We’ve been waiting almost exactly three years, since 2019’s The Void, for a new Combust project. The band proves on their debut full-length album, Another Life, that they haven’t used that time to rest on their laurels.
This is a beefy hardcore record—11 songs, all but two of which run longer than 2:00. We’re not talking about some namby-pamby eight song, 17-minute “full-length” on a single-sided LP. You gotta hand it to Combust. They give us the full package in an age where hardcore bands seem content on doing the bare minimum in terms of output.
The production here is strong. Vocalist Andrew Vacante is mixed well, in addition to giving a stellar performance. The mix has all the beefiness of a modern hardcore record, but tonally, the guitars are quite evocative of Combust’s obvious influence—late '80s New York.
I think a lot of modern NYHC-esque bands go for a chunkier and “heavier” guitar tone, and in the process end up losing the touchstones of that specific era. Combust dial up the right sounds while staying up to snuff in terms of modern sheen and shimmer.
I think they’re able to recreate the magic of our favorite records because they’re students of the game. The record is permeated by an intrinsic understanding of late 80’s NYHC. You will at the very least enjoy this if you like its source material, because everything here is in the right place.
Combust are capable, experienced musicians playing the music they grew up with. This isn’t filtered through the lens of Trapped Under Ice or Lockin’ Out Records. We might be inadvertently getting some Ill Blood, but otherwise Combust is going for and delivering on that classic NYHC formula.
But does Icarus fly to close to the sun?
How much without a steady diet of NYHC get from this?
Some of the ideas on here go past faithful recreation and right into blatant copy+paste. Hardcore is built upon homage, and we’re at the point with guitar music in general where you couldn’t write an original idea if you tried.
Something about Combust’s approach is a little on the nose, though. They’re borrowing classic riffs, drum fills and vocal melodies from some of the biggest and most notable songs in their genre. Your mind compares this directly to the classics, and that puts Combust at a disadvantage.
Maybe they’re sprinkling in easter eggs for the genre purists to discover. That’s cool, but it hampers the record’s impact as a standalone piece. The saying is “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Another Life gets caught borrowing once or twice.
The drumming is very solid but lacks pizzazz in a few crucial moments—notably the choruses on “Prison of Time” and “The Lines are Drawn." We get stock standard “big” riffs on these parts. That’s perfectly fine, but you would look for the drummer to fill in the blanks. Instead, we’re left wanting more.
The thrashier moments on this record are in vogue right now, but I don’t know if they serve the final product. Bands like Age of Apocalypse and Cash Only Records label-mates Ekulu are leaning full into thrash. Combust seems like they’re half stepping.
This band pulls from a lot of source material that didn’t know if it wanted to be thrash or hardcore either, to be fair. Still, the record is best when we get the full commitment, similar to bands like Killing Time or early Madball, who had metallic influences but were strictly trying to play hardcore. The solos on Another Life are tasteful and effective, but the shreddy dalliances seem out of place.
We’re getting a good record here, not a transcendentally great one.
Some of the songs do reach lofty heights. The three-track run from “Why I Hate” to “Devil in Me” would stack up well on any classic NYHC release. Album closer “The Lines are Drawn” is about as well written as hardcore gets; from the sure-to-be pile-on inducing singalong to the top tier transition into the breakdown. I feel like not every song received the same fine-toothed attention though.
I guess that’s the danger of writing a longer record. I’ll still gladly take the warts on this, if it means getting 25 minutes of new music on a single album.
Combust is a very good band. They’re the perfect soundtrack to the mid-day slot at a festival. When it boils down to it, though, this album is standing in the shadows of giants.
Another Life faces a double-edged sword of being good enough to evoke Brightside or Blood, Sweat, and No Tears, but not ultimately reaching the same level of quality. That comparison might be unfair, but it’s hard to divorce something so indebted to its influences from the influences themselves.
Still, this should easily make my Top 20 Records of 2022 list.