I’ve seen Hundredth live five times. The only other band I’ve seen that many times is Switchfoot, one of my favorite artists of all-time. Playing in a much smaller hardcore scene, the five-piece has played a big role in bringing me into the genre and live setting. Around the time that their first two records came out, Hundredth was one of the few bands who put a positive enough spin on their music that it really sucked me in. But since Let Go came out in 2011, it seems like these guys have been much more focused on evolving, and a lot of that has come from the live setting in finding a raw, honest energy. Though it’s led me to seeing them several times, it’s also led them to being long overdue for a new record.
After two EPs that left listeners thirsty for more, the band’s third full-length, Free, feels more like a return to form than anything, though it’s more forward in approach and moves away from the anthemic, uplifting qualities of the first two records. In unadulterated energy, that’s where Hundredth hit their stride again, and it’s nice to see a hardcore band rediscover their pounce after some growing pains. Even compared to When Will We Surrender’s vast bruisers, Free manages to hit harder. Jabbing riffs match Chadwick Johnson’s angry vocal execution in “Break Free,” which also features the toughest breakdowns the band has ever written. While most of the album boasts a fast pace and thick, relentless instrumentation, “Beggar” is a higher-toned track that calms the waters for a bit before roughing things up again with the thump of “See Beyond” and the heavy guitars/heavy feelings combo in “Daze.”
Free tends to be a very heavy record when it comes to the way it was written and the manner in which the band comes across. It’s not surprising with Hundredth recently dropping their Christian label and progressing away from their former selves, a more reflective, melancholic, yet hopeful group. Now they provide straight-up angst while gearing up for a future of unknown possibilities, allowing for their songs to hit hard, but without leaving as much for listeners to cling onto. The lack of clean vocals prevents Hundredth from being as memorable as Counterparts, who differentiates themselves with a knack for catchy melodies. The “free mind/open spirit” lyrical theme first explored on Revolt continues here as well, expanding here into thoughts of progressing, moving on, and being “free,” as the title states. The record may be thick from both a musical and thematic perspective, but most of the tracks just don’t stand out.
However, this doesn’t stop Johnson from showcasing his best vocal performance of the band’s career. He carries the songs even in their dullest moments, rising up to differentiate verses and create choruses in two early grabbers, “Inside Out” and “Unravel”. The band’s overall talent makes up for the album-specific imbalances. The art makes the record come off as an out-of-place indie shoegaze/90s rock record, which is far from what Free is. The quintet continues to reach forward in time and they’re obviously close to reaching where they want to be musically, but in terms of songwriting and resonance, there’s still some more figuring out to do.
Their records may all be hardcore at the core, but Hundredth’s career has been one of growth both on stage and in the studio. Free does manage to present the pure energy of the group’s live show, even if the individual tracks don’t stand apart like they did on Let Go, the band’s most accomplished work. That album finds Hundredth playing a similarly harsh style of hardcore, but coming from a much different place emotionally. Stick To Your Guns proved earlier this year that bringing out a coarse, angry vibe doesn’t mean leaving out the polish and catchiness, and that’s the main place where Free comes up short. Thus, it’s debatable whether the substantive content found on Hundredth’s third record was worth four years of waiting. Either way, despite its powerful base and strong signs of growth, Free definitely won’t hold for another four — especially if it means seeing the band another five times in that stretch.
Hardcore | Hopeless Records