Quick Hits: Upstate Records—Volume II, Dissent, and Refuge

Various Artists, Upstate Records Volume II (2018)

For the second time this year, Albany, NY's Upstate Records is back with another packed disc reminiscent of numerous top-notch hardcore comps of the '90s. The 26-band, 80-minute CD includes Upstate-affiliated artists that I've discussed before (Embrace the Hostility, Penitentiary) or below (Dissent, Refuge), as well as an international lineup of bands linked to the likes of Irish Voodoo Records (CA), 1054 Records (Australia), Demons Run Amok (Germany), Fast Break! Records (PA), Filled With Hate Records (Germany), Knives Out Records (France), plus a few up-and-comers to boot.

The tracklist largely consists of good, strong, hard-hitting metallic hardcore with just the right amount of groove and intensity from the likes of Safety Switch (GA), On Sight (NJ), Crowned Kings (Australia), The Cutthroats (CA), Threat 2 Society (NJ), Fatass (France), From Within (NY), and Happy Fist (France). Acts such as Departed (NJ), Capital Enemy (Australia), and Snipers of Babel (DC) lean toward a darker and more metal-tinged direction; while No Good Deed (PA), Lung Ripper (PA), and Short Fuse 59 (CO) additionally introduce a bit of a beatdown vibe. Meanwhile, Northern Hit Squad (Canada) and The Last Stand (NY) are amongst the few bands herein that tap into some old school hardcore flavor.

Some of my personal favorites are as follows. Balor (NY) cranks out rippingly fast-paced borderline death metal with a hint of technicality and churning midpaced rhythms. Violent by Design (NY) boasts vocals somewhat comparable to Neglect (as are lyrics such as, "I felt the hand of God, so I broke his fucking fingers!") over a musically rugged, midpaced metalcore mixture with a fuckin' great bass presence and even some pinch harmonics. It's a little rough around the edges, but I'm curious, and really hope this band has the opportunity to get some additional new material out there. Something about the band name Iron Price (MD) had me envisioning a faster, almost powerviolence angle, but that's not the case at all. Expect brutal and well-produced metalcore covering a good range of styles centered around mangled grooves and aggressive vocals.

Runners-up would be Companion's (Austria) straightforward Madball/Terror variety of lightly metallic hardcore with an unexpectedly catchy bounce and nice little melodic twists; Inherence (NY) employing a more contemporary sense of groove and powerful vocals—they're not rewriting any rulebooks, but definitely stand apart; and Concrete (NY) who—like Inherence—are not exactly breaking new ground, but possess just enough burly vocals and oomph to set themselves apart.

All in all, another great effort, and I certainly hope we'll see a Volume III next year!

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Dissent, Athame (2018)

PA/NJ metallic hardcore outfit Dissent has been droppin' EPs since 2015, but I believe Athame marks my first exposure to their work. The four-song (one of which, "L'Amore Non Moure Mai," is just an atmospheric segue), nine-minute outing offers a great blend of staple breakdowns with thrashy elements and some of that  Slayer-via-European-metalcore style of riffing alongside straightforward but impressively powerful vocals and occasional gang backups. Overall, it's somewhat reminiscent of Lifeless (which is a huge compliment in my book); the standout for me being "The End of Hope"—its lengthy instrumental intro bringing in some unexpected melody for a nice change of pace.

Great production, too—no complaints. And lyrically the material deals with death, destruction, and even a smidge of satanic imagery (possibly to the point of being a concept release):

Watch the blood pool around you while you sleep
We follow no man, only the dark beast
Who gives us strength with every life we take
We live for him, these oaths and vows I will never break

You can grab Athame as a name your price download on Bandcamp, but it's also available as a professionally duplicated CD-R in a jacket sleeve—simple but effective for old-timers like me. I can't find the discs for sale online for some reason, but if you contact the label, I'm sure you can pick one up for a fair price if they're still available!

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Refuge, The Ninth Gate (2018)

The Ninth Gate is the second EP from NYC's Refuge, but again my first exposure to the group. This strikes me as "deathcore," I suppose? I don't know, I'm old. To my ears, it's a modern, djent-y brand of metalcore with guttural vocals and lots of abstract noise textures layered into the guitar work—as well as guest vocal spots from Nick Arthur (Molotov Solution), Andrew Hileman (I Am), and Chris Brea (Huldra). I can't pretend to know who those folks are, though, because I haven't a clue. (As we've established, I'm old.)

While the ultra modern production can be a bit much for me, I've actually grown to enjoy this style of djent-centric, groove-soaked guitar tone, I just start to get lost within this somewhat jarring songwriting approach that sprints, jumps, or crawls from slam-worthy, bass-drop mosh breaks to frantic blasts and surging death metal riffs without much cohesion. There are some promising moments, but it's hard to grasp onto the songs since they string together part after part after part without necessarily feeling like actual standalone compositions. I will say, though, that the grim lyrics are stronger than I would've anticipated:

Crawling through the broken glass
Look into my bloodshot eyes and ask
Is there a purpose for people like us?
Or will we die meaning nothing to no one?

This is another pro-duped CD-R in a jacket sleeve with nice artwork, and it's only $5, which is killer. To quote fictional icon Roger Murtaugh, "I'm too old for this shit," but it's not so bad...

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