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Quick Hits: Upstate Records—One Down, No Convictions, Embrace the Hostility, and Penitentiary

Many thanks, once again, to metallic hardcore specialists Upstate Records out of Albany, NY for hooking me up with physical copies of another excellent batch of releases. As you'll hear below, these up-and-comers represent some of the label's finest output thus far—at times exhibiting mind-blowingly noteworthy musicianship—so get crackin'!

One Down, I Own These Bones (2018)

Manchester, U.K.'s One Down has been around for a bit now, having issued two prior EPs and a full-length. I Own These Bones was actually released on limited edition cassette (already sold out) through Nuclear Family Records, with Upstate Records handling some digital distribution, and it's a really interesting four-song EP that's all over the map with its influences. There's a bit of that moshy beatdown undercurrent that I've come to expect from the Upstate roster, but they're constantly delving into that early Leeway style of hardcore via top-notch melodic thrash metal, tossing in some sleek-ass lead work à la Rocky George to boot. You'll find plenty of straight up ringing post-hardcore textures and chord phrasings, too, but the toughness of the overall vibe makes that aspect of their sound come across more like Crown of Thornz than Quicksand. Then, outta nowhere, the title track opens with a grungy alt.-rock type of aesthetic, highlighting the group's Turnstile-isms, granted One Down is a very different band as a whole.

Solid production, and lyrically consistent—typically carrying a sort of "suck it up and stop whining" attitude. A couple of guest vocal contributions come from members of Martyr Defiled and Exemption.

As you might imagine, the material can be slightly disjointed in terms of juggling so many ingredients, so the songs themselves aren't necessarily the most memorable, but some of the individual parts are fuckin' great, and I can't deny that they're presenting something quite curious here. I'd like to hear more in the future. The application of some focus/fluidity to their diversity could really blow minds!

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No Convictions, No Convictions (2018)

This five-song, 13-minute EP looks to be the debut from Panama City, FL's No Convictions, and it's a damn fine specimen of contemporary beatdown hardcore. Lead-weighted breakdowns, thick midpaced grooves, dashes of dissonant texture here and there, occasional forays into an almost grinding death metal realm, etc. I dig the vocals because they're not forced or over the top, just authentically pissed midrange sneers loaded with seething aggression—attacking backstabbers, police brutality, racist scumbags, etc. Some guest vocal spots from members of fellow Floridians Cannabyss and Nekroi Theoi lean more toward the guttural side, but the lead vocals are totally killer.

Sounds strong, too. Guitars and bass battle for real estate at times, but the mix is relatively balanced overall, and it's heavy. The percussion is quite dense and hits hard to propel the rhythms. Not bad at all.

No Convictions is a promising act that hits the mark for me in that their approach makes me feel old, but still hits on enough of the '90s influences that I came up on and handles the writing and aesthetic in a way that makes sense. I'm into it. If you dig meaty, hardass hardcore with a venomous edge, this is absolutely worth a spin…

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Embrace the Hostility, Hated Since Birth (2018)

Hated Since Birth, from Embrace the Hostility (Pennsylvania), is an eight-song outing that follows the group's 2015 demo with good, solid, '90s-styled metallic hardcore with a little bit of dissonant melody and plenty of chunky midpaced rhythms that at times break into more technical metal flourishes. "Compulsive Fiend," for example, utilizes a slick intro solo; while "Permanent Ending" drops a totally scorching melodic break complete with borderline Swedish-influenced dual guitar harmonies, etc. Again, these vocals feel really natural to me. A lot of the hardcore bands that I hear these days, the vocals feel a little forced or just end up sounding more or less the same as a large swath of contemporaries, but this delivery possesses enough of its own character.

No real complaints on the recording either. It's fairly crisp and clear, you can make out just enough of the bass, etc. The oft-apocalyptically bleak lyrics tend to deal with the depths of depression and society's ills.

Most of the tracks are pretty short, and the writing is such that I sometimes don't realize that they've moved on from one song to another, but there's a lot of potential to build on here. "An Hourglass of Blood," in particular, is twice as long as most of the other cuts—its darker atmosphere and more compositionally developed approach offering more variety, but also more structure—so I'd be incredibly curious to hear that side of Embrace the Hostility's talents explored further.

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Penitentiary, Recidivist (2018)

Last but certainly not least, Recidivist, the debut full-length from northwest Indiana's Penitentiary, cranks out four new tracks plus re-recordings of everything from their demo and the Profit for Prophet split with Sarin back in 2016. A badass graffiti logo is often a good sign, and holy shit is that true in this case! This is some seriously meaty metalcore—hard on the metal—à la Merauder or All Out War meets Lifeless, but with a sinister melodic side and some midpaced beatdown groove, not to mention absolutely ripping solos. I'm talking off-the-charts shredding madness that you almost never hear from this niche of the genre outside of bands like Irate or something: sweep picking, tapping, divebombs, the works. I wouldn't be surprised if Irate was a direct influence, but—dare I say—Penitentiary is actually a little better in terms of there being more fluidity to the songwriting.

Lyrically, the topics explore corruption, revenge, and perseverance despite a rather hellish worldview, featuring guest appearances from members of Silverhammer, No Reason to Live, and Blood In Blood Out; while the production isn't as over the top as other contemporary groups. There's a slightly restrained, warm grit to the guitar tone, which really gives the roving basslines room to breathe, and also highlights some excellent panning and dual guitar interaction—quality riff-writing tactics that are too often overlooked, in my opinion. I have to give these dudes credit for really hitting the mark in that department. I mean, shit, "Injustice" tops seven minutes and opens with a damn-near Metallica circa 1988 acoustic intro! This band is not fuckin' around!

Slated for release on August 10, you can grab Recidivist pre-order bundles now, and that also means that only a couple of tracks are streaming at the moment, but… trust me, this shit rips. I'm impressed. Hopefully they'll start to turn some heads when the album hits the streets next week!