Title: Oh, The Cost
Release Date: 8/26/14
Reviewer: Christian S.
1. The Axe
2. The Mirror
3. The Fisherman
4. The Blessing
5. The Quarrel
6. The Contrast
7. The Storm
8. The Scoundrel
9. The Audit
10. The Overture
I’ll have to admit, I’ve grown increasingly skeptical about about the musical value of chaotic hardcore, or noisecore, or whatever else you’d like to call it. Of course, the greats like Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Norma Jean will always have a place in my heart, but often when I hear newer bands trying to accomplish similar styles it just sounds empty. Anyone can throw some dissonant intervals together and make something that is noisy, but it takes something special to use chaos and noise to create something musical. After listening to UGLYTWIN’s debut full length Oh, The Cost, I think it’s safe to say that they may have that something special. Passionate lyrics, ferocious vocals, dissonant but creative guitar playing, and relentless drumming form the outline for their debut album, and it’s anything but empty.
After a dramatic intro, UGLYTWIN wastes no time in hitting you with one of the heaviest, rowdiest songs on the record. “The Axe” is full of dissonant intervals, heavy guitar parts, and arguably the most insane drumming on the record, yet somehow is able retain a melodic element that serves to keep the song memorable as a whole. Feedback laces into the next track, “The Mirror,” which is a diverse monster of heaviness, employing hardcore punk beats, a bona-fide breakdown, and even an unnerving clean section.
“The Fisherman” is one of my favorite tracks on Oh, The Cost, boasting some of the heaviest moments and also some of the most dramatic. It’s a very emotional song, lyrically using a ship caught in a storm as a metophor for us being caught up in the power of God and trying to hold on to the things we’ve accomplished apart from Him. The lyrics, “You were there when sickness fell and the thousands fed; you saw the broken dance for joy / and after all the wonders all you feared was the waters in front of you” illustrate our stubborn tendency to place our fear of the unknown before our love of God, holding on to what’s comfortable to us instead of embracing the things God is calling us toward.
“The Blessing” starts out with a noodly, atonal guitar lick, but ends with the album’s most crushing breakdown, while vocalist Ian Harvey roars, “We have been found, HALLELUJAH!” This track will probably garner some comparisons to Norma Jean, and they’re quite apt.
This comparison could also apply to the next track “The Quarrel,” until it gets to the halfway point and starts throwing off so much groove it’d take a skilled progressive metal band to top it. Again Harvey’s vocals are a standout in this track, as he screams, “Choose to see the truth, but only in the throes” with a shriek that would be at home in a black metal song. The lyrics refer to an American Christian who reaches out to God during the hard times, but during prosperous times lives as if He didn’t exist. This is a subject that is sadly relevant to almost all of us, and yet the song manages to end on a hopeful note: “Prone to suffer, prone wander, but even in our comfort the Son seeks out His Bride.”
“This is the part of the show where we do weird stuff.” This is what I imagine the band would say around the middle of the album, where “The Contrast” and “The Storm” break up the monotony of the relentless hardcore stylings of the past five songs. The Contrast lives up to its name, beginning with a clean guitar playing a combination of chords that although major in nature, are just plain freaky in effect. Harvey comes in with his signature screams, giving the song a melodic hardcore vibe that is accented by the gang vocals a few bars later. The guys who recorded the gang vocals don’t just holler, as is the popular method; they let out sustained combination of yells and singing that create a truly raw and emotional sound. When the band finally returns to their preferred method of delivery, the song still keeps its interesting major-key vibe, without sounding remotely positive. Lyrically I find this song to be the most powerful of the bunch: a first-person narrative of a man in bondage to his opinion of himself. A particularly compelling lyric in the song is: “They say, ‘give up the ghost’ but my ghosts follow me / They speak to me in whispers as soft as thunder and their song is ‘you will never be free’ / They say that I’m not enough, and I’ll never be.” Again, the song manages to end with hope, and the lyrics, “Show me ‘me’ through Your eyes.”
“The Storm” is an instrumental, and the longest track on the album. It has a sweet post-rock vibe, with guitar parts delayed and reverbed until they’re barely recognizable, as is the style for the genre. The drumming stands out as some of the album’s best, with ghost notes aplenty and an almost fusion-like vibe. About halfway through, the dynamic changes and the song starts a buildup that can be best described as a horror movie depicted through music. The climax of this buildup is a Meshuggah-esque groove, along with Dillinger-inspired blast beats and tremolo picking. Sounds crazy, I know. It definitely is. Even better, this craziness is continued further in the next song, which features another jazzy clean section, and another drop-tuned groove pit.
“The Audit,” while not the last song, serves the same purpose to my mind, both musically and lyrically. The title of the album is drawn from the opening lyrics to this song: “The cost, oh the cost is more than we could truly bear.” A particularly grungy diminished breakdown hits to emphasize the lyrics “All of our goodness, all of our strongholds, next to the weight of this, are worthless.” The track is resolved victoriously with the lyrics, “We are restored! Oh, God, we don’t have it in us to pay the cost!”
The entire album ends in a similar fashion with “The Overture.” The final song is fast and punk-inspired, but also has its share of the chaotic madness found in all essential mathcore records. The lyrics are triumphant, the anthem of those who have overcome their burdens to find peace with Christ: “There will be those who try to shame us but their words will fall like mist to the ocean / All of us together in this place, let it go (find peace, rest, and grace).”
Hailing from a city whose slogan is “Keep Austin Weird,” these Texans seem to have embraced that mantra with their debut album, Oh, The Cost. It travels from Converge-esque chaos, through blast beats and breakdowns, into disturbing jazz influenced clean parts, and back to moshy hardcore. Throughout this record I feel a variety of emotions, from an uncontrollable urge to dance around like a maniac, to a creeping fear that makes me want to hide under my bed. UGLYTWIN may be fluent in noise, feedback, and dissonance, but when it’s all said and done, this is music, and good music at that.
RIYL: Converge, Norma Jean, The Chariot, Not One Is Upright