One Step Closer, This Place You Know (Run for Cover Records, 2021)

They say that in order to succeed in life you have to be good, and you have to be lucky. The same can be said for hardcore.

One Step Closer, despite hailing from Wilkes-Barre, PA has had their luck tied to the state of Massachusetts for quite some time. It started with an early East Coast tour (and multiple northeast gigs) with local Boston favorites Pummel.

A certain show in Massachusetts in 2018 booked by Matt from Pummel that was attended by both Sam Triple B and Pat Flynn would snowball into their 12-inch, From Me to You, being released on Triple B Records in January 2019 and the February 2019 announcement that they were among the openers for the Have Heart reunion shows.

Fast-forward to July 2019 to said Have Heart reunion show, and One Step Closer goes on to make the best of that opportunity by playing an absolutely killer set. By sheer luck, One Step Closer got the attention of the hardcore world at large. What they proceeded to do with that attention was prove how well-deserved it was by killing it live at every show they played and just having great songs.

Plenty of bands have tried to do the late-era Turning Point template (with a healthy dose of Verbal Assault style licks) but I don’t think any other band in that style has captivated the hardcore world as thoroughly as One Step Closer did with From Me to You.

You can chalk that up to the luck of the exposure that Triple B and Have Heart brought them, but I think that would be cynical and leave out the fact that a lesser band wouldn’t have gone as far with those same opportunities. Which brings us to their next opportunity, the signing to the much larger (coincidentally also Boston-based) label, Run for Cover Records, and the impending release of their debut LP, This Place You Know.

I was hotly anticipating this release since I heard their 2020 promo track “Lead to Gray” (backed with a cover of “Broken” by Turning Point, naturally) and I am here to say that it delivers on the promise shown by that track. In a way, One Step Closer is the perfect fit for a hardcore band to be on Run for Cover, a label mostly known nowadays for being emo and indie hitmakers so to speak. I say this because This Place You Know takes their emo influence and leans into it further and with great success. 

Opening track “I Feel So” is a perfectly executed continuation of the sound they established for themselves on From Me to You. The riffs are aggressive and fast yet intricate and melodic, dipping their toes into the melodic sensibilities of emo and post-hardcore, while still packing enough of a punch to inspire, nay, command stage-diving. However, the songwriting and musicianship on This Place You Know are both on a much higher level than previous material.

The secret sauce here is the use of dynamic shifts and subtle transitions to build dramatic tension and make every part hit harder. The emo influence sprinkled throughout whether it be in the use of clean vocals or quieter parts makes every harder part explode out of the speaker at you and on the flip side, the louder sections accentuate the tunefulness of the softer ones. This tactic is particularly employed to great effect on the tracks “Leave Me Behind” and “Home for the Night,” where the music goes quieter for a moment only to explode back into action with big sing-alongs and big riffs.

By the time we get to the record’s bona fide ballad, track 6, “Hereafter,” you’re not even shocked that they would write a song like this. Unlike the rest of the record which could easily be classified as “melodic hardcore," “Hereafter” is firmly an emo song in the middle of a hardcore record and it works perfectly. I feel like this could and will be a million young kids’ introduction to hardcore from the worlds of emo and indie so the inclusion of a palate cleansing track like “Hereafter” makes sense.

Photo: Gray Muncy

The back half of the record brings the energy back up, with “Autumn” featuring one of the record’s best two-step breaks. The album climaxes with the closing track, “As the City Sleeps,” which clocks in at 4 minutes, a song length that might as well be an 8+ minute epic to the average hardcore kid but the song flies right by you, divided into a first section that weaves expertly between the various dynamic shifts we’ve already discussed, and a second section anchored by just one big riff as vocalist Ryan Savitski trades lines with a guest vocalist that to my ears sounds like Russell from Magnitude.

The magic of This Place You Know is how it manages to straddle the line between emo and hardcore in a way that would satisfy fans of both sounds without alienating either. Think about how rare a feat it is to have a record with both true crossover appeal and a true cross-pollination of sounds that doesn’t feel corny or forced. I can’t imagine either the Run for Cover fan or the dyed-in-the-wool hardcore kid hating this record.

In fact, I truly can’t imagine anyone hating this record although I’m sure some contrarian somewhere is salivating at the prospect of finding something to pick apart about it (there’s always one). But I don’t care about that person (and for that matter, neither should you), I write for the people who are here to hear good music and have a good time and to them I say, this record is so damn fun and pleasant to listen to that I think it achieves the impossible: it’s a hardcore record that will make you go off and have fun at the show but you could also play it for your mom and not feel embarrassed. I feel like that’s something outstanding and deserving of recognition.

Like I said at the beginning, you have to be good, and you have to be lucky. One Step Closer caught some lucky breaks early on courtesy of the great state of Massachusetts. But if they weren’t this good, that luck would have dried up, and this record is so good that I think they will be able to make their own luck from now on.

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