“So listen closely because I’ll only say it once before departing/When the show ends, it’s really only starting.” These words are mumbled from Sworn In vocalist Tyler Dennen during the intro and title track to the record,“XIII”. When the haunting and disturbing nature of his words hit my ears, I knew for all intents and purposes that shit was going to hit the fan. This band has garnered a lot of hate over the years by many callous and pretentious hardcore pit-stompers and arm-crossers; the irony is that the same people talking badly about the band are the ones who use it most as hate-fuel. The Death Card is a record of unequivocal hate, despise, and nihilism. Mercilessly heavy, every facet of this concept record is a psychological beatdown.
Starting as a mostly linear story of a man whose view to the world takes a turn for the worse in light of all past, current, and future transgressions, he loses his mind in a tumultuous downward spiral to Hell, and The Death Card is his journey. With the principle outward views of the world at hand and what they mean (“Hypocrisy”, “Mindless”), the interpretation of a musical assault is really taking it lightly. The better elements of past releases (the previous Start/End EP for instance) show up in the form of (rare but effective) singing moments, obvious but pungent breakdowns, and guitar/bass/drum bomb debauchery. Bearing some obvious and not so obvious influences musically, one of the ones that comes to mind immediately is Slipknot, while others like Korn, Emmure, and others show up in little elements throughout. This is a hardcore band with a hardcore debut album on the face of it, and while that means nothing to some (and it shouldn’t considering what the genre has become), look deeper and there’s much more to see.
When searching for what they expanded on, the best word I can use to describe where they are now is “attitude”. This word encompasses more than the obvious “ankle-deep” emotions, but also grief (“Dead Soul”), honesty (“Death”), and passion (“Return”). Passion is admittedly more difficult to recognize in a format like this, but I see it. On a deeper level, it’s the intensity of Dennen’s vocals that hit home on a level that most vocalists can’t do. He shredded his chords for this record, and it’s noticed; but rather than make the assumption that someone just could be that angry, I see it as dedication to his art – a dark and disturbing but powerful art. Whether it’s the malicious, degrading content of “Snake Eyes” or the inward honesty of “Three Cheers”, it all pours out in a vile spew.
Tearing into more of the nitty gritty of the belt, the production is a fistful, as it should be. It’s surely listenable and although I can nitpick little things, it works for the record. The drums pound and the guitars and bass are simple and effective, but there are also moments that showcase very pivotal moments in their skill with creative writing (the aforementioned “Snake Eyes”, “A Song for the Nameless”). For the described transitions, I find the two interludes “Senseless” and “Mute” to be ultimately pointless, and they are one of the few beefs I have with the record. Organization is a great thing, but this sort of micromanagement for a concept ends up coming off as cliché rather than necessary.
When you finish the record, you’ll be feeling a variety of things; whether it be anger as a result of the music, release, or just stoked on how heavy it is, but to most it will just click. I typically dispense nearly all bands in this genre, but something about this struck me as honest, and as dark as it ultimately is, there is a light in the darkness through that brutal honesty that shines brightly. Sworn In have set the bar really high for bands in their genre, and for a genre that many wish were dead, let’s think of this record as The Death Card for it.