Ben Levi’s Matriarchs are back with a new lead singer and a refined thematic presence. Formed in 2014 as a studio project, their original singer Richard Barthel left in 2018, and was replaced in relatively short order by vocalist (and professional videographer and Tik Tok personality) K Enagonio. Matriarchs’s sound on their first LP Scandalous Jointz was very much in line with the forsaken and evil engineered metallic hardcore of a group like All Out War. However, Levi is pretty forward about the fact that his band existed to bring the style of beat down hardcore that is presently still popular in Europe back to the United States. I therefore don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that the project hadn’t quite excelled to the level of his own expectations or the expectations of the audience for beat down hardcore at the point of Barthel’s departure. Thankfully, Year of the Rat is an animal of a different order altogether. A more evolved predator, better adapted to survival in a harsh and unforgiving world.

The production value for Year of the Rat have been polished to a blinding sheen, allowing the punishing guitar tones to come streaking through, like beams of cold light through prison window bars, and the blood boiling, blast-beat percussion raises the threat level of the mix to the point where you can literally feel these tracks snapping at your ears, like some big hungry cat, lunging at its next meal.

The most obvious, and worthy of discussing, new aspect of Matriachs’s new sound though, is K Enagonio’s vocal presence. They have a toughness to their vocal delivery that feels like a heavy leather jacket falling around your shoulders and enveloping your ears. Surprisingly weighty and at the same time cool and durable, they make every song feel like a gladiatorial match, like their life is literally on the line, needing to land every lyric just right to achieve total victory and live to see another day. The forceful way they project their voice and emotions outward from tracks like “Verisimilitude” and “Bombaclot” is effectively snaring and binding, while at the same time showing off their range and ability to continue to evoke a consistent level of catharsis despite revolving changing in tempo and sharp shifts in pitch.

There is an ambiguous quality to Enagonio’s voice too, that, despite its toughness, helps to cultivate a believable sense of vulnerability in her performance. This dynamic is best showcased on the bruising, bullet-with-your-name-on-it, groovey cement tiller, “Sleep” where Enagonio’s raspy cleave is layered with her own voice, downshifted to a child-like, atonal intonation, that evocatively ungirds the humanity and unabating pain bound up in the lyrics. It’s a bold mixing decision for the track that really paid dividends and I applaud the band for being willing to try it.

The successes of Year of the Rat are heightened by numerous guest performers, whose presence serve to make the album feel as much like a hardcore block party, as a sheer exhibition of force.

“Eviscerate,” true to its name, features limb severing grooves and blood-letting hammer percussion, the slaughter-ready quality of which is sharpened by the rough flint of former Bury Your Dead and current Volumes singer, Myke Terry. Later, the death-drop and twirling downward collapse of the suicidally persistent “Dogma” features the Cuban-neck-tie cry of Emmure’s Frankie Palmeri. And speaking of severed windpipes, Neil from Cutthroat, lends his ruthless, hatched-edged flow to the beat down barricades raider “Roots,” warning you to stay in your lane if you don’t want any trouble.

There is a lot on Year of the Rat that fans of Rise of the Northstar, Obey the Brave, and Nasty will find familiar, but none of those bands operate with the same adventurous character and resilient caliber as Matriarchs. Year of the Rat is their first foray into the second half of their career, and beyond its own virtues, it drops numerous hints of greater things to come from the band in the very near future. All eye on Matriarchs headed into 2021.

Buy Year of the Rat here.

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Always writing... Always. Read my errant thoughts over at I Thought I Heard a Sound (https://thasound.blogspot.com/) or follow me on Twitter @thasoundblog

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