Review Summary: In which your humble reviewer experiences an anhedonic crisis, resulting in a final decision
In case the fine folks of Hazing Over stumble upon this review, I want them to know that I tried. I’ll admit that, when lead single “Jock” dropped in January, I had an allergic reaction to it immediately. See, Hazing Over used to be a post-hardcore band called Shin Guard. Shin Guard’s sophomore LP 2020
was the first of several releases in 2019 to revitalize my faith in emotional hardcore, and later the same year, they solidified their potential with Death of Spring
, a split LP with For Your Health. Shin Guard’s signature sound, which incorporated sweeping Fall of Troy-esque leads and dreamy shoegaze tones to brilliantly complement a ferocious hardcore heart, confidently declared that screamo isn’t dead and offered a tantalizing glimpse of its possible future.
But “Jock,” and indeed the entire Pestilence
EP, is not anything like the Shin Guard of 2019. The name change has come with a stylistic change to deathcore a la mid-2000s acts like Suicide Silence and Job for a Cowboy. As an admission of bias, I’ve never cared for deathcore. Its sonic staples irritate me, its songwriting tropes feel formulaic and overdone, and a deluge of deathcore releases has clogged up my recommendations for the past several years, so I was burnt out on the genre long ago. I was all too ready to dismiss Hazing Over as a once-promising band dooming itself to a future of getting buried in Spotify metalcore workout playlists.
Then I read the band’s interview with Brooklyn Vegan, in which they explain how they became Hazing Over and express a lot of excitement about their new direction. Guitarist Owen Traynor describes getting stuck in a creative rut during the pandemic and being unsatisfied with the music they were writing for Shin Guard, and how shifting to a style inspired by the heavy music they liked when they were younger allowed them to move forward. "As time goes on, people are being less ashamed of liking the music that came out when they were [younger], stuff that came out like ten years ago. When that stuff came out, people were shi
tting on it. People despised it. And to this day, that is some of the heaviest fuc
t." The interview ends with Traynor saying, “If you don’t like [Hazing Over], that’s a you problem.” I empathize with that anti-elitist attitude, I understand that switching gears can be an effective way to beat artist’s block, and overall the interview reminded me how much I respect Hazing Over as musicians.
So, I tried. I waited until the EP was released so that I could listen to it in full. I choked down my reflexive disdain for deathcore and sought out elements I could praise, and I didn’t come up empty. For a 10-minute EP, Pestilence
is surprisingly varied, with “Ungodly” and the title track even stepping into melodic territory. The EP does a great job of showcasing the impressive technicality that one would expect from the musicians that once performed “Grief Instilled.” The production is crisp and effectively undergirds the band’s core heaviness.
And yet, on the whole, I got the same feeling listening to Pestilence
as I have when hearing any of the dozens of deathcore bands I’ve been recommended over the years, and I couldn’t say that it brought anything new to the table. I read reviews from other critics that used descriptors like “experimental” and “powerviolence” and drew comparisons to Botch and The Dillinger Escape Plan, and I wondered if I had somehow developed amusia. Maybe there is something genuinely exciting about the contributions that Hazing Over is making to the musical landscape, but I couldn’t find it. I tried to appreciate Hazing Over on their own terms, and failed.
So instead, I tried to explain how Pestilence
falls short. I honed in on the derivative nature of the breakdowns in “Jock” and the chord progression that opens “Ungodly.” I placed Hazing Over in the larger context of an already overcrowded deathcore scene and lamented that they probably wouldn’t differentiate themselves enough to make an impact. But then, I wondered if I was being unfair; after all, I’ve enjoyed plenty of derivative music in overcrowded genres like blackgaze and even screamo during its heyday. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t criticize Hazing Over without slipping in an undercurrent of my real problem with the band: they’re not Shin Guard. I was mourning the loss of a screamo band that had been important to me, and taking it out on the deathcore band they had become--which is, in fact, unfair.
I tried accepting that Hazing Over just isn’t my taste. Plenty of great music is far from my alley, and I can still acknowledge the positives of a lot of music that I don’t want to include in my collection. Clearly, other listeners are able to find things to appreciate about Pestilence
. And yet, some elusive, inscrutable flaw still nagged at me. Something did feel genuinely lackluster about Pestilence
, even if I couldn’t excavate it from beneath my own biases. It sat under the surface like a tell-tale heart, mocking my inability to identify it.
I tried many times, in many different ways, to make Hazing Over make sense, and at every turn, Hazing Over broke me. They broke me so many times that I was ultimately forced to arrive at a truth I hadn’t yet acknowledged. The truth is, it’s not just Hazing Over that doesn’t make sense; music as a whole hasn’t made sense to me for a very long time. The truth is, I can no longer derive any meaning, depth, or satisfaction from analyzing music--only frustration. The truth is, Owen Traynor is right on the money: I don’t like Hazing Over, and that is absolutely a me problem.
So I’m going to do the only thing left for me to do: Embrace the chaos. Accept that nothing makes sense and enjoy it anyway. Stop trying.