Reviews

Year of the Knife, Internal Incarceration (Pure Noise Records, 2020)

As a Marylander, our little known secret is that our neighboring Delaware is dope. The oldest and second smallest state stretches across a scant but densely crowded three counties and is home to an unknowably large amount of rad attractions and some of my favorite parks.

All of this only to say that as of this moment, my new favorite export birthed by the Blue Hen State is Internal Incarceration.

Year of the Knife, despite gladly bludgeoning the hardcore community for what feels like many years, have at long lost dropped their debut full-length via Pure Noise Records.

After joining a roll call of label mates that reads like the dean’s list for heavy hardcore, their opening gambit follows through on every last promise laid at our feet via last year’s Ultimate Aggression, a set cobbled together from their essential collection of EPs. 

As per usual, it’s a family affair within the Year of the Knife camp and, on brand for the bruisers, it doesn’t disappoint. Having turned to the golden hand of master audio engineer Kurt Ballou of Converge and GodCity Studio fame, they’ve somehow managed to capture both the dense and destructive chaos of their live performance with a more buzz saw, organic sound that plays to their many layered strengths.

Still intact is their impossibly thick and suffocating trademark sound, but Ballou helped sharpen the corners and highlight their hardscrabble take on death metal, which has grown into an impossibly powerful dimension in their song craft. 

This isn’t just Year of the Knife at the top of their game… it’s Year of the Knife at the top of the game.

This is Delaware devastation from top to bottom. Whether cutting through the quick of familial strife, the opioid crisis, or finding one’s family outside of our given bloodlines; Year of the Knife fucking bleeds these songs and you can hear it running through the LP. Let’s get it.

Photo: Danielle Dombrowski

As proper a reintroduction as there is, “This Time” wastes the front end of a single second before it’s ushered in on a crushing, groove-laden riff that reimagines Madball through an Obituary lense. It’s at once readily apparent that everything is somehow turned up even louder and the proceedings even more frenzied.

Wisely, they’ve tacked a wailing, siren like guitar sound onto their singular bludgeoning breakdowns and, when paired with their trademark blazing pace it’s a staggeringly big leap forward.

The final 45 seconds are an agonizing yet glorious mess of panic chords before a quick reprise of the opening guitar riff. It’s sounds absolutely massive and absolutely savage. Lest you weren’t paying attention, “ultimate aggression” was clearly a statement of intent. 

“Virtual Narcotic” rides in on a treble-baiting wave of black metal styled riffing that quickly gives way to blackened D-beat edge that calls to mind Black Breath. There’s a bowel-shaking midsection that rides the tom drums, as if volleying the listener’s brain back and forth.

The double bass on display at the end goes impossibly hard, embracing the more surgical and precise end of death metal as much as it does their standard-bearing First State punishment.

Cribbing a note from the Nirvana songbook is “Stay Away.” Moniker aside, they share little with the Nevermind deep cut, instead beginning with snares that hit like Gatling gun fire before showcasing an early front runner for most punishing riff of the year. At their best when downtuned and deadly, this is ugly and purgative music at its best.

The vocal line “Stay the fuck away from me…” is repeated seemingly ad nauseum and, ultimately, becomes a mantra of self preservation from a band that sounds possessed by the need for a rousing catharsis.        

At times, the concrete slabs that comprise “Manipulation Artist” seem overwhelming. When embracing brevity, the faster moments call to mind the slick beatdowns peddled by Nails. The vocal range here, as on the rest of the LP, is wildly varied and endlessly successful, violently swinging between registers and intimidating at every turn.

The final half minute erupts into a trudging half step of brutality. 

Photo: Kat Nijmeddin

Opening with a guttural “ughhhhh” and an early flurry of ride cymbals, “Final Tears” is another highwater mark among an album stacked with them. In perhaps my favorite moment of the album, there’s an early moment in which the song slides unexpectedly into a serpentine death metal riff as the breakdowns momentarily slither into shadow. This well-crafted surprise is perfectly placed and it’s a dexterous move from a deservedly confident band.

