Hardcore from the midwest of America is seemingly overlooked and possibly under-rated in the bigger picture. With the exception of Modern Life Is War and perhaps a few others, the focus of the genre is on the coasts, and the midwest is generally looked at with sadder eyes as the domain of emo, especially recently. It’s a shame but hey, plenty of places can be known for something but they can’t be known for everything. Bent Life haven’t let that stop them though. The Nebraska band have previously released two EPs and have now combined the two for an international full length release, sharing a name with the second EP ‘Full Skull’.
As a compilation (of sorts), the release isn’t strictly new (other than a cover of Antidote’s ’Something Must Be Done’) but for containing two separate sets of songs it blends well enough that a first-time listener to the band wouldn’t even notice without a close listen. The album is half an hour of simple, solid hardcore, much in the vein of Expire and Take Offence. The two releases combined and contrasted in this release show that if Bent Life are anything, they’re consistent.
The risk of consistency, however, is that songs can be hard to differentiate from each other. ’Full Skull’ dodges this bullet, but just barely. There is enough going on here to keep your attention for the full half-hour but the character of the music rarely changes, if at all. There is the odd solo, such as in ‘Drag’, as well a decent amount of variance in pace, but the key shortcoming is that the album is pretty much nothing but riffs. Whether they’re quick and punchy or slow and clunking, the formula almost never alters. This can be said of a lot of hardcore and perhaps wouldn’t even be a point of contention for many fans, but personally I feel it lacks a certain amount of creativity.
Away from the songs themselves, I found the instrumentation to be a little on the sloppy side. Perfect playing has never been the top priority in punk, if anything the opposite, and everyone has their own preferences and tolerance for mistakes, but I found the album sloppy enough to not quite feel ‘together’. Particularly noticeable was the opening of the title and opening track ‘Full Skull’, in which the kick drum has a lot of trouble sticking to the beat and it sticks out as a result. This would be a minor quibble to many though, and certainly not a game changer for me.
Hardcore fans will probably enjoy this album. It has all the boxes ticked for anyone who enjoys a good mosh-worthy riff-fest, and while I enjoyed it, I found it hard to keep up that enjoyment after repeat listens. ‘Full Skull’, while competent, lacked a certain amount of chaos, controlled or otherwise, which puts many of the best hardcore bands where they are.
‘Full Skull’ by Bent Life is out now on 6131 Records and FITA Records.
Words by Ben Kosma (@BenKosma)