Two things caught my attention about Harsh Reality, the first is that it’s being released by the mighty Three One G and the other is the Daniel Harris cover that reminds me of Sean Taggart’s work on Prong’s Primitive Origins. Both the title and politically charged nature of the tracks (police brutality, poverty, capitalism), are exactly the kind of subjects that you’d expect from a hardcore/power violence band.
Formed in 2020 in Chicago during the pandemic, Stress Positions are comprised of three former members of the band C.H.E.W, drummer Jonathan Giralt, guitarist Benyamin Rudolph, and bassist Russell Harrison as well as new vocalist Stephanie Brooks. Prior to Harsh Reality, the band put out the 2022 Walang Hiya (No Shame in Tagalog) debut EP.
Harsh Reality starts with ringing feedback before erupting around the forty-four-second mark and when it does, christ alive, you better take a step back. I remember Bad Brains frontman HR once being referred to as ‘throat’ and the same can be applied to Brooks such is her equally manic vocal style. She is spectacular and more than ably backed by her bandmates who play with a high level of technical precision ala street thrash titans Nuclear Assault.
Hand To Mouth wastes no time and musically you are reminded of early SSD (particularly Boston Crew), and especially Al Barile’s blunt force trauma approach to guitar. The last forty or so seconds of the track see similarities to Voivod, highlighting the band’s crossover appeal for hardcore and metal kids alike, awesome. The music on How To Get Ahead (the album’s first single) is absolutely exhilarating and reminiscent of what made me fall for Prong initially. I know that Stress Positions hail from Midwest USA, but listening to this beaut is almost like traversing the Lower East Side of New York pre-gentrification.
a hyper adrenalised d-beat attack…
White Leech is prime time Dead Kennedys, think the In God We Trust EP with both the music and lyrics perfectly echoing the sarcastic resistance rock of the San Francisco legends while No Sympathy (For The Police) should leave you in no doubt as to the band’s thoughts on the boys in blue. The track sees the group taking their foot off the gas momentarily to produce a bigger rock sounding number with a distinctly catchy chorus (kind of what the Circle Jerks went for on the Wonderful album), hardly a lighters in the air moment but you get the general drift. A welcome change in tempo.
With Flaming Sword the mayhem returns with a hyper adrenalised d-beat attack topped off with a psychedelic flourish that makes for immensely satisfying listening while the ripping twenty-six-second Performative Justice leaves all niceties and subtleties firmly at the door. Sunken Place is a little akin to latter day Minor Threat were they fronted by Kathleen Hannah (Bikini Kill/Le Tigre). There is a musical dexterity present that you won’t find from your average hardcore band but which Stress Positions excel at.
Ode To Aphrodite is the album’s longest most intriguing track with shades of latter day Jazzy Black Flag/Rollins Band and even experimental noiseniks Oxbow. The spoken word passages recall a young Henry Rollins at the height of his cynicism and solipsism, which makes for a truly disturbing conclusion to the album.
At a mere eighteen minutes, this isn’t a record that hangs about, but there are enough stylistic twists and turns to help distinguish it from the work of their musical contemporaries. For me, this is a sure-fire The Sleeping Shaman end-of-year Top Ten contender.
Scribed by: Reza Mills