Review Summary: Anger is a fortress.
Grindcore is, by default, an angry genre--so much so that pointing that out feels obvious, bordering on redundant. Sure, genre pioneers like Jon Chang have used the grindcore formula to explore other emotions and themes, but the combination of extreme metal's breakneck speed and ear-splitting volume and hardcore's raw cathartic intensity is especially suited to express pure, unadulterated rage. What's slightly disappointing about most grindcore is that, too often, the anger is amorphous, its targets unclear. Usually it manifests as a general misanthropy: the apocalyptic themes of Insect Warfare, the gory imagery of Pig Destroyer. At worst, grindcore bands like A.C. and Agoraphobic Nosebleed scream invectives at the vulnerable: women, gay people, Jewish people, people with AIDS, take your pick. Sure, these lyrics are mostly insincere hyperboles specifically intended to shock, but they illustrate that their authors don't really have much to be genuinely angry about--or, perhaps more generously, the source of the anger is too elusive to articulate.
Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
is technically the debut full-length from grindcore collective HIRS, but the band has been kicking around the queercore scene for years, generating buzz through their intense live performances and amassing a library of splits and collaborations so extensive that they previously released two compilations of one hundred songs each. Accordingly, their debut album feels less like an introduction and more like a culmination, the full realization of a sound they've been honing for over half a decade. Hell, the band already has enough clout to nab guest spots from the likes of Martin Crudo of Limp Wrist, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, and Shirley Manson of Garbage.
Fortunately, Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
more than lives up to the hype. HIRS' fury is palpable and unparalleled. The ferocious guitars eviscerate their way through uniquely jagged riffs and chords. The drums turn on a dime from machine gun blast beats to atom bomb breakdowns and back. Vocalist JP screams like her Achilles tendon is being perpetually severed. HIRS even extracts unprecedented rage out of their guest vocalists; Laura Jane Grace and Marissa Paternoster deliver by far the fiercest vocals of their careers. Fantastically crisp production ties it all together into one of the angriest-sounding albums in a genre defined by its anger.
But what makes Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
feel like a revelation isn't the effectiveness with which it conveys its anger, but the crystal-clear targets of that anger. Survival is a recurring lyrical motif, and as queer and trans people, survival is considerably more difficult for HIRS and their friends, lovers, and favorites, having been deliberately made so by people and institutions who feel entitled to disregard, attack, dehumanize, and murder people like them. It is those people and institutions that HIRS is screaming at, furious that they have to live in such a hostile world and itching to do something about it. That much is clear when HIRS warns their oppressors that they will continue to survive and fight back:
You can't get rid of us that easy...We'll outlive you just to spite your idea of a world without us.
("Hard to Get")
Now we're reimagining our limits. Grasping back at the hands that tied to tell us that our lives aren't worth living. Swatting them into the same obscurity they tried to trap us in.
This is a trans girl takeover. We won't be submissive or de-escalating anymore.
We are gaining power in strength and in numbers. You're outnumbered.
But that same anger bleeds into songs that are ostensibly, lyrically, not angry at all. On the surface of "Y'all Are Gorgeous" and the title track, HIRS are expressing gratitude for their beautiful, kind friends, but the grindcore ferocity carries an unmistakable subtext: "The world will pay for its hostility toward our beautiful, kind friends." "It's OK to Be Sad" is a generous offer of help to anyone with mental health issues, filtered through subtle yet intense anger at the stigma around mental illness that prevents so many people from even asking for help.
In the world in which HIRS live, anger cannot be avoided. But it can be transformed via other emotions, made productive, and weaponized against its own source. Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
communicates a clear message: If you fu
ck with trans people, you'll have HIRS to answer to, and it will not be pretty.