In much the same way they do across their discography, the faster moments are often juxtaposed with crushingly slow breakdowns. The effect is dazzling, if not nearly fatal, feeling like a high speed chase into a Jersey wall. 
  
“Internal Incarceration," among other superlatives, wins my prize for the album’s best vocal cadence, feeling at once like Incendiary and something far more sinister. The vocals ride alongside the low end in a wholly interesting and new way.

When stampeding, there are few if any bands that can hang with Year of the Knife and, when the lyrics mirror the title with a screamed “Internal Incarceration," it’s harrowingly intense.

Another part of their ever growing arsenal is their use of deceptively simple riffs. In much the same way Obituary build their slowly rotting tapestries, Year of the Knife needs but a few chords to put on a clinic.        

Though not clearly delineated, “Premonitions of You” begins a triumvirate of songs that up the emotional ante of the album’s thematic connective tissue.

Opening with a groove that both owes and immediately pays its debt to generations of street-ready hardcore, it rumbles along with all the requisite pugilistic bile we’ve come to expect.

The peeling scream of “You can’t keep killing yourself…” finds the band at their most heartrending, forcing a moment of requisite hope preempting the one-two punch of what’s to come.     
   
It’s a rare and wonderful gift to capture a feeling as recalculating and amorphous as loss, especially with such a cruel suddenness. The opioid crisis took my brother and “Through the Eyes” manages to match the rage and pain inherent in the disease of addiction, from the vantage point of all parties touched by its cruel reach.

This one starts on a, dare I say, minimalist bent. For a band so dense, the stripped back D-beat fury quickly devolves into a mid-paced crawl that again features an envy-inducing breakdown that’s another whirlwind of devastation. 
   
“Sick Statistic” follows suit, their death metal influence fully on display in the first moments. Starting with a Heartwork-worthy riff, they set to work atop an impossibly heavy canvas of hardcore, giving the song a touch of triumph.

As always, the bass playing is phenomenal and it leads us unwillingly into a final minute that’s a suffocating cacophony of double bass. It’s but another killer moment on a killer record.

On what is perhaps the most flexible vocal passage “Eviction”  opens with a desperate urgency, matching a blackened thrash riff that’d satisfy legions of HM-2 worshippers. There are nods to Hatebreed and other towering monoliths of metallic and heavy hardcore, but the Year of the Knife formula has quickly become their own.

The back end of the track pits subtle and echoed backing vocals to the main lines which point to a band invested in the details.         
   
2020’s best and gnarliest bass tone is the star of “Nothing to Nobody.” It’s equally rubbery and nasty, perfectly setting the table for a violent late album outburst that flashes some of their most impressive muscles. There are minor flourishes lesser bands might neglect like the inventive cymbal hits that bely a band serving the song at every turn.

Again, they drop a breakdown that pulverizes a la the greatest primitive metal.

Photo: Danielle Dombrowski

Year of the Knife’s greatest asset is that they could just as easily share and slay stages with Jesus Piece as they could Gatecreeper or Fuming Mouth. They’re decidedly hardcore but something this heavy transcends the boundary of genre. Extreme heads take note.     

“Get It Out” inverts song structure a bit, as they let guitar squeals and feedback become a part of the mangled rhythms. Again, they shoehorn a killer death metal riff into a short banger that feels like a faster and somehow heavier Tragedy.    
   
“DDM” is, among other things, a love letter to the true community that is hardcore. Since their inception, the band have existed in reverence and service to the place that made them the unique and fearsome proposition they’ve become. Opening on a martial snare run, this stalks around like a caged predator for nearly the entire runtime.

One can only imagine this as an unexpected opener for a live set. “DEHC” is all that needs to be said.

If you like hardcore, you will like this. Nuff said.

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