Extremity knows no borders. We’re lucky to live in an increasingly global music scene. That said, there’s been a UK-based groundswell that’s somewhat flown under the radar these last few years deserving of attention and a bigger spotlight. Sure, the Higher Power(s) of the world and the bands involved in the New Wave of British Hardcore have long captivated No Echo readers, but there’s an entire subset of British bands that’ve hereto been criminally underrated, if not flat out ignored Stateside.
Aside from today’s focus, the likes of Cutting Teeth, Svalbard, Conjurer, Venom Prison, Ithaca, Palm Reader, Employed to Serve, Helpless, Sectioned, Scorned, Loathe, and the long-lauded Rolo Tomassi, countless others have collectively carved out their respective niches in overseas heavy music.
Based in Kent, the hardcore hunk band’s latest full-length album, Chaotic Nonentity, dropped late 2019 as folks were furiously scribbling their year-end lists. Co-released by labels to watch Feast of Tentacles and SuperFi, their first offering in over half a decade finds the band on dizzying form, incorporating everything from HM2 worship, sludge, grind, and D-beat to punk, grind, and hardcore.
Masterfully woven and intricate, Harrowed begs to be on your radar. Whether you come for the Converge-isms to fill the gaping void in your life left by Black Breath or Trap Them, the journey is as beguiling as it is thrilling. Buckle up for a gloriously distressing slab of pain…
“Stark Terrors” stamps the gas pedal after an ambient intro, breaking into an all out aural assault. They waste no time displaying their full wares, as they windmill from grinding and ferocious D-beat and death metal-tinged sludge, needing no maps to walk the Left Hand Path. Much like their bruising contemporaries in Minors and Leeched, Harrowed excels at maxed out tempo and mania.
Following track “Postmodern Prison” is all menace, showcasing a slithering riff and blast beats atop absolutely rabid vocals via vocalist Seb Leslie. They deftly slip epic crust guitar riffs into their vile tapestry, recalling the very work of the man responsible for their mastering… one Brad Boatright of Audiosiege. At times, they manage the adventurous brevity of Ghent titans Rise and Fall.
“One Hundred Years” trampolines into oblivion on off the back of an absolutely killer divebomb and impossibly thick drums that feel like stampeding hellhounds. The over-all-too-quickly track devolves into wall of crumbling, static noise. From there, there’s a seemless bleeds into the mid-paced threat of “Disconnexion," a slow(er) burn that feels like it’s employed as a slow build. Its intentionally repetitive lurk plays like a caged animal awaiting release, it’s revenge on captors increasingly inevitable. Its finale, however merciless, is a “harrowing” vocal run that pairs perfectly with plaintively plucked guitar.
The aforementioned build is, at last, released on“Inauthenticide”, a tremendous blast that opens with straight up punk riff and a trick oft-used by their forebears in Cursed. The volume sits back in the mix and ultimately explodes after a false intro. It’s top tier nihilistic rock and roll a la latter-era Hope Con, Kvelertak, Bars, or the less-cited Colohan band Burning Love.
There’s a brief post-metal intro that dances us into “Derelict” that dazzles with a dusty gothic Americana vibe, as if conjuring a long lost drifter on the longer gone High Plains. It’s a fitting mood piece that ends the album’s midway point with a Convergesque glacial riff, or a bit of the intentional meandering typified by post-metal act, Across Tundras. Side B, as it were, starts with “Living Unknown”, another excellent barrage of creative guitar and dbeat ferocity. They revel in every pace, and this one feels akin to the grimier end of Nails-adjacent bands. They again unleash a torrent of nasty feedback and rubber band bass attack. The vocals oftentimes seem to punctuate a song’s end, if not announce it altogether.
“Interlude l” is all hypnotis, running a guitar line into the earth, topped with an unsettling and desperate audio sample. As is eventuality, it leads into a muscular bass riff and ritualistic, tribal drum fills. It eventually becomes a swirling and menacing pastiche of guitar squeals and an absolute glorious mess of rhythmic slime.
“Coward"—perhaps the LP’s most venomous track—starts with grindcore blasts and trading vocal registers. The song’s back half employs a sledgehammer riff that’d work equally well within the confines of nearly any extreme music’s subgenres. Curiously, though, it quiets itself into “Interlude lI," which again touts a worrisome and bleak sample. This one communicates a level alienation and mental illness that’s equal parts disheartening and brutalizing. It calls to mind the callous open doors of mental health institutions of the Reagan Years atop a desert backdrop akin to som usually found on a Neurot Recordings release.
