My review process for hardcore records generally starts the same way most kids talk about their favorite new releases. I try to be something of a sommelier, detecting notes of influence in the music I’m hearing. This method is ingrained in hardcore’s written and oral tradition.
I don’t know if it’s the best approach to take with the new Age of Apocalypse record, though.
We can clearly identify the Brooklyn alt-hardcore scene of the early '90s in this. The record also has a fairly mosh-oriented groove which must come from some ‘grim wisdom’ passed down through countless nights in various dive bars across New York’s Hudson Valley. This record is more about the future and present of hardcore than the past, though.
Grim Wisdom, in a different time or context, would be a metal record. I was shocked to learn the guitar player from fellow Hudson Valley acolytes Mindforce, Mike Shaw, isn’t in this band after hearing some of the thrashy harmonic riffs. Unlike Mindforce, however, the galloping punk parts on Grim Wisdom are sparce and hardly ever the focal point of the song.
Calling these tracks midtempo would be cliché. The breakdowns are about as slow as extreme music goes without getting dirgy or doomy. I doubt it’s what they were going for, but the structures and tempos on this are basically Crowbar at 1.5x speed.
The vocals are also atypical in the hardcore realm. Vocalist Dylan Kaplowitz is AOA’s hallmark, and he delivers a monstrous performance on this record. He sounds almost like a demented preacher, especially when waxing spiritual with the lyrics. Mina from Life of Agony is an obvious comparable for the more melodic runs, but Dylan can also underpin his epic range with a gravelly bite that’s distinctly his own. It’s also distinctly metal sounding.
So yeah, whatever. This would have been a metal record in 2004.
Hardcore, however, is coming off a decade where Power Trip, Twitching Tongues, and Cold World were among the biggest and most influential bands in the genre. Grim Wisdom, therefore, isn’t giving us anything the average Triple B enthusiast hasn’t heard before. It’s just delivering the ingredients in a unique way—and at the highest possible level.
AOA’s debut full-length, quality-wise, falls right in line amid what I would describe as “a second golden period” for their benefactors at Closed Casket Activities. This record dropping on the label that did In Love There Is No Law, and being masterfully produced by Taylor Young of Twitching Tongues, feels like a handing of the torch.
AOA are poised to be the big dogs in the rather singular lane Twitching Tongues dominated. It’s a lane not too many can occupy safely. Sure, you can try and wail like the chick from LOA, but can you write a mosh riff like the last part on “Valley of the Mystic”? Can you write an earworm like the hook on “Kingdom of Rot”? Can you play bass as good Joe Shannon on “Casualty of Time”? If the answer is no, I’m not listening to your band try and replicate the worst parts of early '90s Brooklyn.
This band can do all that, and they add their own “steeped in Hudson River” thrash-core flavour. I’ll personally take this over the bands that influenced it, because it’s immediate, it’s future facing, and it’s not trying to get played on alternative radio.
I’m willing to say this is as good as modern hardcore gets in 2022, and if you ask some people, it’s not even a hardcore record.
You’d be hard pressed, though, to find someone who says it isn’t good.
Tagged: age of apocalypse