More Posthuman Than Human: A Conversation with Harm’s Way
Harm’s Way should be a name every hardcore kid knows by now. If you do, it’s very likely a name you respect, or if not, is certainly deserving of it. The Chicago quintet is one of hardcore’s most active current bands, churning out quality releases with timeliness and assured execution since their inception 12 years ago.
The year 2018 kicks off no differently with Harm’s Way turning loose their fourth album, the bludgeoning Posthuman. As their heaviest release to date, Posthuman may well be the quintessential Harm’s Way album, combining and tightening the best aspects of their back-catalogue while pushing their monstrous sound to exceedingly brutal vistas.
I had the chance to discuss everything about Posthuman and more with drummer Christopher Mills. Please check this and the new album out, which is due for a February 9th release.
As your fourth full-length, how does Posthuman stack up in comparison to your previous material? Do you think it a natural progression of Harm's Way’s sound?
I find Posthuman to be our best material to date. Our sound has continued to evolve in a progressive way, but I think people will find their favorite elements of Harm’s Way throughout the record. It’s hyper-focused, aggressive, and displays the expansive nature of our band. We’ve never been afraid to take risks and create the records we’ve wanted… no matter how divisive or polarizing they may be, so at this point anything we create feels like a natural progression to me -- if that makes sense. We’ve shed seasonal fans throughout the tenure of this band, so those who “get” Harm’s Way will “get” this record.
Posthuman sounds like the logical follow-up to Rust, from tone to theme to the sheer heaviness. When writing your new album, what aspects of Rust specifically were expanded on? What was done differently?
Industrial and electronic elements have been a facet of our sound stemming back from Isolation… and we’ve naturally expanded on that with each release that followed… Blinded and then of course Rust. Posthuman continues in that fashion, and listeners will find even more of those stylistic elements throughout the record. I find Posthuman to be a little more aggressive and focused when compared to Rust. The songs follow less traditional Harm’s Way “formulas” as well… and I think a lot of that came from bringing our new guitarist Nick into the writing process. I feel a lot of this comes from the headspace we are typically in when writing for records. Record to record, I can look back, listen, and pinpoint the season of life maybe we were in as a band. We endured a lot psychologically and physically on the Rust cycle and throughout the writing process for Posthuman and, personally knowing where we were, it shows in the end results.
On the writing process, what inspirations from other artists, music, film or otherwise, contributed to Posthuman?
Looking back to what we were listening throughout the writing process and Rust cycle, I recall a lot of Jesus Lizard, Ministry, Fear Factory, Cave In, Nine Inch Nails, etc… Thematically, I feel in many ways the record was inspired by the absurdity of our current cultural climate on a national and global level. There has always been an inherent pessimistic outlook that has been carried on each Harm’s Way release and that can still be found on Posthuman... especially given where we are at politically and socially.
Posthumanistic and transhumaistic philosophical concepts also inspired some of the themes found throughout the record… ranging from our relationship with technoscientific knowledge and progression to taking a critical view at the humanity and the human condition.
What new techniques and processes did you apply personally as the drummer in writing and recording this time around?
When writing the percussion for Harm’s Way, I always try to write in ways that help compliment the songs instead of overcomplicating them. We are very driven rhythmically, so that is something I am conscious of. I have a history with string instruments, so I try and always see the songs from a holistic perspective versus simply from my respective instrument. With our previous releases, I would typically enter the studio with everything written drum-wise and a preset idea for what I would be doing in each song. With Posthuman, we were able to spend a number of days doing pre-production, and that allowed me even more time to experiment with the drumming on this record, which I found to be super beneficial. Will also pushed me to really think outside the box with some tracks during pre-production and while tracking. He was great about getting the best out of me performance-wise as well.
Having worked with other producers on your previous releases, how does working with Will Putney compare? How did his methods best flesh out your sound?
It was honestly a great space to create a record in. This was our first time recording outside of Chicago and away from Bricktop Studio. We had the time and budget to pretty much make a pilgrimage to Graphic Nature Audio to create Posthuman, and it was honestly the best experience we’ve had recording. We had round-the-clock access to work on songs, and Will was great in helping us shape the songs into the best versions of themselves. The pro-production phase was crucial in that, and it gave us the ability to actually write in the studio, something in which we never did with our previous releases.
The album has much to say on the socio-political landscape, a lyrical aspect from which Harm's Way has never shied. In the years since your last release, that landscape has shifted dramatically and, in hearing your new album, has clearly affected Harm's Way on an artistic level. How has this climate moved your band forward?
We obviously use this band as vehicle and release for difficult and dark emotions. Given the current socio-political climate, we’ve very much experienced that collectively as a band… and it in turn comes out in the music and themes we create. Punk and hardcore provides a place for people to find solace outside of the insanity that is the mainstream or status quo ideologies. In a similar fashion, no matter where one comes from, we want people to be able to interact with what we create and find a similar release from their everyday lives and the absurd realities of this world.
With hardcore being both an escape and answer to society, these days, in your opinion, what is most important thing one can take away from the scene and its bands and albums?
