Huge props to Albany, NY's Upstate Records—a relatively new label founded by bassist Mario Cangemi from the mighty Built for Battle—for sending me physical copies of these releases. That almost never happens anymore, and I truly appreciate it. While the label's name may lead you to assume an upstate New York-centric roster, as you'll find below, Upstate Records has not at all limited itself to that particular region. In fact, their webstore has already racked up an impressive little distro of reasonably priced international fare, too. So, check that out after you sample the label's first three offerings below!
Various Artists, Upstate Records Volume I (2018)
As an immense fan of stellar metallic hardcore compilation series from the '90s such as East Coast Assault, A Call for Unity, Over the Edge, and countless others, I was very much excited to see that Upstate Records' debut release was a 26-band, 75-minute compilation representing a range of acts from all over the U.S. plus Canada, the U.K., Germany, Italy, and even Australia.
The disc logically opens up with a track from one of the label's own releases in contemporary beatdown maestros Nailed Down (more on them below)—whose style is loosely comparable to fellow contributors like Marked for Death (PA), AASB (NY), World of Tomorrow (Germany), and .38 Snub (GA). Cemeteries (NJ) and Vile Secretion (IL) explore more of a grinding death metal edge; while 2 Minute Minor (IL) stands apart with a catchy hardcore/punk attitude. And of course there are loads of bands—One Down (U.K.), Brick by Brick (NY), Scars of Deceit (MA), You Lose (CA), Ego Destroys (NY), Ante Up (MI), One Less Scumbag (NH), Criminal Element (DC), Bite (IL), Suffer Cycle (CA), Born Without Hope (Canada)—treading paths linked to an assortment of tried-and-true hardcore sounds, from the slightly more straightforward/traditional, to those more metallic. Obviously each of these groups has their own nuances and I'm blatantly glossing over specifics here, but there's really not a bum track in the bunch.
Some of my personal favorites would be the hard-hitting, no-frills metallic hardcore of Eternal War (NY); Matriarchs (CA) bringing a little more metal, melody, and diversity to the table; the seething metalcore aesthetic of Goldteeth (Australia); Know Your Enemy (CA) dishing out thick grooves and dissonant textures; Built for Battle, of course—if you still haven't checked out Killing the Dream, get to it, 'cause that shit is badass; the super energetic and borderline classic Fat Wreck pop-punk zip of Fankaz (Italy), which totally took me by surprise; and Act of War (MA)—just good, rugged metallic hardcore with burly vocals.
All in all, a killer compilation that absolutely gets the job done. I'm already looking forward to Volume II! (Speaking of which, if your band is interested in participating, try your luck and submit!)
Nailed Down, Among the Waste (2018)
This is Nailed Down from northern California, not Australia, and with eight songs in about 18 minutes, Among the Waste is their debut EP, having been around for less than a year. Expect a modern, bass drop-peppered, beatdown-leaning style of metallic hardcore that reminds me of Drowning (Chicago, not France)—as well as some powerviolence-tinged sample integration. A borderline sludgy density envelops stuttered shifts from midpaced tremolo picking to plodding, sledgehammering breakdowns alongside strained vocal sneers that carry a hardass attitude, occasionally veering into death metal-esque grunts/growls as the lyrics deal with bleak day-to-day hardships and mental anguish with just a touch of socio-political commentary.
Listening to this contemporary niche of the genre, I really feel my (old) age. The songwriting approach seems geared toward almost nonstop abrading grooves and maximum crowd violence über alles. That being said, this is quite well-executed (if slightly one-sided) and loosely tied to enough of the influences that I fondly recall from the '90s to keep me on board. Closer "Estranged" immediately kicks up the pace and sticks out as a needed dose of explosive energy—its faster, thicker, gnashing bite paying off. I'd definitely like to hear more of that variation throughout.
Organharvest/Comic Arson, The Black Market Sessions (2018)
I don't often find myself listening to brutal death metal, but when I do, it might as well be of the slammin', upstate NY variety; and The Black Market Sessions presents three songs and about 15 minutes each from two ripping bands out of Troy, NY.
Recorded way back in 2012, this appears to be Organharvest's first new material since 2006, and I must say, this is some high-quality death metal offering everything from meaty-ass grooves and frantic blasts to dark, dissonant riffing and assorted layers of shrieks, snarls, grunts, and growls. Solid production with just enough of a bass presence helps to shine a light on the group's subtle technicality and commendable musicianship, too. I totally dig the percussive flourishes and accent sensibilities, occasional slappy bass freakouts, and especially the slick lead playing. All three tracks boast strong energy and a good mix of tempos, but "Landfall" changes pace with a melodic intro that immediately catches my ear. Providing a little more variety and force, it's probably my favorite of the bunch. I'm pleasantly surprised here. Nicely done.
Recorded in 2013, Comic Arson's contributions are a very comparable match—just a little faster, rawer, and with a chaotic, grinding edge that allows less breathing room. Their lineup shares its vocalist and a guitar player with Organharvest, so there's still a wildly layered assortment of vocal textures and sleek solos, too. "Weeping Scabs" unexpectedly cranks out a dissonantly melodic midsection that totally kicks ass. As a whole, there's more "color" to this track, making it the definite standout. Though Comic Arson's approach is slightly less geared toward my personal preferences overall, this is still a very decent listen possessing strong potential. Lyrically, it's also worth noting that while both acts explore the violence and fury that one would expect from death metal, there's really more of an insightful angle happening, so it's not just a bunch of over-the-top, base-level subject matter that such intense music might otherwise suggest.
This one's actually not out until June 1st, so don't forget!