Review Summary: Real Hardcore Kids Have Day Jobs
I don’t know much about Itto, and evidence would suggest that there is not much to know. They are a relatively fresh-faced Chicago five-piece with only one prior release, a brief EP from 2012 featuring many elements that the band would evidently later revisit. On their Facebook page, the band list We Were Skeletons and Coping as influences among others. Their “About” section reads only, “Real basement hardcore”, their interests are “Playing at the edge of [their] abilities”, and their Biography section states that their band is “the sonic exertions of all [their] hopes, dreams, trials and tribulations.” A bit lofty, a tad grandiose - sure. But there’s nothing wrong with aiming for the stars, especially when you wind up reaching them.
Pursuant is a knockout of an album - it is heavy and foreboding in atmosphere, technically impressive, and compositionally mature. From its first moments, it is aggressively dark in a way that you don’t often hear, in a way that distinguishes its sound - perhaps you would think that the album art, featuring an elegantly studded skull in the foreground, is a good indicator of the kind of emotional range you would expect to hear within. Yet Pursuant is so much more than just another existentially fraught punk record, both in the burgeoning positivity of its thematic focus and its stand-out musicianship. It is an album that bewilders, at first, that takes some getting used to, but that eventually rewards, leaving behind an imprint that remains long after its last seconds.
Itto have a sound that is predominantly hardcore and emo/screamo, but that contains an important and distinctive admixture of the more aggressive elements of those genres with elements of jazz and blues-fusion. Pursuant’s swift, punchy verses and consistently memorable moments of all-out mosh-pit rage often give way to patient, quieter sections that build upon each other in increasingly complicated entanglements, branching out endlessly like rogue tree limbs, drawing the listener into their webs and encouraging them to stay there.
It’s the kind of fiddling that wouldn’t seem out of place among the catalogues of bands like King Crimson or Yes, or perhaps in some bastardized form of the more experimental Miles Davis. Refreshingly though, Itto strike a balance between this kind of hard and soft that keeps Pursuant from becoming a familiar slog through self-serving scale runs and smatterings of incomprehensible chord patterns. I don’t want to mischaracterize Itto’s sound - it’s just a little difficult to characterize. Pursuant often reminds me of a band like Loma Prieta (think I.V. or Last City) with its blistering, caustic, heavy metal-abutting hardcore/emo and its undertones of gnarled, decaying dirge - the latter of which often appearing in full force during the many clever and unexpected breakdowns that put one in mind of a midnight trudge through a haunted swamp. At other times, I am strongly reminded of an album like Capsule by Blue (a band whom I might describe as contemporaries of Itto’s given the sheer similarity of their sounds) during those proggier bits, which often have an oddly clinical, yet organic, sound.
One of the biggest draws of Pursuant, and one of its winning hands, lies in its strongly optimistic heft. Narratively speaking, “Pursuant” occasionally treads all-too-familiar genre waters, offering critical perspectives on society, and all of society’s problems. Religion, government, the rich, etc. Been there, done that. More often than not, however, Pursuant urges us to join together, to look onwards and upwards - to cheer up, man. This focus amply lends itself to moments of serious emotional gravitas and a kind of metalcore that is uncommonly captivating and stirring.
On the track “Mayfly”, for example, we hear pleas for sanity and positivity in the frenzied and cynical trappings inherent to modern society; for unity, for mutual respect, in a time beholden to some of our world’s deepest divisions and most bitter feelings. From the lyrics: “We’ll win with love. We can bring an end to terror. Let’s cast off these shadows. We can make it through the darkness.” It’s not that these ideas are foreign, or groundbreaking, but they are largely atypical within the often-stifling fads emulated in hardcore and metal, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see a group focusing on the ties that bind, not those that break - again, themes that are oh-so-timely and very much relatable.
The seventh track, “Impermanence”, is a stellar example of the clever and unconventional methods that Itto employ in their songwriting, and it speaks fully to the mutualistic dynamic among these fellow musicians that is essential to their music’s staying power. The song begins by stomping along like a planet-ending colossus: all halting, powerful riffs and drums seismically ringing in their sheer immensity, before things pick up speed and give way to a different kind of song entirely. Or, take the track “Void Walker”, which in its first seconds features a furious fusillade of near-incomprehensible tech-metalcore, not entirely unlike the offerings of a band like The Dillinger Escape Plan or even Psyopus, before transitioning into a second movement that oozes with such brash power it seems to lift you out of your seat (I only refrain from being more specific so you might be spellbound in the same way during your first listen). Tracks like these showcase Itto at their eclectic, dynamic and rigorously calculated best.
Pursuant is also not without its pitfalls, even though they are slight. Despite being an album only 25 minutes in length, it does drag in spots. The first half of the album, in particular, is so titanic that the second half of the album sees occasionally dwindling returns of power and focus - it loses some steam, in other words. Part of this is due to Pursuant’s undeniable and relentless complexity. It is hard not to listen to an album like this one without feeling overly inundated with information, like there is some pressure to absorb as many details as you can at once, or else you might miss the point. It’s a bit of a slow-grower, even though it is remarkably compelling from the outset. I’ve been listening to Pursuant daily for close to a month now, and there is still so much of it that feels like a puzzle waiting to be solved. This can be a frustrating place to be in when you listen to music - but it’s a unique place to be in, too, and so it should be valued and further examined. In this instance, perhaps it is an essential component to the full experience.
There’s an urgency to this day and age, and that much is hard to deny. Things will be okay, right? Maybe nothing will. That fearsome gap in between the two ends of the spectrum is what is still driving most of us - that sense of anxiety that arises from feeling like you're depending too much on any one outcome. Itto seem to capitalize on this idea, on this indescribable feeling of paranoia underlying the shiny surfaces of our lives in a world that only exacerbates it - but they also do due diligence to remind us of the silver linings hidden in clouds, of faint sunbeams riddling the haze after a storm, of the echoes of hope that resiliently cling to the air amidst sorrow. Pursuant encourages us to take everything in and to scrutinize the details, to demand more of ourselves and our lives, and to work harder to forge the common bonds that are essential to our survival - and it does this all in a way that is immediately enjoyable, unexpectedly gratifying and ultimately hard to forget.
I’ll leave you with this, from "Impermanence":
“Life at the speed of 67,000 mph.
Movement governs the speed of our being.
Take a breath, we’re change in constant
motion./A bio-rhythmic algorithm conditioned
by time and space to live in cyclical existence/
But we strive to give meaning and proceed
onward/Set aside your apathy. Turn this stream
of consciousness into an ocean. Alter your
reality in this impermanence.”