Review Summary: Clerofascists hate them. Discover their trick how to shred your face in just a few easy steps…
Somewhere in Manchester there lives a guy named Steve. This guy entered a competition from some magazine or a radio show or something of that nature and through some unknown elimination process won. His reward was that the competition organisers sent him a vinyl record of the new band on the block called the HIRS Collective. Steve however was rather disappointed. Upon hearing the album he found it quite derivative, disorganised, degenerate. He was so disgusted with what he had heard that he wrote a review calling the band “no-talents whose most notable achievements to date is their ability to advance beyond the boundaries of New York City”. HIRS, on the other hand, thought that his response was belly-cracking. So much so that they copied his review and printed it on glowingly pink t-shirts that were sold briefly for laughably low prices (certainly undervalued, almost as a “*** you too” to Steve) at their merch store.
It is always good when a band is in good spirits about a bad review, especially one that comes from a place of bad faith. Many artists goof on their detractors’ disdain with varying degrees of success. But the paradoxically heart-warming fact of this particular stinking review is that it comes for once, although indeed in bad faith, from a place of disgust at the music, the content of an album. See, HIRS arrive at the hardcore scene at a time of both the high point for queer rights and acceptance, as well as increasingly volatile and dangerous time. It is not difficult to imagine that reading a review that for once hates the band for what they create and not what they are is oddly enough refreshing. Find a work of art the tackles themes of queerness and look up what people think of it online. You will soon discover review sites, forums and other aggregators flaunted with raging comments, incoherent pasquils, and aggressive reviews from truly bad faith sources detracting the art and/or the artist just for being queer and having the audacity to talk about it. The HIRS are no exception.
If you found their previous album Friends. Lovers. Favorites.
tackling its central themes a little too bluntly, with very little class, lyrically slapping you in the face with its politics, then strap yourselves in, because on We're Still Here
the HIRS move on from slapping to bludgeoning. Moreover, they enlist the help of a plethora of hardcore, extreme metal, alternative, queer legends and upstarts alike. Over 30 different collaborators, from entire collectives like Melt-Banana or HIRS’ previous co-conspirators Thou, to individual musicians known mainly for other projects, like Justin Pearson of the legendary Californian punk linchpin Three One G Records or vocal wizard Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, come together for an absolute Goliath of raw power, energy, and loud sociocultural rebellion. However, therein may also lie a misguided major issue for some listeners.
Among the grandiose scale of the admittedly short album some collaborative effort may fall flat or be drowned out by HIRS’ presence altogether (except for Melt-Banana, because they are impossible to drown out). And make no mistake, this is dominantly HIRS’ show, bitch, never forget it! At surface level everything is the band at their strongest and also most comfortable. The songs are blistering, they are unforgiving, they have the elegance of a power drill in an industrial shredder. But the shrieks and the growls on the crusty metallic backdrop can form a unitary mass, where even the likes of Soul Glo disappear. The song they are featured on, “Waste Not Want Not”, is a harrowing mirror to America’s discriminating efforts at drowning out non-conforming groups. It is textually fitting to any of the groups featured on the track, the queer people like HIRS, feminists and counter-culturists like Escuela Grind, and African-Americans like Soul Glo, wherein the impact of it creates all the more disfiguring effect.
It is of course naive to go into a powerviolence album expecting strings and concertos, so one has to search and analyse beyond face value composition or sound. Again, consider the reasons behind the features. “You Are Not Alone” tells an eerie tale of anxiety and difficulties fitting in to a world that desperately needs you to fit a certain box and pretend you are happy; it paints a bleak and traumatic picture. The featured artists here are The Body, whose followers certainly know the lengths to which the band delves in the topics of nihilism, trauma, alienation, hopelessness. The other artist is the speaking poet and author Lora Mathis, whose body of work so often channels the disturbingly real unadulterated side of mental health, trauma, strife for betterment, isolation. These cries against solitude and alienation are also the main dramatic focus of the closer, “Bringing Light and Replenishment” with sludge-doomers Sunrot and a peculiarity on a punk scene, The Punk Cellist. The swelling harmonic arrangement perfectly accentuates the despair and desperation portrayed by the vocals, grasping isolation and depression of solitude, as well as the exhaustion of having to still keep fighting for one’s survival, both individual and cultural. Final message of “We’re still here/We’re still here” brings it neatly back to the same opening statement of the album, bringing the song’s message in a round-about way back up to the idea of exhaustion all sorts of minorities must certainly feel for having to still be ***ing fighting, protesting, pushing for any goddamn obvious minute change for the better. It is reassurance that we are all still here: both that we are alive, as well as still present.
Even more so bluntly, songs like “Last King Meets Last Priest”, featuring Derek Zanetti of Homeless Gospel Choir and Christ Barker of Anti-Flag, two big names in popular punk’s anti-establishment wave, echo the album’s overarching sentiment that backgrounds not just the music, but most (if not all) of anti-establishment efforts today and always: anti-capitalism, anti-religion, anti-imperialism. Violent motto “Society won't be happy/Humanity won't have dignity/Until the last capitalist is hung/By the guts of the last bureaucrat scum” in a dissonant disharmony is the perfect summation of the lyrical content, while the following track “Unicorn Tapestry Woven in Fire” is the perfect example of melodic capabilities on display. Marissa Paternoster brings the much-welcome vocal virtuosity, with ***ed Up’s Damian Abraham and queer rockers Pinkwash providing the noisy musical accompaniment and yelps of societal dissatisfaction.
One must realise but this album, within its restraints of grindcore and the powerviolence, can only utilise the guest artists so much, although there certainly is enough room for that too. They are real contribution comes as a form with representation, validation, visibility. This album at its core is a statement of presence. Its title and opening track, “We’re Still Here”, sum up the entire point. This world is built and operated by usurpers who want nothing more then two either erase any trace of that which they do not understand and which does not and here to their arbitrary rules, or deliberately inflict suffering for personal gain or motivated by some antiquated restrictive convictions. HIRS and in their brim packed roster of friends, colleagues, sympathisers are united in struggle and fight tooth and nail for better future, because to some of them that means pure survival in and of itself. No matter how many times the society will turn a blind eye at injustice, discrimination, and extremism, they will still be here, angrier and stronger than ever.
You want us gone, we're still here!