In 1997, hardcore was probably in a different place than it was in 2003, 2008 or even today in 2013. But for the most part, I can’t really speak for what it was like then in a scene that has seen all sorts of bands come and go – I was only 12 at the time.
Shai Hulud released their first record Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion that year, but I’m willing to bet they didn’t know the impact they’d have not only on the scene, but even on their members’ lives. It’s been 16 years since we first heard a younger, certainly lesser known Chad Gilbert scream and shout his way through a cathartic, misanthropic dialogue of sorts on this record. His return on the band’s newest record Reach Beyond the Sun is cyclical in some ways, but to go back and revisit this album in particular is a reverse introduction of sorts. I was into some heavier stuff, but I had never even heard of Shai Hulud until well after the release of their second LP – so my sense for what this album meant to the scene then is again, jaded.
Hearts is not a straightforward hardcore record by any means – the guitars slicing and weaving, the drumming not too concerned on being a time-keeper but rather a blender for the often jagged songwriting of these writings. Texturally though, this is a heavy album by all means, as opener “Solely Concentrating on the Negative Aspects of Life” sets a tone musically and lyrically for the Shai Hulud catalog. Though tough to pin down, the band has always been a bit scatterbrained, but the buzzing of guitars sprinkled with tugging melodies and a small hint of hardcore staple moments – i.e. breakdowns and such – were churned through at a generally slow pace when compared to others. The mid-tempo movements gave these songs room to breathe, whether it be the blasting rhythms leading off “Beliefs and Obsessions” quickly switching to double-time and back, while Gilbert cuts with lines like ‘I cannot judge others lives to justify my own’ with a raw but focused delivery.
Sure, there are plenty of times when the album feels a little more concocted and a little less rough in terms of moving from point to point. “A Profound Hatred of Man” keeps the characteristics of the album intact without seemingly switching between ideas so quickly – arguably letting them resonate a bit more within the track while stringing them along together with memorable riffs. In a similar fashion, the post-hardcore leaning licks of “This Wake I Myself Have Stirred” move like gears in a seemingly uncharacteristic repetition through most of this track in some way, shape or form. However, the distinct change here makes this song also a standout in a way that it hooks dastardly even as the tempo cranks and comes back to Earth – it’s about as close to standard hardcore as Shai Hulud gets on this record, and even then they still don’t quite hover towards the nuances as you think they would.
Though certainly not the catchy or instantly memorable incarnation of hardcore many associate with the term, Shai Hulud’s LP debut is sharp and headstrong in its off-kilter moments, while on point when they aren’t being as musically crafty. It’s easy enough though to consider this the record to start with if you’re going to engage their entire discography – as its weaving riffs and in-your-face vocals give us plenty of promise and premise from start to finish.