Record Review: Trap Them’s Darker Handcraft

Trap Them: Darker HandcraftTrap Them: Darker Handcraft (Prosthetic, 3/18/11)

Trap Them: “The Facts”

[audio:|titles=Trap Them: “The Facts”]

To appreciate Trap Them‘s new album, Darker Handcraft, it helps to start with the Filth Rations EP from 2010.  Trap Them has consistently charged its hardcore side into a collision with metal that refuses to get dragged down in grime.

The four songs on Filth Rations give as sure a sign as ever that the band’s craft and tightness can always match its sheer impatience. The third track, “Dead Fathers Wading In The Bodygrounds,” keeps up a gimpy, stumbling trudge as the drums gradually thud harder, and vocalist Ryan McKenney bellows himself up to a pitch that invokes scalding tears and unforgivable injuries. There’s a sense that Trap Them is in a desperate frenzy to repeatedly overload their songs, lest a single McKenney roar or screech of feedback from the guitar go unused. Even the cramped handwriting of the lyrics in the EP’s liner notes looks more like a dozen rows of snaggled teeth than a sequence of words.

In retrospect, it’s as if the band that made Filth Rations was gearing up to achieve a height of directness and focus. Darker Handcraft is a plenty accurate introduction to Trap Them; it once again captures a sonic force that’s both furiously commanding and remains bitterly hurt no matter how feverishly it tries to expiate its demons. This time, though, that force resolutely says, “Look, one fucking thing at a time.”

“Damage Prose” sets the album on the straightaway to which it mostly sticks. Trap Them has always been capable of playing like a double-time Unsane, but on this track and the following, “Slumcult And Gather,” Chris Maggio‘s precision-sputter drums force McKenney and guitarist Brian Izzi to stay ahead. Not once do they let Maggio’s machinations catch up and grind them into chum, instead pacing themselves precisely and creating a tense clarity.

As much as it sounds like a platitude, “pacing themselves” is something that Trap Them does consistently well here. The songs keep their stinging brevity, while also getting in enough time to grow out their structures confidently and conclusively. “Every Walk A Quarantine” finds several ways to prolong its verses and pre-choruses — lots of dynamics that belie the band’s grimy exteriors, and one of Izzi’s unnerving mid-range skitters — before slamming into its choruses with a cry of what sounds like “We all stay sick! We all stay fuckin’ sick!”

Producer (and Converge guitarist) Kurt Ballou‘s recording of Sleepwell Deconstructor in 2007 captured the band speeding through pools of almost Pig Destroyer-grade slime and bleakness, especially on “Day Five: Garlic Breakfast” and “Day 6: Deconstructioneer Extraordinare.” Ballou shows an equally nurturing ear for the punchy riff that front-loads “Evictionaries.” If you go back and listen to Sleepwell or another previous Trap Them record, it hardly sounds sloppy or confused. And the Trap Them of Darker Handcraft is not drastically different at heart. The impact is. The band — actually, it’s not shorting anyone to say the band and Ballou together — has hardened and sharpened its vision.

Darker Handcraft
still has plenty of those lovably Trap Them moments where the band seems to be slowly marching up a mountain of disease — especially the instrumental sixth track, “Sordid Earnings.” Track seven, “The Facts,” was a good choice as the album’s “single” (or whatever the label’s chosen free promo MP3 counts as), because that’s where Trap Them sounds most like a disciplined unit of hard-rock chargers.

The balance shifts to still deeper unease, shorter songs, and blur-blast drums with “Saintpeelers” and the following three tracks. (Let us pause here to appreciate that song title, simultaneously bad-ass and warped enough to earn a grim chuckle, like those on one great standard for ridiculous hard-rock song titles, Karp‘s self-titled LP.) This direction leads to yet another adrenal leap on “Sovereign Through The Pines,” a minute and a half of hardcore frenzy that digs itself into a nice mucky low-end trench for the finish.

Then, for the last two tracks, Trap Them once again seems to feel it’s made enough points with one approach, and decisively moves on before it can get anywhere near old. “Drag The Wounds Eternal” crawls into slightly higher and brighter hooks, paralleling (though not sounding that much like) the melody that Kylesa started to embrace in 2010 on Spiral Shadow. The closer, “Scars Align,” hints at the grimy sludge of the above-mentioned “Dead Fathers Waiting In The Bodygrounds.” Rather than plunging more and more helplessly into grief as “Dead Fathers” did, “Scars Align” stays right on top of the rage that it’s building up.  One of the pre-chorus figures is a great deal like that of Iron Maiden‘s “Powerslave,” which is a nice little omen when you think about it. Not only is Trap Them still exemplary of the devastation that punk and metal can wreak together, it’s now letting its songwriting instinct shine proudly through the fallout.

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