Review Summary: An old vein bleeds again.
Members of Thrice, Kowloon Walled City, and Curl Up and Die came together to release Strangled Light
, a child of 2017. And yet it feels as if it’s from another era altogether. It certainly pays homage to an earlier lineage of post-hardcore that melded together introspection and socio-political commentary; Less Art themselves credit Fugazi, Unwound, and Drive Like Jehu as their main influences.
Not to say that Strangled Light
isn’t fresh, of course. It’s merely that the past feels so vibrant. All the illumination here, though, is derived from reflections in the coldest snow. Unwound would be the obvious comparison - the guitars of Strangled Light
are similarly brittle and haphazardly held together by the glue of dissonance. The air is tense, unforgiving, but biting only reactively. Strangled Light
would be a more vicious fighter if it hadn’t already been caught in the throes of hypothermia - as it stands, it’s “a broken man, the kind of person that hurts no one”. Perhaps not physically, no, but anyone with a shred of empathy would perceive, if not straight-up feel, the burden that is crushing the shoulders of Strangled Light
. “Shapeshifter” plods on, the heavy final steps of someone close to death, but at the apex of suffering there is a sweet endorphin release; indeed, throughout Strangled Light
the pain ebbs and flows, moderated by some combination of numbing feedback and augmented harmony. The riff of “Crushed Out” tries to look towards the sky but sees only hell, such is its tortured upwards movement. There is an urgency to the unrelenting, yet malleable rhythm section; all the tumult has induced a number of mutations, the most prominent one being in “Diana the Huntress”. Nearing its end, it decelerates with such suddenness that it is at risk of flying out through the windshield. Elsewhere, the drums are content to deliver sludgy, heavy-hearted blows, and more quickly if necessary.
The bleeding heart of Strangled Light
finds itself pumping lead in the manifestation of the lyrics. How agonized vocalist Mike Minnick sounds, giving auditory form to his inner demons; his vocals are reminiscent of the harsh, atonal style employed by many hardcore bands. There are no abstractions or twisting metaphors, just blunt commentary on personal tragedy and the human condition. It’s so saddening because of how resigned it all is. The premises don’t even have to be accepted for them to invoke a sense of pity: the state of mind of anyone who thinks “We all hate each other and no one gives a fuck / Even though we know it won’t do us any good” is surely depressing in its own right. No solutions are proposed, and no one is sure if any even exist. The external world is rightfully criticised for instances of police inefficacy (see: Diana the Huntress) and senseless killing (see: What Is It In Man), but the most poignant moments are when innermost sentiments are revealed with no trappings and no pretence. The last words of the title track are Strangled Light
staring at itself in the mirror: “No one comes back from the dead / Please make it so, we don’t need these sore throats from singing songs about the pain of living and losing someone”. The record looks outward but sees inward, lenses tinted black.
gives bleakness a blanket and room to breathe, even when the self has neither; and the self is irrevocably weaved in with the grand machinations of the world. “This system doesn’t work / The world is better without us / This system doesn’t work / We are better without us”, and yet we fight so hard to assert ourselves. Why? The answer is that there is no answer.