War Criminal, God Failed Me (Self-Released, 2020)

The Hague Conventions didn’t once mention hardcore, but I strongly urge you not to overlook the Bangor brutalists known as War Criminal.

After the seething opening gambit that was their 2018 Suffer EP, the Vacationland combo is back with God Failed Me

Maine deserves an extended look, if for no reason other than the fact that it birthed these blasphemers.

The new EP is a scabrous takedown of all comers, a barb-laced collection of taut metallic hardcore. Chief among these targets is the invisible sky daddy that they unforgivingly take to task across these five tracks. Examining everything from failed relationships and self-doubt to the hollow void that faith abandoned can leave on the psyche, it’s all done under the veil of heavy hardcore.

In service to the gods that gifted us Year of the Knife, Hands of God, and Jesus Piece; War Criminal also serves well the followers of modern metalcore stalwarts like Boundaries or Typecaste and their highly refined ilk.

They also have the manic and blasphemous edge of Clevo’s dark alley hardcore.

Suffice to say, War Criminal have more influences than Dubya has, uhhhh, war crimes on his resume. Adding in tasteful bits of extremity from the worlds of thrash metal, traditional USDM, and groove-laden NYHC, the band is destined for the stage, if not Guantanamo.

Enter the world of War Criminal. Here, there is no sacred, only the profane.

The cryptic prime(ly) titled “113” opens with the cavernous echo of “South of Heaven” and, fittingly, the Slayerisms don’t end with atmosphere-building architecture. Alas, the cryptic instrumental feels agitated and pacing, a chugging and intimidating 90 seconds of warning siren before the dam bursts.

In the grand tradition of heavy hardcore, it’s a de facto table setter for the brutality ahead. War Criminal have a career set opener with this one, whether they like it or not. By the closing moments, the band is practically frothing at the mouth to start the second track...

...and fuck do they start it! “False Hope” is built around a sidewinding riff not altogether unlike the dirty South inhabited by Every Time I Die and, afterwards, the band quickly pull back into something more traditional and pummeling.

Beneath the crushing grooves of heavy hardcore, they expertly employ wailing guitar lines, mirroring the vocal patterns as if they were the backing vocals. It’s the first of many deftly executed extras that elevate the EP to something truly special.

Photo: Eduardo Ruiz

The 1:45 mark slows to a crawl and turns into the absolutely harrowing, floor-clearing mosh call of “I didn’t fail God, God failed me. Repeated nearly ad nauseam, it’s a gloriously violent match for the two-stepping mid pace the band peddles. 

“No Way Out” is, for me, the clear centerpiece of the EP. The song starts off with an instantly memorable and punishing guitar run that calls to mind Windy City crushers Kharma or fellow Northeastern punishers Hangman. Before we’re even a minute in, War Criminal also manages to shoehorn a guttural and vicious run that flashes more than a bit of death metal influence. When the vocals drop low, it’s far more Corpsegrinder than metalcore.

Beneath the desperate chaos of the vocals, the band churns ferociously. When the band again relinquishes control to the barren rasp of the vocals over an impending breakdown, the guitars begin a spiraling and anxious riff that nearly mimes suffocation or, in the case of a War Criminal, water torture. 

“Smile Lines”, certainly doesn’t sound like a party but it will undoubtedly get your screw face going. After riding in on a note perfect thrash riff, it lands its metallic hardcore punches with killer cymbal work. The drumming here, in particular, splashes rhythms that have NYHC written all over them.

The vocals here are, somehow, even more unrelenting and commanding. With each change in register, it feels as though frontperson Ryan Hill is commanding an army of feral hellhounds, barking chord changes through throat ripping screams.

The deceptively simple two note chug that preempts the breakdown quickly morphs into another scythe sharp earworm, the riff is repeated until it’s molasses thick and feels like you’ve known it forever. Fucking rad stuff here.

The grime soaked “Unforgiving” closes the EP in stunning fashion. Sporting a guest feature on the mic, it finds the band at their speediest and most metallic. They vacillate between fast picked thrash and the towering squeal of metal chords.

The appearance by Josh Compton of Forced Under comes in like a whirlwind, the mid song mic grab feels vibrant and celebratory.

By the sound of it, though, they might just be applauding the death of God, the apocalypse, or the scorched earth of your eardrums after a sustained beating by the MEHC upstarts known as War Criminal. Essential. 

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