Review Summary: Shouting and stomping about the same old things.
In the last four or five years, the hardcore scene has had a wave of new bands defined almost entirely by their ability to deliver sonic aggression in it’s purest form. Overall, it seems as if metalcore is shifting to the more hardcore edge of things sonically, with bands like Disembodied and Hatebreed frequently being present in a band’s sound. Varials, and similar bands such as Harm’s Way, Knocked Loose, and Jesus Piece have all had considerable success with their records, especially among the younger generation. Pain Again, released at around the time when these bands were really starting to take off, is a pessimistic, raw, and groove-heavy experience that is straightforward and aggressive, sometimes to the point of fault.
Starting with the overall sound of the album, this is largely what compensates for its lack of variance. The mixing is excellent, with a beefy guitar sound amplified by an always-audible rhythm section consisting of a growling bass and aggressive drumming that gives a solid foundation for every riff and breakdown, courtesy of Mike Foley and Sean Rauchut. The guitar work of Mitchell Rodgers and James Hohenwarter shows itself in relentless, bludgeoning riffs that are occasionally joined by screeching harmonics that give some level of dynamics to a lot of their songs.
The first half of the album is the stronger half, loaded with mostly excellent pit anthems but with some occasional variance. The second half is basically the same thing. “The New Damnation” launches into a pummeling riff that leads into a vicious two-step, culminating in the first of many breakdowns where the bass and guitar mixing shine in the ability to make otherwise simple patterns hit hard. “God Talk” largely follows the same formula, but with some standout bass parts and a guest feature from Chad Ruhlig that while short, brings some variety by giving some mid-range screams to contrast Travis Tabron’s lower, shout-like hardcore vocals. The lyricism in these two tracks is largely about the feeling of hopelessness towards life and the anger felt towards oneself and the world for it. Now, in terms of structure, most of the songs on the album are like this. However, songs like “Abacus” and “Anything To Numb” are slower, more introspective, refrain-heavy tracks that make use of dissonance and a slower, more brooding than enraged vocal delivery to slow the pace. However, compared to the other tracks, they are in an awkward position, with their lyrical content and sound never tying into any other tracks, or building up to anything coherent in the wider context of the album. This is quite typical of contemporary hardcore albums, most being a collection of aggro mosh tunes with some ambient/slower tracks to give off an impression of introspection and uniqueness. The title track and “Colder Brother” are slow, beatdown fests at their finest, with pummeling low-end grooves leading into vicious closed hi-hat breakdowns after a vehement mosh-call.
The final tracks on the album are all fairly enjoyable, but do nothing significant to change up the formula. “Deadweather II” and “Deliverance” veer into Hatebreed/Terror territory with their gang-vocal refrains and more punk-esque, uptempo riffs, but still lead into sludgy breakdowns at the end. “Deadweather II” in particular has some interesting moments, with a bridge section before the breakdown that consists of Tabron shouting questions of where one can go, and how one can escape the prison of their own mind. It seems to be a fitting thematic conclusion to the lyrical content of the earlier songs, which deals with anger at betrayal from others, the misery of modern existence, and general apathy in the face of a never-ending cycle of despair.
After listening to this album a few times, I’m left satisfied on the surface, but still wishing there was more to take in. The lyrical content is impactful more for its delivery and soundscape accompanying it than anything in itself. There are some interesting lines here and there, but it seems like they are said more for the sake of sounding vague than sounding truly insightful on something. And although hardcore is generally known for the unchanging, predictable state of its lyrics, there are bands like Kublai Khan TX that deliver metallic bruisers while still managing to be angry at something more coherent and nuanced that just life itself. The sound of the album, while hard-hitting and addictive, is unadventurous and wears influences on its sleeves. If you like loud, angry, downtuned moshcore that pushes no boundaries in it’s relentless rage, you’ll find plenty to like.