I don’t think it can be overstated how devastating depression and addiction are. They touch everyone in one way or another. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, there are 132 suicides in the United States each day.
According to the CDC, over 450,000 people have died in the last 20 years from overdose involving an opioid; this includes those which have been prescribed opiods by a doctor. These are just statistics of people who have lost their battles with substance abuse and the chemicals in their own brains at the cost of their own lives.
People live with these conditions for years before they die of unrelated causes. Their ties to community, family, and friends being shredded over a long period of disappointment, mistrust, fatigue, and general inertia. Even if you do not personally wrestle with one or the other of these twin dragons, I’m willing to wager you know someone who does, and it is slowly killing them.
Straight-edge hardcore bands are not well known for their sympathy for addicts, and the solution to a bad mental health day (month, year, etc …) tends to be a recommended dose of PMA. But the power of positive thinking and tough love often aren’t enough to overcome chemical dependencies or the conditions that lead to depression. Empathy, while not a cure, can at the very least, be the beginning of a healing process for some.
Viewing things from the vantage point of those who suffer and withholding judgment can be the key that unlocks a door and allows others to reenter their community and regain control over their lives. Suppose someone in the throes of chemical dependence, or who is ensnared by melancholia, never experiences the intervention of someone who cares for them as they should care for themselves. In that case, they will likely continue to suffer in isolation and misery until their body gives out on them, segregated from society, incarcerated by their circumstances.
Year of the Knife’s latest LP Internal Incarceration flows from that healing font of empathic capacity that dwells in all of us. The Delaware hardcore band formed when vocalist Tyler Mullen, guitarist and drummer and twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Kisielewski, and guitarist and bassist, as well as husband and wife Brandon and Madison Watkins, came together over a shared love of death-metal-marbled hardcore and a commitment to a maintaining their (straight) edge.
Their previous LP, Ultimate Aggression, collected their early EPs, a Godflesh and Trapped Under Ice sandwich on rye, with seedy, tortured guitars and a hot-aioli spread of breakdowns that will bite you back.
Year of the Knife’s new LP retains much of this savage aesthetic of their earlier material but retools it for a new, productive use. By leaning into the band’s own experiences of loss around addiction and the strife of mental illness, their music has become an instrument to promote understanding for those who are not well, and clemency for those who suffer.
Internal Incarceration begins with “This Time,” a hammer-chord throwdown of Harm’s Way-esque riffs and rough-hewn grooves with lyrics that peer inside a mind gripped by guilt and coarsened by disease, repeating the lines “Too much, but not enough / In this life or the next / Your crown of thorns / Bleeds mistrust.” When you are suffering, it is hard to trust others, and when your suffering spills over on to those around you, it becomes hard for others to trust you.
The anxious cry of “This Time” floods into the following track “Virtual Narcotic,” a cut with a hand-saw swing and a Carcass-sharpened, serrated groove about living in a segregated cloud of narcotic induced pacification and psychotic dilution. Tracks like “Stay Away” and “Premonitions of You” betray the influence of death-groove rippers Machine Head, while slabs like the title-track “Internal Incarceration” reeks of the defilement of Cannibal Corpse.
There is a lot to unpack on this album in terms of messaging and sonic touchpoints, but in terms of thesis statements, “Sick Statistic” is likely the most pivotal track.”Sick Statistic” saddles up for a bucking, cyclonic gallop through grappling Harm’s Way-grooves and head-cracking, Hate-bred riffs, while Mullen seethes through a rattling growl “I have no limitations / I tremble in desperation / Paralyzed from the mistakes / Of the morphine that takes my place,” followed by a snarling guitar squall, and a sharp downstroke which punctuates the next line as it is chiseled into your ear, “Now I’m just another / Fucking sick statistic of America’s cold dead face.”
There is no misinterpreting the track or any other on this album. The band are living with others’ pain in an attempt to exercise it from the world and give voice to the afflicted’s pleas, a drive whose motivation is cemented in the final line of “Sick Statistic,” when Mullin implores with a haggard exhale, “Fix me.”