Though it’s commonly summed up as a homogenized slab of Gothenburg riffs and 90’s hardcore breakdowns, the metalcore explosion of the mid-aughts was actually more diverse than its detractors would care to admit. One example of this would have to be 36 Crazyfists.
Besides the obvious curiosity of being an Alaskan band (be sure to check out our recent exclusive with Brock where he goes ice-skating at Rockefeller Center), there’s the instantly recognizable internal vibrato effect of Brock’s voice. But there’s also a wider stylistic point in that 36 Crazyfists were never really a metalcore band in the mold of Unearth and As I Lay Dying, even if 2008’s The Tide and Its Takers leaned strongly in that direction. For the most part, the band blended this aesthetic with a post-hardcore feel similar to that of Poison the Well and other acts (though one can hear some echoes of nu-metal and Vision of Disorder on their super-early material).
For this listener, the band was a late discovery. Though I remember spinning “The All Night Lights” a few times on college radio, the band’s more foundational work like 2004’s A Snow-Capped Romance served more as background noise to the other forces shaping metal at the time. But after giving them their due last year, I was excited to hear about the release of their latest album, Time and Trauma.
Typically, when 2nd-tier bands reach this point in their career, two paths tend to open up. One leads to the “where are they now” self-parody of barely-alive nostalgia. Another is the path of consistency and maturity that maintains the core legacy of the band’s heydey while allowing it to grow over time. 36 Crazyfists have unequivocally steered their music toward the second path.
Time and Trauma displays the bands many strengths and makes as much use of them as possible: simple yet impressive riffwork, catchy and memorable melodies and dramatic song structures. The first two songs make for an excellent lead in, with no nonsense or filler upfront to deter the listener from exploring further. And if the band ever puts out a “best of” compilation, there’s no doubt in my mind that the lead single, “Also Am I” would belong on that list. The chorus is perfect, the vocals display that excellent blend of pain with strength and the solo adds just the right amount of color without overdoing it.
The album has its drawbacks however, particularly when the band leans too far on its nu-metal flank on the awkwardly constructed “Sorrow Sings.” I realize what they’re trying to do here with the quiet, menacing, whisper singing- but the technique smacks so much of Jonathan Davis-style histrionics that it makes the song unworkable. The band would do much better to dive deeper into it’s post-hardcore DNA like they do on “Slivers” or otherwise stick closer to metalcore.
The title track also comes across as a bit lazy, putting too little a focus on instrumental storytelling in favor of providing a sonic backdrop for the lyrics. This can work of course, but not usually for a song of its length. Contrast this with the engaging riffs behind “Translator” and you’ll know what I’m referring to. (Not that I mean to denigrate the lyrical focus completely, I realize much of the content was inspired by the death of Brock’s mother, my criticism is purely from a listener’s standpoint).
Then there’s Brock’s screaming voice. Naturally talented in the clean-singing field, his abilities in the screaming department have always been more functional than essential. But then again, in a world of perfectly-honed screaming on every verb-the-noun band who still exists, some extra throatiness actually lends an unexpected and off-putting wrinkle that further distinguishes 36 Crazyfists.
Speaking of wrinkles, if Time and Trauma shows anything, its a band that’s determined to age gracefully. Sure Brock’s voice is raspier than before, but it’s actually pretty sweet! And unlike a lot of bands, 36 Crazyfists have avoided the trap of allowing themselves to become boring. Sure, they’re not making comic-book videos anymore, but at least they didn’t trade that in for some atrocious foray into “progressive soft rock” or something.
Favorite songs: “Also Am I,” “11.24.11,” “Vanish (We All Disappear)” and “Translator”