If there’s an area of heavy music worthy of detailed analysis and writerly dissection, it’s the curious, liminal zone that exists between metalcore and metallic hardcore. While these terms are often considered synonymous and frequently used interchangeably, there’s been enough divergence in these subgenre categories since their emergence in the mid-to-late ‘90s and subsequent explosion throughout the ‘00s that warrants serious discussion.
There’s likely more than enough stylistic difference between, say, Cro-Mags and Killswitch Engage or Agnostic Front and As I Lay Dying, to make these terms self-evident for most casual listeners. But what about Hatebreed? Or Converge? Or Every Time I Die?
If one reads the Wikipedia entry for ‘Metalcore,’ bands like Turmoil and Poison The Well are left curiously absent, even with their 1999 albums The Process Of and The Opposite of December… representing respective watershed moments that would continue to define heavy music for the next two decades.
Thankfully, Los Angeles bruisers Foreign Pain leave out the guesswork on their debut LP, Death of Divinity. Despite featuring ex-The Ghost Inside guitarist/backing vocalist Aaron Brooks in their lineup, the band choose to forego any of the poppy inclinations or clean signing sensibilities that might anchor their fellow Californian peers, instead driving forward with a bludgeoning and dissonant metallic hardcore sound reminiscent of Good Fight labelmates END, Tooth and Claw, and Axis. As Lambgoat so succinctly put it earlier this year:
“It ain’t Turmoil, but it’s close enough.”
Death of Divinity hinges on the concussive opening salvo of lead single “…On Failure.” Ten seconds of blistering, percussive mayhem from drummer Sina Xiansheng is quickly shadowed by the frantic, discordant riffage and penetrating chugs of Brooks and guitarist Darel McFadyen. By the time frontman Andrew Doyle steps in to lead a spoken-word chant (“Set the stage/ Light the fuse/Hold the rope while I tie the noose”), the bone-crushing breakdown that follows is biblical in scope and import.
Much of the album trends in this direction. “Torchlight” announces itself with urgent fight riffs played against ribcage rimshots before leaping fist-first into full-blown sonic chaos. With earthshaking sub-drops and bassist Shawn Skadburg’s mid-section rumblings, it feels tailor-made for impulsive crowd-killing and white-knuckle sing-a-longs. Similarly, the moody “Blood Oath” shines a light on the dangers of interiority and isolation, as Doyle’s aching screams gives voice to feelings of anger, frustration and vulnerability.
With a nod to their roots in the West Coast hardcore scene, Foreign Pain also embrace communal solidarity on Death of Divinity. The album sports a number of choice guest features, including the presence of Andrew Neufeld’s (Comeback Kid) midrange yelp on the back half of the thrash-inspired “Kill To Rise” and Nate Rebolledo’s (Xibalba) demonic growl on the face-melting “Holy Order.”
Not to be content with staying inside their metallic hardcore wheelhouse, Foreign Pain use the album’s B-side to flesh out more emotive and yearning compositions. “Kneel” finds a way to pair the band’s penchant for jackhammer heaviness with more upbeat and propulsive hardcore punk sections, sounding like a beefier Ruiner or Killing The Dream.
Making this melodic hardcore connection even more apparent, the deeply personal “I Thought It Was Me” borrows a line from Modern Life Is War while also utilising Cali chest-beaters The Warriors for cavernous vocal chants. It’s a standout moment for the record, with Doyle reflecting on his mistakes and personal anguish at the loss of a close friend to suicide.
While Death of Divinity is careful not to overreach for sonic experimentation, it’s nonetheless a concise and formidable listen. Production and engineering from Roger Camero (No Motiv, The Warriors), along with mixing and mastering by Beau Burchell (Saosin, Taken, Senses Fail) ensures that the record maintains a slick, modern approach to beatdown anachronism. Heavy-hitters like the needling “We Are What We Fear” and towering closer “South of Life” only help to cement Foreign Pain’s place as torchbearers for metallic hardcore in this new decade.
Preorder Death of Divinity here.