When you’re part of a new wave of bands which share influences, you’re either content to follow what everyone else is doing, or you’re going to follow your own path. The initial wave of hardcore bands that followed in the wake of those that combined Entombed and Discharge have mostly stuck with that increasingly tiresome HM-2 guitar tone as they continue to try and replicate the first few releases from IT support tough guys, Nails.
UK band Harrowed have previously been lumped in with that wave, but their first full-length, Into Inferno, showed that they were going their own way. It had the hardcore fury, the d-beats, and that familiar guitar sound, but it also had well-crafted songs and unique guitar playing as part of a fully realised vision. They showed that they had more in common with post hardcore bands as they branched out into new territory while sticking to the brutal framework of hardcore punk.
There seems to be a fair few hardcore bands who are branching out in this way right now. Drawing from sludge, death metal and post punk; incorporating dopesick riffs, blast beats, ambient interludes, and various other ‘post’ elements, but it can often feel like a lot of things thrown at the wall in the hope that most will stick. I find that while a lot of these things work, one or two don’t and that’s enough to compromise the overall impact and momentum of what would otherwise be an immersive listen.
That’s not what I get from Harrowed’s new album, Chaotic Nonentity. From the raging, razor-sharp and ultra-tight opening track – a compact sequence of blasting discord and rhythmic attack – expectations are set for a relentless and shifting assault. The majority of tracks are jarring in this way, but they’re also fluid and well-written, full of beastly riffs and battery, taking in straightforward hardcore punk and bone-crushing metal, as well as weird and experimental sounds. A furious energy is at the heart of everything here. Songs take moments to build, pause, or open up before it all breaks loose again, but there are many hints that Harrowed could go off into any number of directions if they wanted to, especially with the more emotive and progressive sections.
While at times it can feel like something of a frenetic show reel from a band brimming with ideas, things are constantly moving forward with a sense of purpose. It is chaotic and may be too schizophrenic for some, but it also sounds meticulous and controlled. The twists and shifts feel very deliberate, like they’re not going to let anything hang around too long so that you’re left struggling to keep up. That is until they slow it all down and things open up to give way to dark and reflective atmospheres.
From the raging, razor-sharp and ultra-tight opening track – a compact sequence of blasting discord and rhythmic attack – expectations are set for a relentless and shifting assault.
By the time you reach the sixth track, Derelict, you see that Harrowed aren’t just chucking stuff at the wall, they’re softening you up by attacking from all angles before they subject you to something deeper as malignant crawling chords give way to ominous melancholy. The album is broken up in this way throughout, as if these tracks mark a debrief and contemplation of the previous bombardments. Things eventually open up even more to incorporate ambient atmospheric sounds with haunting spoken word samples and impressive mini soundscapes, and the title track in particular with its disturbing glimpse of insanity shows that Harrowed have the potential to really mine the unexpected.
The mix of atonal noise and odd, angular riffs punctuating the rhythmic and melodic punk energy, the raw but slick sound, and the chaotic but deft playing, all sounds a lot like Converge to me, and that’s no bad thing. The vocals don’t really deviate from furious, anguished bellowing, but they’re not so imposing or pushed as to be monochrome or irritating, and a lot of emotion and expression comes through. The powerhouse drumming veers from one style to the next, constantly driving every turn in the songwriting and providing rhythmic heft for the arsenal of riffs.
It’s clear that Harrowed are all great players, but as with their previous release, the most interesting aspect of the music lies with the guitars. Odd little flourishes, unusual off-kilter riffs, weird discord, and all sorts of embellishments that cut through the noise. There’s so much going on in among the chaos, and this subtle and intricate guitar work is blended so well with the battery, that you’ll miss a lot of it during the first few listens.
A few of the songs have something of an unfinished vibe, like the band have said all they had to say and they’re not going to hang around to repeat themselves, but I like that. To get the most out of Chaotic Nonentity, you either have to have a taste for a constantly shifting sound or be ready to acquire it. It doesn’t ease you in and it doesn’t let up. It’s constant and intense and it’s all played flawlessly. All of that works as it is, but it also shows that Harrowed could take any one of their momentary ideas and develop it into something more involved and distinctive. It doesn’t all work for me, though. The guitar leads, while very well executed, don’t really fit, but they don’t exactly hang around either so this is a minor complaint left over from an otherwise all-consuming rush. If you’re looking for a stripped down fifteen-minute blast then there’s too much going on here, but if you like the sound of well-crafted and considered chaos with vision and ambition, you should check this out. Harrowed seem very likely to be one of those bands who will take their sound even further, creating their own wake in which others will follow.
Scribed by: Josuph Price