instruments, of which includes the Weekend Nachos frontman John Hoffman on drums and Antonio Marquez, frontman of Sorry Excuse reprising that same role; Spine has muster together an incredibly tight powerhouse line-up from some of the Midwest Hardcore scene’s best and brightest.
This EP, marking the first release for John’s own label Bad Teeth Recording, is Spine’s debut EP effort after churning out last year’s ‘Running Out’ demo on Like Glue Records (which was re-released on tape by Iron Mind Crew a couple of months ago), which up to now had been their only release (besides contributing the song ‘Grip’ on the Casa de Diversion Vol. 3 compilation.) This 7”EP consists of 6 songs spread over 6 and a half minutes, with both the first and last song book-ending the piece as the longest songs (the final track ‘Hardened’ running for a total of 2 minutes 11 seconds); the middle four songs blasting away in a ripping fast time of just shy of 3 minutes. There- in lies what might be the only complaint you’ll be facing with this EP: the length. While Spine certainly doesn’t waste their time with their aural assault, we on the receiving end of their musical fury might feel slightly cheated – not at the song lengths per se, but at the small number of songs this EP has to offer. Although most people who would listen to this would be used to bands/releases that have as many songs as they have minutes etc., You still kinda left wishing to have there been just a bit more time there for you to capture a full experience of the band; I felt that it hampered my listening experience for the first couple of spins – I had trouble picking up on the intricacies and flow of the music; but after more than enough listens, this complaint becomes moot point as the rather jarringly short length of the EP no longer seems to bother one.
Spine incorporate two very distinct genres as an influence to their particular brand of hardcore that creates a rather interesting cross-breed in sounds that the band works to their advantage: Old-school Straight Edge Hardcore/Youth Crew Hardcore and Powerviolence, more or less making Spine just the summation of equal parts Weekend Nachos, Sorry Excuse and Kicked In (You know, the other bands members of Spine are in) but that hardly becomes anything detrimental to the band, the record or your listening experience. The band’s style on the Running Out demo was heavily in favour of former, sticking very close to that traditional sound you’d hear from youth crew and straight-edge hardcore bands completely with riff-work and drumming that is very reminiscent of bands such Better Than A Thousand, Ten Yard Fight, Straight Ahead or Chain of Strength; The whole youth-crew hardcore thing does tend to make up the meat and bones for this EP as well, through which the PV can weave through; Songs such as ‘Release’, ‘Grip’ and ‘Hardened’ boast all the clichés we have come to know and love from SxE hardcore/Youth Crew – down to the gratuitous pick slides, chunky mosh parts (of which ‘Hardened is certainly most guilty of, with it’s closing minute consisting purely of that (and those riffs you’ve probably heard a thousand times over; but where-as that would normally feel derivative or get boring after awhile, Spine delivers it with a kick that’s always sounds interesting, and honestly refreshing when compared to the multitude of revivalist Youth Crew/SxE hardcore bands that perpetuate scene only to sound like each other. With Subhuman however, while still keeping the hardcore in healthy doses, we hear that framework of the traditional SxE/Youth Crew hardcore subverted with spastic blurs of hard-hitting, heavy Powerviolence. This heavier emphasis on Powerviolence in Subhuman creates sharp turn on their older material in their newly found speed by breaking up the more mid-paced youth-crew hardcore riffs – Not only does it add some really nice flavour and texture to the sound, it adds this sense of tension to every piece; Like walking down a scummy-looking alley at the dead of night. The band utilise this Powerviolence aspect much like a predator lurking in that alley with the façade of some well-meaning youth-crew hardcore, but at any moment just beyond the next riff they could blind-sided you with the break-neck speed of their brutal Powerviolence attack, wailing at you with a tight yet spastic fury before receding back into that dark alley to strike again – songs such as ‘Extinction’, ‘Call It’ and the titular track come at you full force with a manic whirlwind of Powerviolence, that grabs hold and digs deep. All parts that make up their sound considered, what Spine deliver may not be the most technical impressive in the world (in terms of instrumentation etc.), but that’s not what their aiming at. They are coming at you blunt, fast and with a mean streak a fucking mile wide to just lay down some hardcore, Spine’s way.
The production on Subhuman is a rather different beast in comparison to their earlier efforts; vastly superior to that on the Running Out, which was by no means bad but the lo-fi quality of the recordings made the guitars come through with a grainy and rather thin sound texture and the often-brilliant drum work got drowned out in the mix during the faster sections of certain songs. The new EP suffers none of this woes – the enhanced production quality available on this EP is phenomenal. Clear and crisp with a full feeling sound. The guitar and bass sounds thick and rich with just enough bite on it for some punchy hardcore, be it some chunky mosh parts or blistering blasts of PV; meanwhile the drum work punches through the mix with just as much clarity and energy to match the other instruments. The vocal work on this release is by far the most strikingly notable and memorable part of this EP and well worthy of praise. Antonio’s gravelled barking vocals are dashed throughout this EP; Powerful, controlling and thoroughly pissed off. I talk heavily about how vicious and aggressive ‘Subhuman’ sounds, and a good chunk of this is delivered solely by Antonio, despite the vocals sitting rather low in the mix in comparison to everything else. The man sounds furious, and he has no trouble conveying that to us as the listener – and it’s one of my absolute favourite things about this EP. The Production for ‘Subhuman’
Ultimately, what we get from ‘Subhuman’ isn’t exactly the most unique or inventive take on hardcore to come out of the woodworks in recent years; the whole thing subsists and routinely revels in old-school straight-edge hardcore and youth crew revival whilst placing an equal footing in the modern Powerviolence scene and Spine don’t have it stray far from the guidelines, instead building a solid base with-in it; The band and its members display an amazing competency in their creation, instead of having the whole thing just drowning itself on the stinking bog of the dime-a-dozen fast pissed-off hardcore bands so mediocre that listening to them end on end starts to run together, Spine seems to rise above it all to deliver an EP that just spits well-timed, focused aggression and righteous fury back at you – a musically intense 6 and a half minute romp through Hardcore/Powerviolence and back again that hits the right spot; I certainly found myself just wanting to listen to it over and over again.