Jesus Piece has drawn a line in the sand for the current metallic hardcore scene. Where the many bands in this style recycle the '90s fight riffs until the end of time, Jesus Piece push themselves as songwriters. The Philadelphia exports certainly have the feral aggression and gnarled grooves of East Coast hardcore, but there's more to their sound than brazen anger. Their debut LP, Only Self, has aged well over the past five years, largely due to the band's lethal precision and tasteful incorporation of outside elements. To that effect, their followup …So Unknown plays and feels like a hardcore album. Doses of death metal or dark alternative aren't here to change that, but to make the violent proceedings that much more lethal.
With a lone bellow from Aaron Heard, "In Constraints" comes out swinging with all the quarter note triplets, call-and-response vocals and nasty riff changes a spin-kick jockey could ask for. More noteworthy is how much restraint they show with their breakdowns. Yes, the breakdowns actually work the way they're supposed to—breaking down the song's ideas to their essential components. It sounds obvious, but a lot of metallic hardcore bands need bands like Jesus Piece to remind them to avoid relying on meathead mosh parts. The sticky rhythms and jagged dynamic spikes are great in their own right… in other words, they're worth stripping back to their bare essentials for a parting onslaught.
It's really the details that count here, like the way drummer Luis Aponte chooses carefully when to follow the guitars with double kick or stick to stomping four-on-the-floor during "Tunnel Vision." In the same way, guitarists David Updike and John Distefano balance harmonised angular fretwork with chug-a-chug mayhem alongside bassist Anthony Marinaro. A similar sentiment carries over onto atmospheric cuts like "Silver Lining," which gives haunting, reverb-soaked soundscapes room to intermingle with the chest-caving grooves. It takes a special band in this genre to have enough emotion to carry Heard's lyrical ode to (seemingly) his child, but Jesus Piece rises to the occasion with ethereal textures to compliment the tough guy vibes.
Getting back into the fray, songs like "Gates Of Horn" and "An Offering To The Night" offer more of that old-school Jesus Piece style that made their EPs pop off back in 2016. Of course, the difference between now and seven years ago becomes the band's musical cohesion, as well as production from Randy Leboeuf (who has made everyone from Orthodox to The Acacia Strain sound absolutely devastating). The former's stomping two-step comes punctuated with ominous feedback layers, and the latter's burst of galloping speed with funky drum and bass feature and an ultra-heavy, almost doomy outro. In both cases, Jesus Piece has a keen understanding of when to go full caveman and when to chop things up and jerk listeners around.
Speaking of jerking listeners around, "Fear Of Failure" contains one of the best tempo shifts of Jesus Piece's career. Without having to change the riff too much, the transition from plodding dirge to accelerated syncopation brings two entirely distinct feels to the table. Jesus Piece keeps these changes unpredictable but never jarring, which works wonders for the swinging, swaggering mosh part at the end of "FTBS" as it hits like a blindside left hook without upending the Code Orange-ish array of dissonant intensity. The vocal chemistry between Heard and Marinaro gives more chaos to these passages, but it's really the creative drumming from Aponte that takes the cake.
Aponte is there with Orthodox's Justin White among direly underrated creative forces in this genre. He sometimes takes on a jazz form, the way he kicks around the rest of the band on "Profane." Granted, it'd be a good metallic hardcore song with echoes of melo-death and life-ending slams. The key word here is elevation, in that his approach not only vitalizes the primitive foundations of hardcore, but also the array of riffs the guitarists can throw out there. "Stolen Life" highlights this concept, which spans from a spooky goth-ish intro to an inexplicable use of a hard-ass breakbeat (DJ Rashad style, baby!). This stuff doesn't sound like it's trying to be different. In the end, the experimentation just allows Jesus Piece to hit harder, and in unexpected places.
In comparison to Only Self, which does have an interlude track, everything on …So Unknown, from "In Constraints" to closing cut "The Bond," is a bona fide addition to the Jesus Piece repertoire. With a salvo of curve-ball beats and bombshell guitar chugs, the band's magic crystalizes one last time. By exchanging technicality for taste, these guys refine a less-is-more approach to make every moment of this album worthwhile. Whether it's harrowing modulations or unapologetic pit-starters, Jesus Piece knows exactly when to switch things up or ride the breakdown into the sunset.
There's only so many ways to say "Jesus Piece writes good hardcore," but that really is the take away from …So Unknown. It's exciting, emotive, and ball-busting hardcore taken to the next level by smart writing. They definitely earn their place as a rising name, and a good bridge builder for metalheads who might grimace at the mention of hardcore. For those who like their music dark and raging, but also danceable, now's a great time to hop on board for the infectious melee.