Album review by William Dibble, images provided by The Arson Choir
In the last five years, the hardcore scene has truly exploded. Many bands have found unique sounds or niches to fill, and many more found other things to differentiate them. Genre-leaders Converge and Zao consistently produce powerful tracks with amazing instrumental work and fantastic vocals. Bands like Sharptooth and Stray From the Path offer uncompromising songwriting combined with strong political viewpoints. Dillinger Escape Plan made a name for themselves with eclectic rhythms and constantly-changing time signatures and sounds. Newcomers to the scene The Arson Choir have just released their EP, Trophy Nation, last month. Consisting of members of several other musical projects from both LA and Chicago, they promise a truly unique and powerful take on hardcore.
The Arson Choir describes their album as an audio assault from beginning to end. This is an accurate description. The first track, “Just the Tip”, immediately launches into a frantic riff with screamed vocals. Their bio document says that the song is about self destruction, and the chaotic sound of the song can certainly be said to embody that. “Tracker Jacker” is notably more coherent in sound and construction, and borrows its name from the Hunger Games book series. In both of these songs, the screams are the most powerful part of the vocal tracks. The sound of the chorus is very similar to the late 2000’s and early 2010’s metalcore movement, especially reminiscent of the clean vocals of later work by All That Remains.
Track three, “White Girls”, has very powerful and consistently good guitar riffs and drumming. Unfortunately, the half-screamed half-clean vocals clash heavily with the sound of the rest of the song when the lyrics aren’t being outright screamed. The song’s breakdowns work well, but there are parts of the song that don’t mesh well with the rest. There is a spoken word section near the end that sounds like it was part of an entirely separate composition. There are parts of this album that are pretty good- but “White Girls” is not the album’s strongest song. It is followed up by “ABQ Blue”, which is possibly the album’s strongest track. It has stellar vocals, combined with lethally heavy instruments and breakdowns.
“Knife Me For It” is a close contender with “ABQ Blue” for best track on the album. A blistering hardcore piece, this sounds more like the bands that inspired their work. It switches between yelled and screamed vocals without ever making you feel like you lost your place in the song, or feeling like the vocals came from another song. The album closes out with “Lot Lizard”, a frantic and blistering track that follows in the footsteps of the prior two tracks. This song is a good choice to close out the album, finishing on a strong note.
The Arson Choir sets out some pretty high expectations, talking down about djent and metal in Los Angeles, and talking about how hard it was for them to find a vocalist that fit their needs. They set out to reproduce a sound similar to bands like Every Time I Die, The Chariot, and Eighteen Visions. In the latter half of the album, they effectively do that, setting down three powerful and blasting tracks. The mastering on the album is excellent, and each instrument and the singer are always easy to hear. The song names are also clearly inspired by older bands within the genre, similar to tracks from ETID and DEP. Those nostalgic for a day when the genre was ruled by testosterone and song names that you weren’t-quite-sure-are-ironic will enjoy that aspect. While it may not be groundbreaking, Trophy Nation is not necessarily a EP you should skip. Pick it up at their bandcamp page today!