Sep 192023

(This is Wil Cifer‘s review of Common Suffering, the new album by Chicago’s Harm’s Way which will be released by Metal Blade on September 28th.)

Here is a band I was reluctant to give a chance due to the whole straight-edge thing. Given my personal beliefs and lifestyle choices, the straight-edge sub-genre feels conflicting in the same way that causes me to avoid Christian bands.

I was lured into being more open-minded thanks to King Woman’s Kristina Esfandiari guesting on the single “Undertow”. The simmering darkness and willingness to explore eerie melodies set the Chicago band apart from the tough-guy hardcore I expected from them. Thus began my descent into their fifth full-length Common Suffering.

Their second album for Metal Blade carries a great deal of crossover appeal, though from a different angle than their previous release Posthuman, and I felt inspired enough by this album to dig back into their catalog and visit that as well.

photo by E. Aaron Ross

Gone are the nu-metal-leaning grooves, with the band instead stomping into your cranium with a more Godflesh weight to the syncopated riffs. The beefed-up grime-infecting the guitars throb as much as they chug. The gruff bark of the vocals punches into the songs at all the right places. When it comes to modern hardcore this album is accessible to those who listen to varied shades of heavy.

This album does not pander for radio airplay, though it’s obvious these guys care about songwriting. The bass player carries most of the industrial influence of the record in his pronounced thump. The guitars lock in with the drums, to take a more deliberate approach rather than defaulting to the faster punk side of hardcore.

A murky darkness lingers on “Heaven’s Call” before they focus their anger on a more metallic head-banging pulsation. Vocalist James Pligge articulates his phrases so the lyrical narrative plays a distinct purpose. If there is a straight-edge theme to the songs, it’s hidden enough in metaphor that I never feel like I am being preached at. Which is really all I ask for when it comes to that sort of thing.

Bassist Casey Soyk is the glue to this churning riff machine. They keep enough groove to keep me engaged while including the occasional flourish of electronic percussion that keeps things fresh. While not focused on the mathematics of their fretboard battery, I can hear where they might appeal to fans of Meshuggah, while steering clear of over-produced pitfalls that come to mind when it comes to the djent bandwagon, which they avoid with a dense breakdown-like feel steamrolling you.

The tempo picks up on “Sadist Guilt” to fall in line with sound more commonly expected from hardcore, along with a more drill-sergeant vocal approach to hardcore vocals. This is also the only time I would say they flirt with the gang vocal trope.

“Wanderer” closes the album. The vocals shift to a more introspective singing leading into things, as the guitar chords ring out. The song is darker and more spacious as the guitars ring again to create a more spacious atmosphere steeped in melancholy. I appreciate their tendency to lean into bleak sonic shades of gray rather than just being the macho in-your-face beat down I expected this to be.

This album is dark enough to meet my needs, making it without a doubt one of the year’s best hardcore albums.

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