Anxious Arms/Dull Mourning
This coast-to-coast split comes from two of my favorite Sunday Drive Records artists: Sacramento's Anxious Arms and North Carolina's Dull Mourning. It's an obviously great pairing, as both bands operate in a space that's surprisingly heavy yet openly melodic, and without fitting into any single genre. Anxious Arms kicks it off with "Wasted Days, Wasted Years," which—after opening with a killer, harmonic-inclusive riff—buries a sleekly catchy refrain amidst unexpectedly sludgy chugs and scathing screams.
Dull Mourning then follows with "Rejoice," which lures you in with the slightest of gaze-ish flirtations before crushing your skull with a hard-hitting chorus that might well be described as "grungecore." I'm a sucker for vocal transitions that seamlessly ease from borderline singing into abrasive yells, and this song's a prime example of why. Shit, they just might steal the crown with this one!
I'll be brutally honest here: as much as I love physical music and want to be supportive, I just can't stomach roughly $14 shipped for only two songs. If you can, grab a cassette from Sunday Drive, either band or Deathwish while they're still available. They seem to be moving quickly, despite the mere seven-minute running time. For everyone else, the bands have also got you covered digitally, or you can stream through Spotify, YouTube, and all that.
Icelandic metal group Changer has been around for over two decades and released several albums, EPs, and demos; but they must have been floating amidst the true underground, as Pledge of the Dying seems to be their first release in over 10 years, and marks my very first exposure to them. According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, they were at one point a thrashy death metal outfit, and while one can certainly pick up on such roots, these tracks give me more of a lightly discordant groove metal vibe. Think Morgoth circa 1993 fused with Darkane circa 2002—alongside a few doomy, Mindrot-esque undercurrents and even some caustic metalcore (à la Pete Morcey era 100 Demons) for good measure. That being said, carefully executed "post-" textures and a modern sensibility do indeed lend Changer's own character to things.
Feels Like Heaven
Stockholm, Sweden's Feels Like Heaven is the best thing I've discovered through No Echo in quite some time. Superb melodic hardcore that touches on the aspects of the '90s scene that I always find to be missing from the majority of contemporary acts. Expect dashes of Turning Point or Temperance with a little bit of a Dag Nasty (Smalley era) vibe to the vocals, so you could to some degree resurrect the "emocore" tag here, and that—to me—is a high compliment. Really strong songwriting, too. They hit the sweet spot where they're not really doing anything new, but also manage to avoid feeling like they're just directly ripping off age-old classics. As much as I love the hardass stuff, I always yearn for more of today's young new acts to draw from this niche rather than the NYHC staples. I'll be excited to hear more from this group, and hope they'll start to gain more attention. This is really one to watch.
Her Head's on Fire
I first raved about Her Head's on Fire after last year's amazing split with J. Robbins, but if you missed that, the group has lineup ties to Garrison, Saves the Day, Small Brown Bike, etc. I've been quite looking forward to their debut LP, College Rock and Clove Cigarettes (out tomorrow), which seems to remain steadfast in its presentation of indie/alt.-rock that occasionally leans a little more into the rock, while also exploring elements of post-hardcore, emo, etc. It's a solid blend of influences that, frankly, just don't matter in the end, because good songs are good songs, and—damn—there are some great tunes herein. Plus, I mean, shit, life hasn't really been cooperating for me lately, so I've still only heard the four pre-release singles! I can only imagine what the other 60% of the album has to offer! The surging hooks remind me of what initially grabbed me so much about the early Garrison material. So far, all four choruses are an instant "FUCK YES." from me. Sold!
Pick up a cassette or slick-looking vinyl variant via Iodine Recordings, which is really becoming a label that I need to keep a closer eye on. Digital's on Bandcamp, and you should be able to find this streaming everywhere sometime tomorrow.
Almost three years after their last album, the stunning Without, Chattanooga, TN's Lacing dropped this new Never EP seemingly outta nowhere the other day. If you remain in the dark, their droning, wind-swept (and I swear, I truly typed that out before I saw that there's actually a song on this EP called "Windswept"!?) brand of shoegaze captures the lulled pulse and fuzzed-out distortion for which the style is known, but not without a sense of energy that the majority of such bands sorely lack these days—something that always makes Lacing's work stand up and apart from their "competition." I must say, though, that the new material tends to fall more consistently on the dreary side than Without, just thankfully not to the absence of those compellingly dynamic shifts.
San Francisco's Pure Hex is another in a long line of really quite very nice and good young bands whose approach swims in shoegaze-ish pools, but really crosses over into an ocean of dream pop—in large part due to the lush vocals, a general lack of distortion, and some truly memorable hooks. Still Dark explores an interesting manner of production, too, in that everything's nowhere near as densely packed as such artists can tend to come across. I'd almost argue that there's a little too much breathing room in the core of the mix, but it certainly doesn't detract from the listen, and as my ears sink in and adjust, there's definitely something nice about there being room for varying elements to trickle and flow. A noteworthy debut, so I'll be curious to hear where they'll tread next...