The Metal Examiner: Harm’s Way’s Isolation

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Harm's Way: IsolationHarm’s Way: Isolation (Closed Casket Activities, 7/5/11)

Harm’s Way: “New Beginnings”

[audio:|titles=Harm’s Way – New Beginnings]

Though ostensibly affiliated with the hardcore scene, Harm’s Way has moved into the primitive, mid-paced territory of death-metal bands like Bolt Thrower and Asphyx. Originally formed in 2005 as a power-violence band in the vein of Crossed Out and Infest, Harm’s Way has become slower and more metallic with each of its releases. Isolation, its second full-length recording, is a definitive statement for the band, cementing its vision of the possibilities in heavy music.

Hardcore and metal have fed off of each other for decades. In the early and mid-1980s, Metallica, Celtic Frost, and other pioneering bands cited not only the new wave of British heavy metal as an influence, but also hardcore bands like Discharge. Since then, there has been a two-way street between the metal and hardcore communities, with New York-based hardcore bands like the Cro-Mags and Madball clearly borrowing ideas on heaviness from death-metal bands, and a band like Obituary claiming Merauder as an influence.

It is no surprise, then, that a “hardcore” band like Harm’s Way actually sounds quite a bit like Tom Warrior‘s current project, Triptykon. The focus is on rhythmic, single-string riffs and drawn-out, chugging avalanches. There is a syncopated sensibility more associated with the aforementioned New York hardcore bands, but Harm’s Way should be sharing the stage with a band like Cianide more than it should be touring with today’s current crop of Pantera and Hatebreed clones.

Though Isolation is unquestionably heavy, songs are structured more like doom-metal epics, where crushing riffs are the language, rather than a cool trick reserved for the end of a song. “Becoming” is an obvious nod to Streetcleaner-era Godflesh, with its martial drum-machine and blown-out vocals. As with all heavy music, a cunning sense of rhythm is key to Harm’s Way’s success. Mostly structured in blocks of downbeats, the variation between riffs touches on an inherently satisfying sense of progression. A crowning achievement is the use of one note played in eighth notes for an entire riff on “New Beginnings” that manages to remain totally engaging throughout.

Isolation is a promising development, in that it represents a new wave of bands that recognize the metal roots of their favorite hardcore bands. Rather than the quality of ideas deteriorating through repeated copying, this is an exciting take on classic metal techniques filtered through a hardcore idiom.

Leave a Comment