Album Review: Honest Crooks – The Sounds of Hell

4/5

There’s a moment in Event Horizon (1997) that acts as a brilliant example of narrative foreshadowing. After boarding the sci-fi horror film’s titular spaceship—a vessel once thought lost to the expansive reaches of deep space after testing a new form of faster-than-light propulsion, now suddenly parked in orbit around Neptune—the doomed rescue crew of the Lewis and Clark make an uneasy discovery. The derelict ship is broadcasting a garbled signal left by its missing crew, one that appears to be screaming out into the void in Latin, not in distress but in warning: “Liberate tutemet… ex inferis” or “Save yourself… from Hell.”

It’s fitting then that Aussie bruisers Honest Crooks had this peculiar cinematic spectacle on their minds while crafting their luciferous full-length debut, The Sounds of Hell. While the film is focused on striking cosmic portrayals of damnation made manifest, including moments of white-knuckled terror, wince-inducing gore, and a liberal dose of ‘90s shlock, the Tamworth outfit utilizes traditional notions of the underworld as unholy inspiration for their bludgeoning sonic mission. “…And the Skies Were Filled With Fire” sports pointed chugging and references to the worrying urban legend of Russia’s “Well to Hell,” while the album’s interlude track features a heavily distorted audio clip lifted directly from Event Horizon set to the ominous charge of industrial clanging, declaring that: “Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse.”

So then, what exactly does hell sound like? Well, according to Honest Crooks, it’s a ferocious and volatile mix of death metal technicality slamming headfirst into the seismic grooves of beatdown hardcore. Take the record’s lead single, last year’s “Serpent of Old,” which slithers around Calum Johnstone’s buzzsaw riffage and a pummelling rhythm section before dropping into a cavernous, drop-tuned stomp section that should be tried, convicted, and summarily executed for crimes against involuntary headbanging. And yet, despite what this frenetic fusion of subgenres might initially suggest—inhuman blast beats, porcine gutturals, and 480p breakdown compilation videos, for instance—Myspace deathcore this is not.

Spending the last few years on the national circuit with world-class heavy hitters like Harms Way, Xibalba, and Sydney’s very own HM-2 enthusiasts Justice For The Damned, has made Honest Crooks adept at walking that fine line between death metal’s inherent busyness and hardcore’s patented simplicity. The end result is a tight and succinct record packed full of intricate riffs, caustic vocals, and punchy pit-starters without the need for fluff or dead weight.

The clean guitar passage that surfaces on opener “Welcome Home” work to lull the listener into a false sense of complacency, primed for the three-pronged attack to come from Sam McCloud’s concussive percussion, the bottom-end rumblings of Lewy Glass and Johnstone’s devastating guitar tone. When frontman Brodie Graham finally lets his Cerberus bark off the leash, the quartet’s metallic lock-step quickly turns deadly. Cuts like “The Cure” and “The Reckoning” bristle and swerve with the kind of rabid intensity and crowd-kill recklessness that will surely make rocking some unsuspecting dude’s shit as easy as breathing.

Elsewhere, Honest Crooks take cues from acts like Twitching Tongues and Crowbar, softening up their cinderblock edges by flirting with the cathartic release of eerie melodies, most notably on closer “Burn Eternal” and the album’s title track. These brief moments of respite only serve to make their heaviness land harder, such as the gargantuan double-kick breakdown that punctuates the ACAB anthem “Furnace of Rage.” When Graham spits lyrics like “Justice is just a fallacy/ Unless it’s served as a brick to your face,” you know the man means business. The Sounds of Hell is an incendiary, nine-track exercise in sonic obliteration, representing Honest Crooks at their most uncompromising. And if it’s good enough for Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall (“Hits harder than a cement haymaker”), what’s stopping you?

Purchase and stream The Sounds of Hell here.

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