NAILS – Abandon All Life LP
hardcore / grind
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Nails are making some of the most thrillingly extreme music right now but the California quartet is difficult to recommend casually. They cram their brief, constantly shifting tracks with a chaotic blend of hardcore, D-Beat, grindcore, powerviolence, and death metal. It’s complex music that plows ahead while moving internally in dozens of directions.
But technical descriptions don’t capture what they do so well. When Southern Lord picked up and re-released their 2010 debut LP Unsilent Death after its smaller first pressing sold out, they offered a comparison of 90s AmRep bands and early Cro-Mags going faster than either. That sort of works. So does Eyehategod’s songbook played by 2013 Converge. This music is more suffocating than it is Suffocation; it also pulls largely from hardcore and comes with plenty of raw emotion attached to it.
Unsilent Death‘s 10 tracks sped past in 14 minutes; Abandon All Life‘s 10 tracks just barely break the 17-minute mark. Both releases were produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou. It’s assured, sturdy music, and Ballou knows how to make it sound deep and strong. (He does an even better job of it on the huge-sounding new collection.) With this kind of material you also need a vocalist who can stand up to it, and Todd Jones (who used to play in the hardcore band Terror) keeps up with the mutating landscape behind him: he scowls, snarls, howls, screams, spits, and even quietly sighs (in the black metal minor scales and Celtic Frost-like opening of standout “Wide Open Wound”). At times he feels like a conductor holding together a maelstrom, and when he repeatedly shouts “I want to see you suffer” in the 42-second-long “Tyrant” and “My goal: cause you pain” in the 55-second-long “No Surrender”, you believe the sentiments, even though his approach brings a lot of pleasure.
Nails’ songs are largely about power and control, suffering and degradation; you get dozens of lines like “On your knees before me/ I humiliate, I torture/ I celebrate your failures” in the escalating five-minute doom-to-feedback-implosion closer “Suum Cuique”. But these songs are also about overcoming those situations. There are sentiments like “Resolve your vengeance make them pay” in opener “In Exodus”, the title track’s “Wield the fucking blade/ Pierce the fucking hate… / Your will is beyond what those cowards posses” and “Burn all white flags/ No fucking surrender” in “No Surrender”. For all the negatively people talk about Nails espousing, they’re ultimately a positive band– in the sense that they provide a rallying point and a will to power for people open to these kinds of violent pep talks.
But back to the beginning: Abandon All Life is a bracing, cathartic, darkly anthemic collection, but those not used to this sort of thing will probably need to spend some time with so it can slow down some and make more sense. People usually don’t think of hardcore punk as “headphone” music. Nails should be played loudly, of course, but they should also be listened to carefully on headphones at some point to appreciate how they’re layering these elements and creating something so seamless. This is smart, well-plotted music, which makes its anger all the more effective.