It’s staggering how much is wrong with the heavy/hardcore/metal scene these days. In fact, I wrote an entire article about how the current trends amount to slightly less than a steaming pile of bovine excrement. The shitty mash-ups of dance beats and breakdowns, the boy band posturing and glamour fashion, and the general taking of something awesome and dumbing it down so far that it bears no resemblance to its former glory is all par for the course these days. It’s just breakdown after breakdown, as if repeating that token of hardcore music ad nauseum would somehow legitimize the existence of these abominations to anyone besides 13 year-old scene queens and boys with neon highlights in their hair. One of the few bands that have seen through all of this garbage and managed to capture the genuine spirit of hardcore is Denver’s own Orphans. Their new four-song EP, Pack Mentality, is loud, noisy, and aggressive without being brOOtal!!!!, and while they do slow down the tempo from time to time, they avoid all that pointless chugging. The point I’m trying to make here, is that if life was like Mortal Kombat (and it pretty much is, right?), the current trends would be like the slick but pointless stylings of Jonny Cage, while Orphans would be like Scorpion. These four brooding and heavy tracks hurl a spear into the chest cavity of the current trend, scream “GET OVER HERE!” and rip off that slick impostor’s head, holding it up by highlighted hair for all to see. Now, some of you may already know that Pack Mentality originally came out in November, but I wanted to give it its proper due now, since it’s being released as an LP package on March 11th with their previous (and also excellent) EP, Jus Ad Bello. So join me as we dive into everything this fine record has to offer.
Pack Mentality does exactly what it needs to in order to establish Orphans as a powerful part of the recovering hardcore scene. Over its four songs, Orphans keeps things varied, carving out their own distinguishable sound and preventing any of the tracks from sounding stale. This is clear from the first track, ‘Blood of The Father,’ which starts inconspicuously with some melodic clean guitar before launching into some truly dirty riffing, along with screams that have far more in common with Circle Takes the Square than someone like Poison the Well; they have a scratchy rasp and yelp to them, as opposed to a guttural bark. Don’t get me wrong: I mean this in a very good way, it really suits the sound of their music. As the vocals shift from rasp to a more audible and emotionally charged spoken word/screamo style, it gives the song an emotional lift and creates some space between the layers of heavy. This gives the band leg up on all of those Bring me the Memphis Fires out there that wouldn’t know nuance if stole all of their eyeliner.
Having recently given their previous EP a spin, it is immediately clear that Orphans have taken a turn towards the heavier and darker side on this record, while maintaining a depth of sound and range of dynamics that keep things interesting. As the opening track progresses, it ditches the riffs and goes into a mid-section that gets both epic and melodic as clean guitars take over, only to be dropkicked in the teeth by an absolute kraken of a riff that brings the song home. ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ sees the band returning to that epic feel as it ebbs and flows through some slower guitars offset by the frantic fills of the drums. It builds and builds towards a massive conclusion and closes out with a sombre outro. ‘Bengals’ steers to the punk side of things, reminding me of something that should have been on a Hydra Head (RIP) comp in the late ’90s before switching to some traditional screamo over very pretty guitar playing. Then, right when you think you’ve heard it all, Orphans switches it up again and goes out on a high of upbeat rocking. Naturally, they save the killing blow for the end, as ‘White Guilt’ sounds like the soundtrack to an asylum riot. It progresses into some straightforward rock and roll that brings us to the end of a truly raucous ride. Orphans refuses to settle, giving each song a rich tapestry of sound instead of an endless string of breakdowns.
In short, there’s some damn good music on that EP. But wait, there’s more! Aside from the music, Orphans have a few other things going for them as well. Firstly, the album artwork is incredible. Say what you will about judging a book by its cover, but this album art goes a long way in making me want to have it on vinyl. The typeset fits the band, and the picture is a fittingly subtle kind of macabre that isn’t immediately evident until you take a closer look. Secondly, the band looks just like I would expect them to. When you listen to this EP, it sounds as though it’s made by guys with beards who don’t have scene haircuts, and hot damn, that’s exactly what they are. Their image is one of natural grime, and it suits the production value and overall feel of the album beautifully.
My only complaint is with some of the mixing. At times, it sounds like some of the guitars could benefit from a little clarity. I know this goes against what I just said about liking the grimy production, but I think there’s a happy medium to be struck that would really give the band an added kick to go with what is already a really great EP. Good work boys, keep those drums pounding, those guitars buzz-sawing, those screams rasping and those beards growing. I’m already getting excited for the LP.
GRADE: ‘Soundtrack to an asylum riot.(or at least when life feels like one)’
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