Originally written by Chris Redar
Those familiar with the old Resound catalog or Century Media’s mail-order rag will remember a time before metalcore was a term.
Instead, artists were described as “metallic hardcore.” That is, metal infused with hardcore elements, rather than the screamo it was associated with in the late aughts. For the purpose of schlepping discs taking up space in warehouses, writers cooked up concoctions such as “metal played through the filter of [insert hxc band] and “like Agnostic Front as spewed forth by [insert DM band].” The thing is, the past always seems to look better through the rose-colored lenses we metal fans often choose to don when waxing nostalgic. As such, it’s easy to forget that every third band was described like this for a few years.
Enter New York’s Tiger Flowers. With an unmistakably metal approach to their brand of noise-drenched hardcore, it would be easy to dismiss Dead Hymns as some kind of throwback attempt. It is, in a sense, as the band’s dissonant riffs and off-kilter rhythms (think Some Girls as channeled through the_Network) would fit very nicely in the ordering info slots of a 2003 circular as opposed to today’s blackened-sludge-doom-psychadelic-stoner-please-pay-attention-to-me landscape.
Now, were this to come out way back when, the thud of the unsold crates of this album hitting the warehouse floor would make a cloud of dust big enough to choke the elephant in the room yours truly may or may not be feeding by pointing out just how shitty the scene of yore truly was.
Fast forward to 2014, however, and Dead Hymns is almost a breath of fresh air in a scene choking itself to death on the ashes of skeletons and keef. (It’s keef, right? Can one of you filthy stoners get off of your bong long enough to school me on dopespeak?) “Batesian Mimicry” opens things up with what could have been an outtake from Willpower, constantly shifting instruments into and out of the mix before dropping one o’ those ’03 style pit-pushers. And as a finishing move, Tiger Flowers invokes some memories of what the kids think of when they think “metalcore”: the talk-scream over a triumphant riff, ala “Botchla.”
That’s the formula boiled down to its core: Throw some components in the cauldron and see what boils out. It usually works, and sometimes spectacularly so. “The Road” borrows from the Neurosis spellbook; specifically, letting a riff cook until it’s burnt and then throwing it in a much-too-cold freezer for some nice ice-burn. The results are both sonically and emotionally satisfying, and the song itself is arguably the strongest on the album. Next to “Riders,” the excellent closer, it’s also the most straightforward in terms of picking a pace and sticking with it.
Other concoctions aren’t as successful. “Tectonics of Teeth” brings huge doses of heavy at the sacrifice of an actual song. It’s definitely the most “metal” tune, but it also wanders in too many directions without finding its way back.
“Midnightmares” plays like a series of portions written to end other songs. It’s such a disorienting experience as a penultimate track, which is another issue with Dead Hymns: sequencing. A couple of shifts here and there in the running order would make this a more digestable experience as an album. Easy enough to do at home on your technologies, kids, but fogies like myself still blasting discs in the whip will be wearing out those back and forward buttons.
Ultimately, this is completely worth checking out, even if it’s just a way to put a coat of fresh on what can feel like a stale scene. There’s something rather quaint about a band playing this style of music in this calendar year. It’s still way too early to be nostalgic (unless BuzzFeed picks up on this or something), but it’s never too early to be wistful. So grab a rocking chair and a bag of Werther’s Original and let those Discman speakers scream loud and proud, sonny boy.