New Jersey isn’t famous for much outside of Springsteen, excessive fake tans, a turnpike that’ll bring out the Rambo in the best of us, and…mathcore bands?
Ok, maybe not JUST mathcore, but with an alumni list that includes archetypes like Dillinger Escape Plan, God Forbid, Burnt By The Sun, Thursday, and Senses Fail, there’s definitely all kinds of metal and ‘core cropping up in the armpit of New England, with more than a handful having snagged some considerable scene notoriety. Maybe it’s the water, maybe it’s having Ferret Records’ HQ in your backyard, or maybe it’s all the kids that grow up on Springsteen and Bon Jovi revolting against a lifetime of arena rock and hairspray, but New Jersey’s birthed enough hardcore bands to give even metalcore mecca of Massachusetts a run for their hard-earned title as the capital for this stuff.
Hey, if somebody asked me “what exit?” with a goofy smirk on their face every time I told them what state I’m from, I’d be pissed enough to scream my guts out like these cats, too.
To cut straight to the quick, there’s really no way to discuss Worse Than Alone like this that straddles the line between mathcore and prog without getting out on the table how blatantly obvious it is that #12’s clearly cranked Dillinger Escape Plan’s seminal Calculating Infinity at least 3.5 times a day since it’s release back in ’99, especially on tracks like “Retort, Rewind, Remind” that absolutely smacks of what would happen if Dillinger’s “Jim Fear” and Every Time I Die made out, and Worse Than Alone in general pushes #12 much further in the direction of DEP’s forays into fusion jazz than either Put On Your Rosy Red Glasses or Mongrel ever did. The band’s stretched themselves farther in the direction of melding genre-bending mind games in their ‘core than ever before, and they’ve finally pushed themselves into the category of notable musicianship along with their history of pit-inducing chaos on the last two records.
Thankfully, they also eschew completely idolizing Dillinger by pushing themselves even further into death metal territory, and while they’re certainly not the first to perform a mad-scientist graft of these styles on to the hardcore template, it’s definitely an eyebrow-raiser in the sea of deathcore and Necrophagist worship that seems to dominate metal today. Case in point: “If They Holler, Don’t Let Go” twists at neck-snapping speed from blastbeat almost-grindcore to finding the boys sporting a downright majestic Gothenburg-style twin lead/solo shredfest that if you were told it’s the new Kalmah, you’d be hard-pressed to argue, and just when you think you’ve got #12 figured out after a couple songs, cuts like “Garden’s All-Nighters” launch out of nowhere into a sweet Latin/salsa interlude – hey, it might not make any sense in context of the song, but it’s just as well done as the throat-shredding chaos-core that it’s sandwiched between.
And if chaos is business, then business is good. Music like this doesn’t exist to have audiences roaring along with Bic’s lighting up the arena, it’s the wild-card Olympics of extreme music, where bands are measured by how fast blast beats can morph into rimshots and tremolo-picking shred sweeps into jazz arpeggios, and like any band that cranks out this kind of calculated insanity, #12’s musicianship occupies a comfy spot between impressive and, uh, carpal-tunnel-inducing – the drumming absolutely smacks of influences like the mighty Flo Mounier of Cryptopsy or Chris Pennie of Dillinger Escape Plan, now-departed vokillist Justin Pedrick packs the now-mandatory death metal gurgles and hardcore shrieking in addition to some almost-emocore clean vocals, a la Fall of Troy or older As Cities Burn, and the guitarists are (mostly) capable of channeling anything from Santana-smooth to Converge-raw, and those styles more often than not get smashed indiscriminately together with all the subtlety of nacho cheese on your Ben & Jerry’s. It takes a lot to make bands like Between the Buried and Me look focused by comparison, but by George, I think we’ve got one!
Bottom line: You know that kid that always insists, “Naw, dude, they’re such a great band, you just have to listen to it more to actually get it!” probably already has this and loves it. For everyone else, this stuff is easily one of the most polarizing, love-it-or-loathe-it styles out there that’s either going to draw horns or middle fingers in the air all night long, and, well, you know how the saying goes – if I had to explain it to you, you wouldn’t understand.