Review Summary: A breath of fresh air.
Grindcore is one of several natural dead ends of 'heavy' music. Hardcore punk taken to it's absolute extreme; one minute bursts of utter fury played at breakneck speed that may make even those thoroughly inoculated to, and engaged with, the heavier shades of music step back and think 'what-the-***-was-that"'. It's crossover appeal is zero, variation within the genre is almost non-existent (you know your scene is pretty insular when lyrical content is used to distinguish one act from another; see goregrind and pornogrind) and it's probably one of the few genres of music left that can be described as genuinely 'underground' – Pig Destroyer or Cattle Decapitation aren't going to be appearing on Warped Tour any time soon. And thankfully neither are Liberteer, the one man grindcore project of ex Exhumed member Matthew Widener. But this is probably the most interesting and surprising grindcore release since Phantom Limb way back in 2007.
In terms of reference points Versions by Poison The Well is a suitable comparison; a hardcore record pregnant with surprising country flourishes such as banjos, steel guitar and horns. And while far from revolutionary it was a success and a breathe of fresh air. But revolutionary is the one thing Liberteer has set out to be with this record, sonically and politically.
Better To Die begins with The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer, 30 seconds of uplifting horns and strings that bleeds into the furious Build No System. After one minute of blast beats and guttural growls the fury fades away for a brief segment of triumphant horns, flute and military band style drums. It's executed seamlessly, sounds superb and is down-right clever. It would be very easy to overlook just how much thought and care has gone into this collection of 1-2 minute long compositions. And an equal amount of care seems to have gone into arranging and balancing the record. It's masterfully sequenced, ebbing and flowing effortlessly from the straight up fury of tracks such as 99 to 1 and That Which Is Not Given But Taken to down-right uplifting instrumental sections such as Sweat for Blood.
Lyrically and thematically the album is about anarchism. I imagine Widener would hate me saying this, but I don't think whether you agree with, or even want to engage with, the political subject matter found here matters all that much as to whether you can enjoy this record or not. As with most grind you can't make out what he's saying anyway, but if you read the lyrics or any interviews with him, he's got a lot more interesting and nuanced things to say than say Anti-Flag's relentless, over-simplified 'Don't Bomb the Middle East For Oil' sloganeering. It's probably not going to go down as The Shape of Grindcore To Come, but Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees is an excellent and dare I say it pretty 'progressive' addition to grindcore.