Reviews

Subzero, House of Grief (Upstate Records, 2020)

It’s a cold world. Few know that better than the long-running NYHC hardcore band Subzero.

Having weathered everything from an extended and necessary hiatus to endless travails and circumstance, it’d take more than even the Kori Blade to snuff em’ out.

In the run up to their much awaited Beauty in Sorrow EP due in December, No Echo caught up with mouthpiece Lou Di Bella this summer, wherein he expounded on everything from new music, a litany of hardships, and the enduring legacy of the world’s most unkillable band.

Here to whet our collective appetite is the House of Grief 7”, a quick double shot of their trademark bellicose savagery. Having recently inked a deal with “home of the heavies” Upstate Records, their triumphant label debut isn’t so much a reintroduction as it is a reclamation.

Bundle up, y’all, cuz winter is coming. Subzero has returned.  

Having first caught wind of Subzero Headbanger’s Ball’s late night rotation of “Lionhearted," it was retroactively that I found their vicious but forward thinking '90s material. With the long covered “Boxed In” (can we have a moratorium on that one yet?) permanently etched into the annals of hardcore history, lesser bands would likley make unholy compromises to have left such an indelible impression on the masses.

On the strength of their back catalog alone, no band three decades into their career has any being being this fucking good.  

Appropriately, the title track kicks off with a sample from Leon: The Professional, and it indirectly encapsulates the band’s trademark duality. Always as forward thinking as they are punishing, there’s a delicate art to these assassins.

Dating back to their spectacular first reprisal in the early ‘oughts, The Suffering of Man, it picks up the experimental mantle laid by that album, in particular. Incorporating their growing embrace of metal and dynamics, “House of Grief'' finds its backbone immediately.

Tried and true, Subzero swings confidently from a bouncing groove to the pummel and chug of classic hardcore. Vocally, Di Bella sounds absolutely ravenous, which pairs expertly with the pre-chorus clean passages. Clearly enunciated and desperately urgent, there are hints of Life of Agony and something altogether more progressive.

The recording lends it a weightier and more violent tone, which is captured perfectly by a stampede of kick drum that feels like the floor giving way. The guitars are given room to explore, squealing and diving wildly around the melody and, when the Mike Patton-esque flair of the lyric “the time has come," it crashes with celebratory and nihilistic bombast.

Were this a sequence from Mortal Kombat, their finishing move is well-timed. With a piercing and chaotic scream, the breakdown comes in and absolutely devastates. Damn. Welcome back. 

Photo: Lou Di Bella

The flip side boasts “Necropolis” and, if that conjured death metal imagery, you wouldn’t be miles away from the wicked alchemy the track embodies. The bass is scuzzier and looser, the riffs thrasher, and the screams a tad bleaker on this one.

There’s a deceptively slower and hushed bass riff that, along with a drum roll, ushers in the wildest I’ve ever heard Di Bella.

They’ve clearly spent their years away absorbing all of extremity’s more sinister sounds, as the metallic guitars and Holy Terror influence split the difference between Slayer and Ringworm, albeit with the streetwise swing Breakdown and Skarhead, with whom they share DNA.

Repeated like an ominous mantra is “City of the Dead…” seemingly ad nauseam and the cumulative effect is dizzyingly heavy. 

As I write this, Subzero is putting the finishing touches on their forthcoming EP and, should this be any indication, it’s going to yet again cement them as a still essential and vibrant hardcore band. The world is better with these ice cold gents making music. Pick it up. You're welcome.

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