Harm’s Way – Rust
We like to think of albums as definitive statements, as points in a narrative that are arrived at, not as stations to move through. Even for artists who reinvent themselves with each release, that metamorphosis takes place behind the scenes. We get to see the butterfly but not what happens inside the cocoon.
Harm’s Way don’t work like that. Their transformation from a reckless power violence act to the thunderous beat down hardcore they play now hasn’t happened in leaps but in slow trudges. With each subsequent release they’ve taken the tempo down a notch, cut away any unnecessary punk gestures and have steadily improved.
This approach hasn’t always been pretty, although little about Harm’s Way is. Being in a constant state of transition left some of their older material unfocused and formless, particularly their debut album Reality Approaches released in 2009, which was caught between their earlier hectic style and their more deliberate later one. But since 2011’s Isolation the band’s growing pains seem have to ended. Instead all of the agony on Rust, their excellent new full length, is inflicted outward towards anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its blast radius.
Brute force is the default on Rust. Harm’s Way have perfected the art of the mid tempo stomp. Whether they start fast and end slow, like on “Docile Bodies” or stay in mosh territory for the whole of a song, like the lead single “Law Of The Land” each shift into a new riff is timed for maximum physical impact. Whereas the changes in tempo and pace on a song like “Warriors Will Reign” from Reality Approaches happen out of an obligation to the conventions of the genre, the riff that blows the roof off of “Infestation” is a natural result of the material that precedes it. Harm’s Way have grown not just as performers and aggressors, but as organizers of that aggression.
The band’s preference for this style of breakdown oriented songwriting ties them to the hardcore scene they initially emerged from, but the actual content beyond the form of these songs reveals a more metalhead-friendly influence: Celtic Frost. Their guitar tone favors the same sludgy buzz as Celtic Frost’s, and at their heaviest they make use of the same un-syncopated riffs that made “Procreation Of The Wicked” a classic. The affinity between Harm’s Way and Thomas Gabriel Fischer is a natural fit. Harm’s Way constant desire to push their craft further on each release mirrors the relentless experimentation that Fischer has strived for in his career. And they’ve picked up more than just lessons in aggression: “Turn To Stone,” featuring wailing and wholly disconcerting guest vocals from Emily Jancetic, is like a Triptykon song in miniature. The bit-crushed drums and electronic ambience that worm their way through the record also feel like a play from the Celtic Frost playbook, as well as a nod to the industrial music history of Harm’s Way’s native Chicago.
On Rust it still doesn’t feel like Harm’s Way have arrived at the creative apex. It’s easy to imagine the hints of Industrial elements present on this record taking center stage on the next release, or the band slowing down even further into doom metal territory. No matter what twisted and hideous form the butterfly takes, we are still in the cocoon with Harm’s Way.