Desperate times call for desperate music, and hardcore is about as gut-level a response as anyone could offer, the hopelessness of the damned channeled into unthrottled aggression. But ever since its beginnings, the music has been fueled by opposingeven warringimpulses: violence and nihilism at one extreme, moralism and emotionalism at the other. There's plenty of argument about what "hardcore" even means anymore, but however you argue it, metal has become an ever more prevalent influence on the music. And that shift away from punk and into heavosity has only pushed hardcore more toward gloom and misery, which makes perfect sense. As the world has gotten more brutal, so has the music. You don't even have to read the lyrics, just look at the band names: Terror, Black My Heart, A Love for Enemies, It Dies Today.
That's what makes the Detroit band Walls of Jericho so singular. They might be coming through town on a package tour with Full Blown Chaos, Bury Your Dead and Premonitions of Warall bands who indulge tropes of darkness and destructionbut they're unwilling to give in to hardcore's despair. Their most recent CD, All Hail the Dead, heaves with anger, but it's all in the service of fighting the power. Like their name suggests, they're engaged in a battle, one that requires dogged faith. Listen to singer Candace Kucsulain's lyrics, and it's never entirely clear whether she's circling the walls of Jericho, or whether she's the one being encircled, on the verge of crumbling; most of the time, it's both. That sense of contradiction and opposition permeates every line she sings; it's there in her embittered, wrenching howl and in the music's shifting tempos and moods.
Hardcore and metal bands are always resorting to macho one-upmanship, boasting about their prowess, or their speed, or their heaviness, but Kucsulain doesn't have time for that. She's too busy struggling for survival in a broken world. In the album-opening title track, she rails against eating disorders, but she recognizes that women who destroy themselves in search of false perfection are both symptoms and victims of a culture where "control is all [we] crave, a fucking paycheck is all [we] are." She's furious at women who starve themselves and make themselves sick, even as she mourns them too. "They never knew that they were truly beautiful," she sings.
Kucsulain's conflicted rage gives the whole album remarkable emotional complexity; she grapples with herself, with friends and lovers, with the whole of humanity. Fitting for a band whose ethos, if nothing else, reaches back to the roots of hardcore, there are times when Kucsulain's shout and her sincerity recall those of Minor Threat's Ian MacKaye (thankfully, without the self-righteousness). But there's little doubt Walls of Jericho are part of hardcore's modern metal wave: the guitars surge and slice, and you can hear as much Metallica as you can Minor Threat. Still, there are those moments, especially on the album's closing instrumental track, when the thrash gives way to something more textured, which just underscores how much they transcend the limitations of the genre. If only they could find a way to get out of this world alive.
Walls of Jericho play all-ages club The Muse on Thursday, Jan. 27.
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