I think the most important takeaway from hardcore is that it is a space for diverse individual and collective self-expression… in terms of ideology and sound. That’s what was most appealing to me about hardcore growing up and what initially attracted me to going to shows in my younger years. I feel that there is an underlying ethos that drives it as a subculture and that’s why we are able to see diversity and inclusivity within it as a scene. That ethos is what makes it different from so many other musical genres and scenes, in my opinion.
What would you consider Posthuman’s singular theme, the one driving force behind the album as a whole?
Subjective progression and adaptation.
On the theme of subjective progression and adaptation, how has Harm's Way embodied that beyond Posthuman?
While we all live, breathe, and die all things Harm’s Way… I feel all of us as individuals have passions and interests that expand beyond the band. Whether it be weight training, education, involvement in academia, social outreach, music production, or the creation of fine art… we all embody different personal interests that inform who we are as individuals -- that in turn inspire many aspects of Harm’s Way. I can say that many of us are committed to these passions and interests and they facilitate personal growth and progression on an individual level.
The debut single and opening track, “Human Carrying Capacity,” deals with overpopulation and is easily one of your heaviest, meanest tracks to date, and my favorite. Personally, which track is your favorite? Are there any that the band is looking forward to playing live more than others?
My favorite track on the record is “Temptation.” I feel this song displays the ethos of our band, as far as having no fear to take risks or push the borders and boundaries of heavy music. I think it’s both the heaviest and most expansive song on the record -- and lyrically, deals with some raw ideas and human emotions that people deal with on a day-to-day basis, but may be too uncomfortable to say out loud. It’s one I can say we are looking forward to playing live when the time is right.
The artwork verges on graphic until you take a closer look to see the crystalline brain matter. Together those elements make for a piece both violent and beautiful. Who created this piece and how does it tie with the album’s themes?
This piece of was created by Canadian sculptor David Altmejd. We really loved the piece and were ecstatic when David was on board with working for us. I find that when I look at this work, it blurs the line between human and non-human, and may force us to reevaluate our relationship with our own humanity. I feel that in itself captures themes found throughout the record… but we really want those to have their own subjective experience with the artwork and music on the record to create their own understanding for the collective body of work that Posthuman is.
As your debut for Metal Blade Records, Posthuman is a milestone in the band’s decade-long career. How did releasing through such a storied label come about, was it an initial choice?
We were approached by a number of labels looking to work with us after the release of Rust. We were initially put into contact with Metal Blade through our previous booking agent and Andy Williams of Every Time I Die. We had time to get to know the label over time, as we were in no rush to really sign with anyone after the release of Rust. Over the course of that year, it just felt as if they had the most to offer and understood our vision for the band moving forward. Joining the label was definitely a milestone for us… it’s something we would have never imagined ten years ago when we were writing songs in James’ parents' basement. We’re excited for the opportunity to continue connecting new listeners and growing the band with the label by our side.
Your upcoming tour with Ringworm, Vein, and Queensway is a cool mix of two acclaimed newer bands and one of metalcore’s most venerable acts. What are your thoughts on this lineup? Are there any bands you would like tour with that you have yet to trek with?
We’re super excited for this tour and package. It’s still insane to us to be hitting the road with Ringworm, a band that was pivotal in influencing the early years of Harm’s Way. Also, we couldn’t be more stoked to bring out a young band like Vein, who are the embodiment of progression in the current hardcore scene. They’re going to be dropping one of the best albums of 2018, I kid you not. Having Queensway open this package every night is incredible to us as well, as they’re one of the heaviest bands out right now. It honestly feels intimidating to play after all three of these bands every night [laughs]. From past, present, to future, we feel this package compliments aggressive music perfectly and can’t wait to start supporting Posthuman on this tour.
What were your favorite heavy music releases of 2017? What have you been enjoying so far this year?
Some of my favorite heavy releases from 2017 were:
Godflesh -- Post Self
Necrot -- Blood offerings
Chelsea Wolfe -- Hiss Spun
Limp Wrist -- Facades
Code Orange -- Forever
Undergang -- Misanthropologi
Converge -- The Dusk In Us
As far as what I’ve been listening to this year, I’m playing catch-up on some 2017 releases, so it’s honestly been a lot of Alex G, Girlpool, Nosaj Thing, and Run the Jewels. Nothing too heavy, haha.
Heavy or otherwise, what albums are you most looking forward to so far in 2018?
Some records that come to mind are:
The new Vein album on Closed Casket Activities.
Twitching Tongues – Gaining Purpose Through Passionate Hatred
The Men – Drift
Rhye – Blood
Tribulation – Down Below
The upcoming My Bloody Valentine record.
Beyond the impending release and tours, are there Harm’s Way-related plans for the remainder of the year that you can speak of?
We’ll be embarking on a full tour of Mexico in April of 2018. Also, we’re also finalizing a European tour for May of 2018. We have extensive summer plans that I do not have liberty to speak of yet… but we’ll be everywhere supporting and pushing Posthuman globally over the course of 2018 and into 2019.