Sometimes the most difficult part of writing a review can be thinking of an introductory paragraph. A way to hook the reader and make them want to continue reading on. That being said, I sat looking at a blank Microsoft Word document for about 40 minutes trying to think of a way to properly introduce Cruel Hand’s latest release, Lock & Key. After I reached the 40 minute mark—and I was keeping track of time—I decided that maybe I should ask a friend what he thought of the record, so as to perhaps give me some sort of idea as to how I should start this review. He delegated this duty to a prominent source that we often look to for conventional wisdom, and the source came up with this gem, “While listening to the album, I thought it was… awesome.” I feel like I’m going to have to agree.
Still reading" Good. Now that I’ve got that out of the way I can address the usual preliminaries. Lock & Key marks the third major release that Cruel Hand has put out since 2007, and it is by far the most mature of the three. Taking influence from New York hardcore legends such as Madball, Cro-Mags, and Sick of It All, Cruel Hand has continuously crafted catchy, memorable modern hardcore anthems that have attributed to the band attaining a very respectable fanbase. The great thing about Cruel Hand is that while they are certainly within the spectrum of the hardcore scene, the style of music that they play can be appreciated by fans of aggressive music in general, due to a pronounced metallic tinge to their particular brand of hardcore.
Getting into the album itself, the thing that I noticed right off the bat is that the style that they have become known for hasn’t changed too much, but it does sound a bit more mature. The usual riffing that Cruel Hand exhibits is in full force, as expected (and appreciated,) but the writing is a bit more structured, which results in the songs sounding a bit more “complete.” The greatest improvement has come in the way of vocalist Chris Linkovich’s expanded vocal range. That is, the inclusion of a broader, more singing-type vocal. It works perfectly in this sense, especially as evidence in the hooks of song likes “Cruel Hand” and “Lock & Key” in particular.
Speaking of the track “Lock & Key,” it opens the record, and was a great choice for that role. It starts off with the kind of energy that is perfect to set the tone of the record. As the vocals kick in, you have a good idea of what the album is going to be like, and if you had any expectations going into this record, you should be able to recognize that they will be met, and most likely exceeded. The riffing on this song is great, as it is on the rest of the record.
“Cruel Hand” is the second track, and is definitely a standout. It was released as the first pre-release track, and it perfectly exhibits the improvements that I was expecting to hear on this record. The chorus is just incredible. The vocals, lyrics, and the riffs on it are absolutely stellar, and in my opinion show Cruel Hand at their best.
The thing that stands out most to me about the third track, “Day or Darkness” is the kick drum. I have no idea why this is, though my guess is because during the first actual riff it is very pronounced. Due to how pronounced it is, I can’t help but wish that the snare was a little tighter so as to produce more of a “bang” kind of sound. I’m sure that doesn’t make any sense, but perhaps someone will understand what I’m trying to say. Aside from this, the track is very solid.
The fourth track, “Broken Glass” is an up tempo, thrashy riff fest. Referring back to the wise words of my source of wisdom, I think this song is awesome. It is easily one of the heaviest, catchiest songs on the record. The lyrics are great, as they usually are, and the bridge is just heavy, in every sense of the word. All of this packed into a song that clocks in at just under a minute and a half. Possibly my favorite track on the record, the verdict is still out on that one.
“Labyrinth” opens with a kind of sludgy bass riff before kicking into speedy tremolo-picked thrash that is over before you know it. Once again, this is awesome.
One of the longer tracks featured on Lock & Key is the sixth, “One Cold Face.” It is slower in tempo than any of the previous songs, but is probably one of the more catchy tunes on the record. The vocals on the chorus are provided by Mitts Daniels, of Subzero fame, another New York hardcore notable. Very fitting.
Going down the record, you reach “Rotations of Hurt.” This is another favorite for me on this record. It starts off with a riff that is absolutely crushing. I know it probably sounds cheesy, but crushing is the perfect word to describe it. I love the lyrics, I love the delivery of the lyrics, I love the vocals, I love the riffs, I love everything about it. Know what a great word to describe this song is" You guessed it; Awesome.
“Dismissed” is another solid track, featuring what you expect. The bridge of this song is what stands out the most. Especially the lyrics, “The ones who’ve settled/Are the ones who’ve lost/On second thought/Well, maybe not/Who am I to judge/When you decide to go"/What do I know"/Nothing.”
“Two-Fold” features a stellar chorus highlighted by some great gang vocals.
The final track, “To the Bottom(Of Munjoy Hill)” is the perfect way to close this record, just as “Wisdom Pain” was on Prying Eyes. The solo on this song is brief, but it kind of reminds me of something I would hear on an Integrity record, and if you’ve read my Integrity review, you know how much of a positive that is for me.
Overall, the production on this record is solid. It is perfectly suited for the type of music that Cruel Hand plays, as it is crunchy and has a good amount of bass to accentuate the heavier parts. Once again, my only real complaint is perhaps the drum production. The way that the kick is triggered, and it’s prominence in the mix would be better accentuated by a tighter snare with a bit more “oomph.” Aside from that I can’t really complain. Everything else sounds stellar.
The great thing about Lock & Key is the fact that while some has changed from Prying Eyes, the change isn’t so drastic that it’s a turn off. The change is enough to show that the band is showing some progression without completely alienating their fanbase. It’s heavy, it’s fast, and it doesn’t stray too far from the path. If you liked Cruel Hand’s previous releases, Without a Pulse and Prying Eyes, you will without a doubt enjoy what Lock & Key has to offer. Oh yeah, did I mention how awesome this album is"