Hardcore, being a genre in which every band sounds very similar to every other band almost by design, is hard to do well. The simplicity of it all didn’t matter too much closer to its inception in the 80’s, when being a loud, fast punk band was still pretty revolutionary in itself. Thirty years later, though, it’s never been tougher to make a hardcore record that sticks out among the crowd as a true individual achievement. Sure, the genre’s had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, but after decades of hearing the same basic musical blueprint fleshed out over and over again by hundreds of cookie-cutter bands, the phrase “it’s been done before” has never been easier to throw around.
Of course, there are a handful of bands who refuse to fall victim to hardcore’s vicious copycat cycle. Notorious genre-benders Every Time I Die almost instantly come to mind, as do the late Josh Scogin project The Chariot and perennial heart-on-sleeve wearers Touche Amore. Despite these bright spots, though, it’s almost too easy to compare the hardcore scene in 2015 to the rinse-and-repeat process of 2008 metalcore. Many of the bands supposedly at the “forefront of the genre” these days are recycling song structure, vocal cadences, and even guitar riffs. It’s quite simply not very interesting to listen to, unless you’re just looking for something aggressive to listen to regardless of sophistication or taste.
Enter Counterparts, a hardcore band signed to a major punk label that many say are very artistically inclined. They structure their songs in interesting ways from time to time, make use of mathcore-y breakdowns every now and then, and who could forget that back and forth between screamed and spoken word vocals? However, despite their best efforts to break away from the monotony of 2015 hardcore, the first half of their most recent effort Tragedy Will Find Us doesn’t do much to convince the listener that they have something more to offer.
The opening track, “Stillborn”, offers what’s pretty much a perfect template for the entire A side of the record. The song kicks off with an interesting, swinging groove, but then reverts back to the band’s comfort zone, transforming into a straight 4/4 hardcore ripper before too long. This pattern essentially repeats throughout the first six tracks, with the possible exception of “Burn”, an album highlight – but even still, despite its offerings in terms of structural coherency and an excellent atmospheric-sounding interlude that makes up its second half, the band still manages to transform a song that seems to be going somewhere into more tough-guy silliness with a breakdown that even the likes of August Burns Red would shake their heads at. None of this is helped too much by the production quality, which seems to be lacking a bit in comparison with past Counterparts records. The vocals are way too high in the mix, leaving each song to sound as though the vocal and instrumental tracks are working against one another, rather than as one conjoined force.
The second half of Tragedy Will Find Us, while still falling victim to poor production, is a bit of an improvement. All of the songs are laid out in a way that makes sense and is satisfying to listen to, and the more relaxed tempos and grooves prove to be more of an interesting base for each track as opposed to the in-your-face “kicksnarekicksnarekicksnare” action of the A side. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that, while less intense sounding on the surface, the less busy grooves on this record are actually heavier sounding at their core. However, the 5 tracks on the superior side still experience some problems that plague the album as a whole. Aside from a few bright spots (the closer “Solace” being an excellent example), this side of the record drives home the unfortunate truth that better songwriting doesn’t exactly mean originality. It’s difficult to tell the songs apart from one another at times, and the vocals are so prominent in the mix that as the listener, you feel like you’re being screamed at with a rotating series of hardcore grooves playing in the background. That is, at the songs’ lowest points. At their best, different elements of sound are thrown into the mix, dynamics are played with, and the whole “atmospheric” vibe is attempted time and time again – but without a clear thematic framework, it simply comes across as a much emptier sounding Is Survived By. There’s really no bigger picture here to be seen.
While I really do admire Counterparts for trying to do something different, it seems as though they’ve fallen victim to the copycat nature of 2010’s hardcore. There’s definitely some reaching for artistic highs on Tragedy Will Find Us without a doubt, but in the end the band are way too busy looking at everyone else’s papers to see if they’re getting the answers right rather than figuring it out for themselves. It may be too late in their careers to call them a work in progress, but in order to deliver a record that really stands on its own, there’s a lot they needs to improve on.