The orthodoxy of grindcore means that pushing too far away from the core will often lead to a band no longer being considered part of the genre (see: Wake). That doesn’t mean, however, that one of metal’s most blistering subgenres isn’t without variety. The likes of Wormrot, Knoll and Antigama all attack from very different places but fall under the same umbrella. Spain’s Ernia slakes that thirst for variety with its sophomore album, How To Deal With Life And Fail, by never sitting still too long in any single song and incorporating a multi-tool’s worth of sonic tactics and subtle quirks across its 33 minutes.
That’s just one three-song run on the album and yet shows a band unwilling to sit still or draw influence from a single primordial pool of influences. While their ADHD approach to writing makes it so no single passage seems to last more than 30-seconds, it never comes at the sacrifice of songwriting. “Dharma” is a great example. The song starts with a classic melodeath-tinged riff that would appeal to Rotten Sound fans, transitions to a weirdly upbeat sounding riff, cuts back to some atonal ugliness, slows things down to hit extra hard, pivots the guitar into a real chugging headbanger moment and then brings back the opening riff again in a slightly morphed way. Every transition works within the context of the individual track and keeps your head on a swivel while being sure to bring back some element of an earlier part to keep it all tied together.
The word quirk was used earlier in the review very intentionally. Littered throughout the album are brief elements or moments that were surely added in with a chuckle or wink from the band. Alarm clock sounds (“Helium-3”), the ping of a cash register opening (“Frustration Theory”), spoken word passages that sound like they’re coming from an old radio (“New Aesop’s Fables”), crowd noises as the bass and drum sound like lounge musicians giving up on the song (“A Mute Florist”), and vocoder cleans (“Ikigai”) all make appearances. While each one of these odd and seemingly random elements pops into songs, none of them turn into a distraction or otherwise sully the experience the band is creating.
The biggest sticking point for most listeners is likely going to be Omar I. Sanchez’s vocals. He has a high screeching style that sounds like a cross between a puberty-cracking Tompa and King Parrot’s Youngy. His approach is intense but of a style that may grate for some. Personally, I enjoy the raucous nature of it and find it to be an excellent fit for their music.
Daniel Valcazar (guitars) and Gabrial Valcazar (bass and drums) are both in Wormed, so the clinical precision of the play here should surprise no one. Similarly, the production is crisp and clean without being robot clean like the alien technology approach their other band utilizes.
Ernia is a strange beast of a grind album that isn’t going to tick the box for everyone. If you’re on board with an endless supply of mean riffs and musical passages that never exist long enough to get stale, How To Deal With Life And Fail will put your head on a swivel and a smile on your face.