Reviews

Smash Your Enemies, Become Death (Upstate Records, 2019)

2019 suffered no shortage of heavy. The scene again saw a spate of crushing hardcore records, with a litany of releases all reaching for the same crown. New York’s Upstate Records has been on stellar year end run, the act herein comprising the triple threat rounded out by Iron Price and Ante Up, both of whom also dropped killer records in late Fall.

Recent label signees Smash Your Enemies make most of them feel like bantamweights punching above their weight. Relegating the false heavies to the dustbin, the Detroit metallic hardcore unit recently dropped a six song EP, Become Death, which, fittingly enough, shared its birthday with their hometown’s storied Devil’s Night arson. After sitting nervously through even a cursory listen, it’s difficult to decide which one is more fiery. 

The band’s moniker, whether or not it was lovingly cribbed from Hatebreed’s Perseverance highlight, shares little with the posi but no less effective self help mantras we know from Jasta-isms. It’s at turns nihilistic, pugilistic, and antagonistic. At others, it’s a noxious mix of all three at once. The EP is a furious distillation of everything from street ready Madball groove, Slayer thrash riffing, Terror’s traditional adherence, and the inescapable raw menace that recalls their Cold as Life DNA. The intimidating metallic hardcore on display is as cold blooded as their homestate’s punishing winter. 

As an opening gambit, it’s rare to hear a more fearsome statement of intent than the cold open of “Murder City Kings.” There’s a burly chant announcing “S...Y...E.” that plays as a frenzied takedown, feeling every bit as crushing as repeatedly hitting the mat. In essence, it feels like a traditional blitz of an intro track and, per Hardcore’s custom, it bleeds directly into the second track.

“Driven By Hate” is a loathsome blast of fast metallic hardcore that flashes hints of Clevo-inspired, Rust Belt '90s hardcore. There are bits of heavy hitters like All Out War and their ilk, but the affair stays decidedly in the world of hardcore, especially when considering the free swinging barker on the microphone. When they slow it down, albeit rarely and briefly, it’s only to dish out Urban Discipline via breaks and beatdowns indebted to the rabid sounds of early NYHC.

Lyrically, they’re forcing the target of this poison tipped barbed to choose between the reaper and the light but, honestly, it’s sounds like it’s far too late. 

Both “Become Death” and “Sick World” ride in on the back of slithering bass work and an impossibly dense low end. The former is ushered in by both an unsettling sample and crushing groove, whereas the latter sports the album’s best riffs. The springboard metallic thrash guitar in the early going is later usurped by a half time bruiser made even more satisfying by the “Kneel Down…” mosh break.

Smash Your Enemies employs few things you haven’t heard before but they do it with such aplomb it feels fresh enough to not even notice. Whether fortifying their metallic hardcore with reprised breakdowns that continually build or tack on backing vocals that sound like a pack of wolves, SYE create a sense of despair for the victimhood that is their listeners. 

The final track “Bloodshed” only doubles down what brought us here, throwing in a frenzied upper register vocal on the back end that flashes yet another of their best tricks… the sound of a maniacal mob behind the band. They peddle an embattled sound better than nearly anyone else.

Sound wise, the gruff clarity comes courtesy of a mix by Andy Nelson (Jesus Piece, Harms Way) at Bricktop Recording and a mastering by Josh Schroeder (Lorna Shore, King 810). The vocals were recorded by Tone Rizzo at Sound Smith Studio. 

To get even better acquainted with the Detroit crushers, check their recent appearance on the Ill Street News Podcast

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