Philadelphia Pennsylvania hardcore quintet JesusPiece have been making a name for themselves as a ferocious live act having released just a handful of tracks across EPs, Splits, Promo’s and Demos since their initial release in 2015. “Only Self” is the bands debut full length for the highly respected label Southern Lord. The question is, can the band capture that live energy in the studio? “Only Self” was recorded in Chicago at Bricktop Recording Studio with Andy Nelson (Like Rats, LordMantis) mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege (Integrity, Nails).
The album opens up with an atmospheric and eerie sound before the pummelling of the opening bars of “Lucid” kick in proper. After a second introduction section, the barked, ferocious vocals from frontman Aaron Heard and skull crushing bouncy riffage from guitarist John DiStefano that brings to mind year 2000 era Metallic Hardcore bands like Dead Guy in pounding you like a boxer pounds a punch bag, over and over until you summit to the urge to bang your head and get into the pit. It’s a thick, chunky hardcore track with Death Metal flourishes, setting the tone with a concrete foundation. Fading through a speech sample and bringing some ambience and atmosphere to the table is a surprise in the closing but a pleasant one. “Workhorse” reverts to type and delivers something very much akin to the material that can be heard on “Post Human” by Harms Way, albeit without the industrial overtones, delivering 90’s Metal with Hardcore’s urgency. Lyrically socially aware, it’s a song about the wage slavery of those at the wrong end of the food chain. “Wake! Work! Break! Suffer!” repeated during a simple but effective chorus. Third song “Punish” then delivers those stark Industrial tones of Harms Way, contrasting their cold nature against the Hardcore energy. The song is a punishing and pulverising Metallic onslaught until something that can only be described as the distorted sound of a helicopter taking off is heard. This is working class hardcore that speaks to those who are caught in the drudgery of the day to day, hand to mouth life.
Following the pallet cleanser of the (Police?) helicopter, “Curse of the Serpent” kicks in, delivering an aggressive call and response vocal with the higher pitched backing against Aaron Heard’s ferocious roar. It’s a more straightforward hurricane of brutal footwork on the kit and driven, crushing riffs. It becomes obvious that the producer has been picked in order to give the bands sound more grit and it’s something that has been easily achieved. Drawing yet another parallel with Harms Way, “In the Silence” is Jesus Piece’s equivalent of their “Temptation”. It’s a step that you wouldn’t necessarily have anticipated Jesus Piece making but it works. The slow and menacing bass-line is surrounded by a haunting and sparse melody and very open drum fills, before crunching down hard for the chorus and filling the space with some hard hitting guitar work. The harsh vocals are in stark contrast to the eerie melodic parts and the first couple of times it will make you flinch but it actually grows on you if you allow it. “Adamant” then works you like a Will Haven track, as just when you think you’ve got it’s driven and bouncy tempo changing grooves nailed, Jesus Piece drop it down a gear and play off some dark and haunting swirling guitar patterns against each other.
“Neuroprison” is a much more straightforward Metallic Hardcore tune, blood gargling, vein busting vocals from both vocalists against a claustrophobic soundscape of skull crushing guitars an pounding drum fills. Nevermind the song title, the music makes you feel like you’re trapped in a prison. But that’s the point. “Dog No Longer” brings the same intensity with pile-drive guitars and pummelling footwork that builds slowly after a fast start and then switches into some downtempo riffage to bludgeon the listener. The lyrics are weighed down like the anvil heavy music with a self-serious grandiosity that acts like a gravitation pull while also featuring the line that titles the album. “I” then takes us on a journey, an atmospheric slow instrumental with a regular bass drum kick that behaves like a heartbeat. It’s one which seems off kilter and off piste but then it becomes apparent that it’s an introduction piece for album closer “II” which builds on the opening part with a more menacing and intense quality before slowing down and summoning Demons with some slow guttural growls. It’s effectively a 7 minute and 20 second closing passage between the two songs that doesn’t fit anywhere else on the album and ends it with the sort of shoe gazing quality that makes other bands envious.
As a whole, “Only Self” by Jesus Piece is a solid, cohesive album with a eerie dynamic and uneasy atmosphere. This is far from straight up “hardcore” and instead a almost tells a story – born in the streets, got upset with life’s misery, killed someone, went to prison and then broke some toilet lids over your skull. It’s dark, gritty and a powerful statement. It sounds very much like the start of something and that something is a prison riot. [7/10]
4. Curse of the Serpent
5. In the Silence
8. Dog No Longer
“Only Self” by Jesus Piece is out now via Southern Lord