The sparse instrumental that is “Disused Limbs” accompanies the most bare, vulnerable, and exposed vocal thus far. Dripping with anguish and hurt, it feels as indebted to first wave screamo as it does USBM. There’s a moment at 1:13 that digs deep for the energy needed to muster such blasphemy. Improvised or not, it’s the most exhilarating and deeply affecting monent on the LP.
The closer and title track, “Chaotic Nonentity,” is much like the intro in that it helps bookend the beating we just endured. Essentially touring us back through their dense lessons like an impenetrable chapter summary, its a blitz of all that came before it. The track wavers between double bass blitzes, noisier guitar riffs, blackened sermons from the crypt, buzzsaw HM2 worship, and the burnt molasses of sludge beneath it all. The final minute plays like a death knell for their gear, the bash and crash of it all seems inspired.
Ultimately, it’s swallowed by the same noise they sporadically sprinkle throughout the proceedings. Alone, it’s a staggeringly great song but, as the LP’s cherry, they hope we fucking choke. It’s a nuanced, elevated version of not just Harrowed, but of the genre itself. Bar’s been raised, y’all.
As I’m wont to do, I lovingly pestered the band for some background. Bandmember Jason Frye, who incidentally recorded and mixed the record as well, was kind enough to give me the 411 on all things Harrowed and UK hardcore.
For the uninitiated, introduce the band. If I did my homework properly, which is questionable, you dropped your demo in 2012. How’s the band grown in the interim?
We spawned, as it were, from Seb and myself's (Jason) old band, Santa Karla, along with SK guitarist Ben Wullepit and James Lang. We recorded a demo in 2012 that came out on Hemlock13, we then recorded our first full-length album called Into Inferno in 2013 and that came out on Feast of Tentacles/Vetala. We also did a split with Art of Burning Water in 2016.
There seems to have been a groundswell of amazing UK-based heavy music the last few years. With the likes of Venom Prison, Conjurer, Ithaca, Svalbard, Leeched, Minors, and yourselves making waves. What’s the current scene like? Does there seem to be a changing of the guard or is that just an outsider’s perspective?
Heavy and underground music does seem to be flourishing at the moment. Personally, I think there has always been a steady flow of great bands, some have broken through and some swirling in the underbelly of the underground. But there are a plethora of interesting bands out there, you just have to scratch the surface.
Who’re some bands we should be on the lookout for?
There are loads, but a few that we dig are Geist, Jotnarr, Calligram, Revoked, Domepiece.
Are there any acts you consider kindred spirits?
We have a connection with the guys in Geist, we've been touring together for years in our other bands and I hope that'll continue.
The new album, Chaotic Nonentity, is a fully realized piece of work. How’d the album come together, and what was it like working with Brad Boatwright?
The record has been a labor of love for the better part of 5 years, roughly. We had a clear vision from the outset, follow on from Into Inferno but try and get a darker, desperate atmosphere, I think we've achieved that. It was pieced together solely from jamming in the studio week in week out, recording demos then building on it when we could. Brad mastered Into Inferno and it was pretty much a no brainer to get him on board to master CN, his work is great and consistent, it's always a joy.
I hear a ton of different influences on this album, in particular. What are some unexpected inspirations for this LP? Was there extra care to be a bit more nuanced and, dare I say, subtle this time around?
Yes, we are a big fan of dynamics in songwriting, we wanted the faster bits more chaotic, the slower parts heavier, but also include dynamics to make all those parts stand out more. Influence wise, and particularly when we were writing this record we were listening to bands like Breach, Craft, Trap Them, Tragedy, High on Fire, Nails, etc.
There are a ton of high watermarks on the album, but the 1:13 mark on “Disused Limbs” is absolutely amazing. Was that vocal line improvised, because it feels so utterly anguished?
Yeah, the overall vibe we wanted to go for the record was one of despair, anguish, and torment. I think with that song in particular there are a few sections where Seb could really portray that in the performance. It was recorded with a room mic we had set up while doing the main vocal. It's a great song to play live, too.
How’s 2020 shaping up to be for Harrowed?
It's shaping up to be very exciting, (we’re) currently writing new songs for a special release later in the year. We have a weekender with Geist and Calligram at the end of February, which we are very excited for.
We love lists here at No Echo. I hate to ask the impossible, but what’s everyone’s Top 5 records of all time, heavy or not?
Just some that are spinning in my head now:
OM, God Is Good
Trap Them, Darker Handcraft
If you're in the area, check out Harrowed, Geist, and Calligram on the following UK weekender:
February 28th - Bournemouth - The Anvil
February 29th - Leeds - Temple of Boom
March 1st - Nottingham - The Chameleon