Born under the industrial pall of East Baltimore, iconoclasts BustDown (June, Kieran, Mike) have a brick for your window. The Dundalk, Maryland unit peddle a fiery and impassioned brand of extremity, straddling the line between a multitude of Punk’s sub-genres. Somehow managing to split the difference between grind, tech-death, screamo, power violence, noise, sass, and classic metalcore; their debut EP, TRANSILLUMINATI, does a great job of decimating eardrums.
Delivering on the promises of their stellar if brief Demo2k17, BustDown specializes in whipsmart and cacophonous Hardcore. As much as the demo slays all comers, they've managed an impossibly deft leap over the chasm of their previous work. There's a deliberate and noticeable upping of each and every ante... the guitars somehow more razor sharp and inventive, the rhythm both more lockstep and pugilistic, and the vocals... holy shit. I've listened to myriad demos, EPs, and full-lengths this year and there's nothing that could have prepared me.
Every song is a veritable showcase of multiple larynx-shredding personalities and all of them are righteously fucked and mangled (imagine Mike Patton simultaneously channeling Barney Greenway and Justin Pearson). It’s truly the most artful, unguarded, and manic performance of the year and one that elicits both a righteous ire and anguish from the listener. At times, it feels as if their unique and structured madness is, in itself, the destination. It’s as if they're arriving to the song independently of each other but they always manage to meet at precisely the same intersection.
The pummeling noise, noodling, and breakdowns all the happy accident of a band without limitations and certainly no adherence to genre signposts. Alas, nothing this fucking great comes easily. One gets the feeling that there’s a painstaking assembly to orchestrated chaos, a dark and alchemical strategy that has yielded gold of its own. There's nary a wasted second in these seven bangers and if you've read me before, y'all know I simply have to break it down track by track.
We're immediately knocked sideways with the jabs of first track "Family =/= Blood," as squawking feedback and a militaristic barrage of drums vaults us headlong into an absolutely devastating breakdown. There's pace changes aplenty, as scuzzy bass drops willingly knock heads with powerviolence drum fills. The willingness to remain off-kilter and unpredictable is clearly a weapon flashed before the fight. As is often the case, it's the lyrics that push this from stellar to indispensable. Confronting familial rejection as a result of one's identity, the cost of self-acceptance is sadly, and oftentimes, complete isolation. The aggression, though unchained, is still at odds with the innate human desire to be embraced, understood, and loved. There's a conscious acceptance of impending crisis that serves as a "battening down of the hatches" as much as self-flagellation.
Though ferociously bleak and confrontational, the personal bent is admirably intense and naked which gives it an aggressively disarming vibe. Among other heartwrenching and well-constructed lines, "You are what you are... enamel and a mammal and an animal" and it's equally visceral callback of "man what you see is what you made... an animal, an animal, an animal" is a top-tier purgative and cathartic moment in an EP full of them. Not to mention, one can’t help but hear the echoes of a ...Bollocks era, pre-MAGA Johnny Rotten and wonder if BustDown isn’t coyly taking potshots at an era now rendered obselete.
"1000 Colonial Farm Rd. Mclean, VA is a drug front that needs to be burned to the fucking ground", other than being a callback to skramz adjacent genres once so keen on the verbose song title, also happens to be the address of the oxymoronic name of the CIA’s “George Bush Center For Intelligence.” Additionally, it’s a sharpened, sonic machete that begins with as straightforward a hardcore riff as you'll hear on the album before morphing into a lurching and nauseating crawl. The manic disregard for song structure is clearly and evenly matched by the barbed words accompanying it, as they take down and skewer the seventy plus years of organized atrocity committed by the CIA.
Strategic use of both tape hiss and background noise, far too violent to be ambient, leads us hesistantly into the fury that is "Fucked Up From the Grave." A bone rattling four stringed riff and a devastatingly sad audio sample is bookended by a masterclass in violence, be it of the grind/power/or emo variety. Regardless of subgenre, the bewitching mélange approaches levels of sonic torture that mirror the inner violent dialogue inherent in the lyrics' nihilistic streak.
For my money, of which there's little, "Trucknutz" is the centerpiece. The fourth track, a mid-EP island of it's own begins with an absolutely crushing serpent of a riff that wouldn't be out of place on Converge's Axe to Fall. It also manages to shine another of it's buried treasures: the use of subtle guitar noise. In this particular instance, it's a bent and squealing guitar feral enough to match the "nothing to lose, take the fight to them" mission statement. Confrontationally nihilistic, the lyrics are tightly coiled around a slowly seething anger born of being marginalized and threatened.
"Richard Spencer Fuckboy" should be self-evident. Lest you need enlightening on the logical conclusion when humans become completely untethered from reality, BustDown calmly conjures the culling of the alt-right herd. A brutal drum intro that plays as if it was recorded in a blast furnace switches easily from powerviolence to classic, bass heavy noise music. Imagine Rorschach playing Unsane covering Discordance Axis and you're getting close.
In perhaps my favorite vocal performance of the collection, there's an ability to seamlessly alternate between timbre and pitch, screaming in both desperation and madcap violence. There's a tortured tonality that's endlessly impressive.
Silver spoon college kids and art-school summer squatters have long been the tourists of Baltimore's music scene and, in "Tankie Dorks Fuck Off" BustDown gloriously trashes Stalin apologists. Academics playacting as communists is nothing new, but their sights are set on those that willingly accept human rights violations as "necessary." The mighty pen is backed up with a musical canvas of light speed snare rolls and wrangled, urgent guitars that wouldn't sound out of place in Youth Attack's heyday. It's here they again highlight their penchant for the breakdown. Every bit as intimidating as the goons for whom they harbor disdain, BustDown can serve brutal with the best of 'em.
“Astroterf” only further exemplifies the band’s collective ability to condense such heady and relevant topics as the status quo masquerading as radicalism. I can’t help but feel gutted as the first line commences with “I’m just breathing, you couldn’t leave it alone” and later doubles down with “I didn’t come this far, haven’t been suffering for you.” The lyrics rattle through my brain long after the EP’s last punch has landed. The galvanizing effect of dismantling “trans exclusionary radical feminists” as but a mirror reflection of mainstream oppression while set to Hardcore this vital and visceral is inspired, scathing, and utterly essential. I’m thankful to have had the chance to read and learn from art. That’s what the best music should do. This is what hardcore should do.
BustDown sit in the sweet spot of fitting on nearly any bill. As likely as they are to play a HxC matinee, they fit snuggly on a bill that found me joyfully awestruck while awaiting Birds In Row. Now that the EP is out, there are opportunities to see for yourself before winter kills us all:
Catch them at Queer Bash: Trans Day of Retribution and 12/7 with MD doom metal merchants Yatra both at the Sidebar
*Post-script: For the uninitiated: the root of “BustDown” as explained by, well, Bustdown:
(Verb) meaning “leave me some of that cigarette.”
The more you know...