For any touring artist, what happened to the Year Of The Knife back in June was a true nightmare situation. A serious van accident left all members injured, especially their new vocalist Madison Watkins, who was only recently discharged from the hospital after sustaining spinal and head injuries. The road to recovery from critical condition is a long one, but the metallic hardcore upstarts aren't about to give up without a fight. Their swing back comes in the form of a 22-minute rampage of an album. More ferocious and raw than ever, No Love Lost proves Year Of The Knife's vitality in the hardcore scene and beyond.
Modern hardcore mostly exists to boil down the hallmarks of metal to their bare essentials, and that's just what Year Of The Knife does — hitting as hard as possible in the shortest amount of time. Qualitatively, the difference really becomes whether or not the ideas are good, because the opening track "Sometimes" can't really be better than the sum of its parts. It just so happens that said parts are killer riffs, a bludgeoning rhythm section and irate vocals. And yet, this all-gas mentality maintains tight songwriting beyond the punishing breakdowns. This almost elevates the under-two-minute onslaught of cuts like "Wish" above the meat-headed powerviolence mantra. There's tact and taste in the frenzy, with equal respect paid to chaotic speed and chunky grooves worthy of the guttural grunts of one Devin Swank from Sanguisugabogg.
Speaking of powerviolence, it's hard not to think of the blitzkrieg marauders during the 46-second "Last Laugh." It's all there, from drummer Andrew Kisielewski's stick click count-in and neck-snapping tempo changes, and Full Of Hell's Dylan Walker doing his impression of a cat trying to hack up a furball. It's not all that innovative, but it's catchy, violent as hell and chocked full of great riffs. Indeed, guitarist Aaron Kisielewski comes through with one brain-bashing attack after another, as displayed by the tactful displays of lethal songwriting in "Your Control." He effectively elevates the primitive grooves, and nu-metallish bounce riff with just the right dose of wicked dissonance.
Having twin brothers on guitar and drums definitely explains why the transitions feel so intuitive, as would the fact bassist Brandon Watkins is married to Madison. The sheer tightness of the band comes across not only through the throttling rage, but also welcomed forays into more complex arrangements.
While not exactly melodic like In Flames, "Mourning the Living" proves that moving around the fretboard doesn't have to sacrifice the song's feral nature. If anything, it makes the breakdowns hit harder if you have some nice licks to spice up the chug-a-chug—like a hardcore version of Gojira. Yes, cuts like "Alice" have all the tropes of modern hardcore (two-steps and circle-pit parts mixed in with slow-downs and closed-hi-hat grooves), but Year Of The Knife isn't here to rehash. They refine, calculate, and execute in a brutal fashion.
Small touches like ascending notes during the double-kick double-kick syncopation of "Heaven Denied" aside, it's so refreshing to hear a band use the breakdown for its purpose: literally breaking a song down to its bare essentials. It sounds simple enough, but that actually requires the foundation of the song to be worth breaking down. To that effect, Year Of The Knife writes music that doesn't rely entirely on flash or bash. From the growling bass and Slipknot-ish down-picked abuse that starts "Return the Agony," to the Swedish death metal goodness in its tremolo lines, Year Of The Knife clearly don't need to kill time before the mosh part… but the way that mosh part juggles triplet chugs and half-time open chords was clearly too fun to not bring into the fray.
If modern hardcore is essentially metal with no frills, then closer "No Love Lost" shows just how rooted Year Of The Knife metal side is in the Swedish underground. Not so much At The Gates, and more Grave and Entombed. The thrashy rhythms and buzzsaw guitars flair up in this final attack, emphasizing dark eeriness to counterbalance the life-ending fight riffs. The heaviness doesn't just come from the low tunings, but from that distinct Stockholm guitar tone and ominous note choices.
Year Of The Knife is one of the strongest bands running the hardcore circuit right now. Coming through with such a killer album after of such a terrible blow to their health and safety should be all the motivation needed to give this band support. All hard-working touring bands deserve respect, but not all hard-working touring bands bounce back from a near-death experience with an album as good as No Love Lost.