Purgatory, Lawless to Grave (Unbeaten Records, 2021)

Sounding like a house band for the end times, Purgatory have returned with sophomore LP, Lawless to Grave

Again unleashed upon the world via Unbeaten Records, their followup to 2018’s debut LP, Cold Side of Reality, is another masterclass in street-level metallic hardcore.

Piggybacking on an album built upon frustration and malice, this leans someone even further South, perhaps intent on soundtracking our interminable voyage to the nether regions. The malevolent mean streak of their previous work is still here in all its nihilistic disdain, but that streak feels as though it’s hardened into scar tissue.

Thematically and lyrically, this batch explores the dusty recesses of their human experiences, however difficult or painful, and wraps them in razor wire. What doesn’t kill apparently just makes you more fierce. Battle hardened and deeply focused, this thing is a monster. Dig it...

The months since the band dropped their lead single have done nothing to dilute the whoopin’ it serves. “Stack ‘Em Up” wins before the first note rings out. It’s scientifically proven that any song that samples the over-the-top madness that is 1986’s Cobra is destined to fucking rule. And rule this does, y’all.

The patient intro quickly explodes into full blown intimidating hardcore a la All Out War and Stigmata. Between flurries of frenzied double bass and Slayerisms, everything here feels ratcheted up. When we at last get to “Fuck you. Fuck the system...”, the Cro-Magnon simplicity feels more like a jewel of profundity tucked into a Stallone knockout blow. 

The creepy crawl early passage that marks “Grave of Sorrow” wallows nervously before unleashing a harrowing torment of Clevo hardcore. Having decimated stages alongside Ringworm, the band mangles their attack with a dash of the “Master Killer(s)” themselves, Merauder.

What’s perhaps most exhilarating is that Purgatory means EVERY SINGLE WORD. Just check the minute mark if you want a sample of the domination on display. Citing early Hatebreed here surely wouldn’t be far off the mark. 

Elsewhere, the highlights abound. From the outta nowhere glory of a guitar solo on “JCA” to the rhythmic flurry that opens the standout “Loyalty Denied," the already formidable act has clearly put some serious sweat equity into this collection. As brutal as it is nuanced and as subtle as it is direct, Purgatory has leveled up yet again. The sample of rain that closes out the former, however resigned, will never fall heavily enough to wash the street grime from this band’s DNA. Time for everyone else to catch up. 

“Can’t Stop Our Reign” is the haughty sound of a 10-ton gauntlet being thrown down. Off the back off a sickeningly thick and scuzzy bass tone, here they peddle a now trademarked brand of hardcore to near inimitable form. As informed by Irate and Stigmata as it is Urban Discipline, their greatest strength lie in the deft blurring of the lines between.

Purgatory even flash a merciful moment of levity. No spoilers, of course, but the end of this one actually had me laughing. Before you catch your breath, it’s right back to the Troy Core torment of “No One Gets Out Alive.” Other than the (likely inadvertent) Lizard King-inspired song title, this one sports my favorite vocal run across the whole damn album. Just peep just the burly Cold As Life, 100 Demons, and Next Step Up vibes slathered all over this punisher. The last minute is flat out irresponsible.

It’s fitting that the hardcore world is still reeling from the superlative God’s Hate fullie from a few short weeks ago, but it must be said...the subtle but oppressive heft clink of chaingang steel that opens  “Chains of Wicked Men” is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve heard in years. By comparison, the track starts exploring a slow motion chugging sludge. 

It’s ultimately a Trojan Horse for subsequent album highlight “Disease.” The cymbals splash perfectly around the tossed off “motherfucker” street poetics, and the psychic temperature is as cold as Midwestern new years.

If you’ve seen Purgatory live, that 2-minute mark is as good a warning to get outta the way as any. I can scarcely imagine the new, pandemic-softened world is ready for a breakdown this hard. One of their best yet.

Though “Thorn of Life” eventually escapes the squall of feedback that is its opening salvo, it’s a late album gem and overloaded with one of the now definitive Purgatory riffs. Tacked onto the end of an already antagonistic and exhausting album, “Thorn…” feels potent enough to crush anyone who’s made it this far.

As they do across the LP, this one is bolstered with fearsome gang vocals. Again proving the band knows when to crush you, the breakdown in this penultimate punisher  is designed to flatline fools in the front row. 

Photo courtesy of Unbeaten Records

As fitting a closer as there is, “Lawless to Grave” is, in my opinion, the band’s definitive statement. Linguists be damned, as you might notice the missing “the” in the title, but omitting the article is intentional.

Purgatory themselves are the real article. Pinching some dialogue from Road to Perdition, their newfound prowess as mood-setting is here in all its glory. It encapsulates everything the band does in inspiring and epic fashion. 

Fuck heaven. I’m staying here.

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