Band: Year of the Knife
Album: Internal Incarceration
Label: Pure Noise
Words: Harry Higginson
There is a tendency amongst reviewers of music to frown a little at simplicity, especially when it comes to naming the most impressive new breakthrough bands. It is no surprise, in the handful of genres that comprises heavy music, there is something of a drive to think outside the box, given the dominance of the traditional vocals-guitars-bass-drums combo throughout metal and punk. This has produced some great records of late, from Devin Townsend’s genre-bending opus Empath, to Code Orange’s glitchy, dark take on metalcore on their most recent record, Underneath.
the band built a reputation for legendary chaotic live shows, and put together a formidable crop of early EP releases.
There is another end of this spectrum however, where brute force and unhinged energy can prevail without all the bells and whistles. The bread and butter of outfits like NAILS and Full of Hell, this is a subsection of heavy music that seeks to refine and hone the idea of music as an utterly unforgiving assault.
Enter Year of the Knife, a relative newcomer, only forming in their current iteration in 2015. A straight edge band, pulling heavily from both hardcore and 90s metalcore, as well as elements of death metal, the band built a reputation for legendary chaotic live shows, and put together a formidable crop of early EP releases. Though a little rough around the edges, especially in the mixing department, these early releases gave a sense of the metallic onslaught Year of the Knife built their name on. On their debut full-length record, Internal Incarceration, the Delaware hardcore crew had the difficult job of sticking the landing of a hotly anticipated first album, and they certainly delivered.
Straight off the bat, this record is substantially darker than previous releases. The punk influence of earlier records is tempered with a much more death metal-tinged approach to songwriting and instrumentation, with higher tempos bulked out with flurries of double bass pedal drumming, and angular guitar leads. It is everything you’d expect off a Year of the Knife record, but sharper and meaner, without a second wasted for pauses for thought. For some, this relentless energy may be a little exhausting, but the band more than justifies this unflinching intensity by blending vocal and instrumental hooks into tracks to ensure each is memorable for its own reason. From the despondent vocal hook of ‘Virtual Narcotic’, decrying the digital age’s imposition of a need for media stimulation, to the bouncing guitar riff of ‘Premonitions of You’ that rolls from one palm muted beatdown to another, each track is a unique take on hardcore’s darkest forms.
if you’re willing to sit back, relax and enjoy the storm that Year of the Knife brings across this half hour of brutality, this record is nearly unrivalled
This is tied together by some characteristically impeccable production from Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who has done an excellent job of tidying up the slightly muddier mixes from previous releases, allowing the precise brutality of the band’s live sets shine. From the opener, ‘This Time’, through to the gnarled leads of penultimate track ‘Get It Out’, this is the best the band have sounded, as the vocals, guitar work and drumming come together without sacrificing anything in terms of clarity. This cleaner mix also allows Brandon Watkins’ vocals to shine, giving the band’s lyrical themes more time in the spotlight. More personal than any prior release, the record embodies its title, cycling through an almost confessional-like state of lyrical vulnerability, as isolation, addiction and abuse accompany the band’s increasingly crushing cycle of d-beat riffing, falling away into intense, knuckle-dragging breakdowns.
Across this 13-track long record, there are few changes of pace. A bass solo at the beginning of ‘Nothing to Nobody’ is perhaps the greatest textural shift the album really goes through, and for some, this might simply not be enough variety to justify a record that hovers around the half an hour mark in terms of length. However, if you’re willing to sit back, relax and enjoy the storm that Year of the Knife brings across this half hour of brutality, this record is nearly unrivalled. Never dropping the ball, this is a masterclass in compressing the chaos of a live show onto a relatively short record, and is without doubt the Delaware outfit’s strongest release to date. A thinking man’s hardcore record? Perhaps not. A dark, continually pummelling riot of a metal record that a lot of people might just fall in love with during these especially difficult times? Without a doubt.
Internal Incarceration is out now via Pure Noise Records