The Red Chord
ith their aggressive vocals, crunchy guitars, and pummeling rhythms, metal and hardcore punk may seem sonically similar. However, these notoriously cliquish scenes have fundamental differences, down to the way people physically react. Metalheads headbang; punkers dance. Metal tolerates, even embraces, excess and virtuosity, while punk favors economy and directness. These generalizations are reductive, of course, and bands like D.R.I., M.O.D., Earth Crisis, and Suicidal Tendencies have ably bridged the metal-hardcore divide. But the fusion has mostly been straightforward, with bands remaining comfortably within one genre while incorporating elements of the other.
In recent years, however, bands like Premonitions of War, Misery Index, and Despised Icon have begun fusing grindcore, death metal, thrash, and hardcore into sounds more organic than simply "metal + punk." Coming from the fertile Massachusetts scene that has yielded Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, and Converge, among others, The Red Chord fit right into this new wave of uncategorizable mosh music.
"Fixation on Plastics" leads off Clients in true metallic fashion, with lightning-fast blastbeats, pick squeals, and ferocious, roared vocals. However, hardcore colors subsequently show through on "Lay the Tarp." The band doesn't waste much time on simple riffs, though; the song quickly rotates through blastbeats and thrash before eventually returning to pit-friendly hardcore, all in just over three minutes. The next three cuts follow similar modi operandi, fluidly shifting through different styles and tempos without feeling forced or spastic. It's all forward motion here; instead of twists and turns, the terrain is simply hilly, if absurdly so.
The album doesn't really get cooking until its second half, where the songs have agendas other than beating listeners senseless. "Hospice Residence" flirts with melody; "Dragon Wagon" has a swinging, Sabbath-esque breakdown; "Love on the Concrete" features a groovy bass break. But "Upper Decker" is the hands-down highlight. The song goes through a breathtaking array of moods, from sky-is-falling grindcore to chugging death metal to Rush-approved stop-time passages to rolling tribal drums topped by sparse, clean chords. A thrilling buildup follows, filled with escalating tension until POW, the final climax—seventeen seconds of lurching, savage stomp that is nothing one would expect, yet everything one would want. That, dear Hollywood is how you end a movie.
Special mention goes to Paul Romano, who did the album's beautifully grotesque artwork. Romano is best known for his classy (and classic) album covers for Mastodon's Remission and Leviathan, but here he channels the freakshow spirit of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" video. Lyrically, each song is about a different mentally or socially afflicted person, or "client" ("Get off your high horse / We are all clients / These are my people"). For each song, Romano created a painting for each character portrayed in the lyrics. It's disturbing, fascinating stuff, perfect for a band named after an opera (Alban Berg's Wozzeck) in which a schizophrenic man slits his lover's throat, then reverts to his normal self and asks, "My love, what is that red cord across your neck?"