REVIEW: Extortionist – Sever the Cord [2019]

Artist: Extortionist

Album: Sever the Cord


We’re all bound to something or someone—and most people’s ties are many fold. Whether you’re trapped in a town you hate, a job you loathe, with a person you despise or who mistreats you, most people have experienced one or the other and are likely still stuck in something similar.

Every man, every woman and every child longs to be set free. They—we—all yearn to be cut loose from dead weight that drags us down.

If any act could capture that sensation and craft it into a record, it would be the Pacific Northwest’s Extortionist. On Sever the Cord, the group lash out with clenched fists and grit teeth at anything within striking distance, as their sophomore full-length release hits like an anthemic collection of riff-laden, heavier than hell barnburners with just enough atmosphere and ambience to spare the listener from self-immolation. Sounding curiously like a 90125-era He Is Legend blended with raw, heavy-handed metalcore a la Born a New and Bloodbather, Sever the Cord is a scathing record that wastes no time in slicing skin from bone.

A crushing quartet from the densely wooded corners of the Northwest, Extortionist are, at their core, heavy without remorse. This is evident from the opening salvos of lead single and opening cut “Bad Vibes,” where percussionist Dom Guggino bombards the listener with quick fills juxtaposed against sturdy, trudging patterns that allow bassist Kip Treeman and guitarist Juan Hernandez to craft riff after riff, a foundation that flows well into the album. Much of Sever the Cord serves a stylistic departure from the band’s previous sounds—the downtempo elements that ran pervasive through their debut and the more emotional, introspective tones of The Decline respectively—leaning more heavily on a bolder and more brazen approach to heavy music. Here, Hernandez shines, working excellently with Guggino, especially on “Chokehold” and “No Soul,” two of the records most aggressive numbers. Meanwhile, “Intuition Knows” and “Pressure” are much more melancholic tracks, with ambience and atmosphere that lets Hernandez’ more mellow side shine through. Here, he works more intimately with Treeman, relying on a thick and gritty low-end to contrast his grunge-tinted fretwork. While this style—abundant on “Intuition Knows” and sparse elsewhere—does make a moderate appearance, in no way does it detract from the otherwise infernal heat that defines the remainder of the record, with instrumentation focused on delivering furious fight riffs above all else.

Where Extortionist’s instrumental change-up was a sizable curveball from their previous efforts, the vocal growth, maturity and diversity from Ben Hoagland may be the most shocking feature on Sever the Cord. Made no secret from his social media postings and single “Pressure,” Hoagland’s renewed vocal intensity is put into stark contrast by his use of haunting, eerily crooned clean singing. “Intuition Knows”—a song which may as well belong on I Am Hollywood (young bloods, if you don’t know it, google and then listen to it)—is a brilliant example of this. Hoagland’s singing is a welcome addition to Extortionist’s dynamic, adding a whole new dimension to their sound. Meanwhile, “Low Like You,” “The Ones You Love Will Leave” and “Death Remains” are scathing songs through and through, especially the latter of the three, wherein Hoagland spends the last few seconds emptying an entire clip of piss, vinegar and vitriol into the mic. The takeaway is that Hoagland’s distinct voice goes unchanged, save renewed aggression and a new penchant for singing, and his ability to hit a track with everything he has is admirable beyond description—both qualities that make his performance on Sever the Cord remarkable.

Sever the Cord is a release drenched in drama, with enough strife surrounding its eventual release to make it highly anticipated regardless of content. Fortunately—for Extortionist and the heavy music community—the content far exceeds the hype. With well over a half an hour of diverse and immersive heavy music that doesn’t sacrifice creativity for crushing aggression and high energy, Sever the Cord is a stand-out record in a time where seemingly every band is jumping on the panic-chords-and-fight-riffs train. While some of the moodier elements of The Decline are sorely missed, Sever the Cord reflects Extortionist in a different place in their lives and career—a place severed from the throes of restraint and restriction to dead ends and dead weight.



For Fans Of: Born a New, Distinguisher, He Is Legend

By: Connor Welsh