Drill Sergeant, Vile Ebb (Convulse Records, 2021)

At the moment, Convulse Records is on an absolute tear. From Militarie Gun and S.W.A.T. to Stud Count to Cell Rot, the Denver-based label is putting us through a veritable hardcore boot camp.

Their latest is Vile Ebb, the debut LP from Philly hardcore band Drill Sergeant.

On the heels of last year’s The Cosmic Leash demo, this is a devastating and essential listen. In keeping with the get in/get out brutalizing brevity of power violence, they still manage to tour from stomping hardcore punk, their uniquely agigated sonic bent, and various spots in between.

Still sipping from the same fetid well that gave us PV royalty Infest, No Comment, Man Is the Bastard, and Crossed Out; Drill Sergeant also dabble in the cold and echoey remove of post-punk in both their cavernous sound and the damaged guitar lines.

These icy waters run through the veins of Vile Ebb and it gives the album a distinct through line. Just listen, y’all. The whole thing is over in time for a sitcom’s second commercial break… what’s your excuse?! Let’s get into it. 

Opener “DSNW” is a combat boot to the teeth, setting well the table for the impending onslaught via blown out, stampeding hardcore. As the lightspeed fury reaches its conclusion, the vocals announce the band name in exceedingly intimidating fashion. Beneath it all, there’s a tar thick layer of warbling flange that levels up the excitement factor. The thrills continue all across this album, though, and it’s in large part due to the vocals.

The band somehow manages to take what, at its core, are Matthew Green's (Stud Count, ex-Fixation) relatively echoey and distant vocals and put them uncomfortably up front. It’s as if you can feel the flecks of spittle flying from the mouth of a bellicose drill instructor.

There’s a frenzied spirit in the barked delivery that, when paired with such locked in musicians, gives an off-the-rails vibe that’s infectious. This is the sound of a spirit being crushed… not piece by piece but all at once. 

Elsewhere, “Branded” bends and wails along. Starting with an unsettled rhythm, it segues into a straight ahead stomp that feels like an update on the mean spirited genius of Negative Approach, albeit informed by early ‘oughts titans No Tolerance or Mind Eraser. The drum sound demands mention, as well, as each snare hit feels like the business end of a bullwhip, snapping in the cadence of their feral frontperson.

Drill Sergeant’s master turn at flashing that nasty '80s hardcore feel is also seen on closer “Sense of Community.” The opening salvo is a harrowing scream preempted by a primitivist “1,2,3,4” count off. As these songs all hover around the minute mark, there’s nary a wasted second but they still manage twists and turns like the freefall on the final song’s back half. There’s an increasing urgency that feels like the listener is being inescapably sucked down the drain.

Matthew Green performing with Fixation in 2018. (Photo: Michael D. Thorn)

Drill Sergeant reprises the 2020 demo’s “The Cosmic Leash” with the same cymbal smash and grab of its first go round but with a bigger and more mix. As is the case on all of these tracks, “Burning Question” rumbles in on a wave of feedback. As they’re wont to do, they unleash a their speed-test aesthetic to a hardcore punk guitar riff that’s, dare I say, catchy as fuck.

Beneath the seemingly relentless torrent are sneaky earworms that make this one destined for the relisten pile. This should thrill fans of modern-day heavyweights Regional Justice Center, Cadaver Dog, and Spine. Though sonically dissimilar, they’ve officially joined the ranks of the bands taking a template to the outermost reaches of its once limited universe. 

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