REVIEW: Before the Harvest – Wretched Existence [2015]


Artist: Before the Harvest

Album: Wretched Existence


From a faraway planet, by a mysterious, malicious species—we are being watched. Our every move annotated; our growth from primitive mammals into complex, creative and contemporary men and women recorded. Every instance of our cruelty, cunning viciousness and cutthroat violence has been made permanent and will be held against us when we as are put on trial—and are forced to pay for the sum of our wretched existences. This is a story of boundless brutality and bloodshed on a cosmic scale—beautifully detailed and bone-splinteringly heavy—it is the debut full-length album by Brisbane bone busters, Before the Harvest. Wretched Existence is a curious, creative amalgamation of slamming death metal and blackened deathcore with an entrancing symphonic twist. Flesh-melting slams and skin-peeling riffs go head-to-head against low, slow breakdowns and sludgy, surreal moments of dreary atmosphere to ignite a war of pure sonic misanthropy inside the listener’s head, reducing their brain to rust and rendering them ready for harvest.

Before the Harvest play a dangerous game, instrumentally speaking. Build off of building blocks borrowed from genres that are profuse with monotony and mediocrity, this Australian quintet truly roll the dice when they decide to begin with complex base materials and build towards the sky with them. Miraculously, they manage to capture the best elements slamming death metal has to offer and throw it in a blender with a raw essence of blackened deathcore and set it off on full-tilt—while someone plays an eerie Tchaikovsky symphony in the background. Wretched Existence is, as they say, all killer and no filler: a brilliant and bone-breaking combination of ridiculously heavy influences that is as toxic as rat poison and as effective as arsenic. Percussionist Eli Ryan goes on a rampage from start to finish—breaking every bone and body part in his path from the first crushing salvo of “Process of Deterioration,” all the way through the immense “Obscene Turpitude.” Ryan ravages the listener without relent or remorse, serving as an intense, driving force to be reckoned with—with a sharp, splitting snare and a rumbling, earth-quaking kick drum that will rattle the listener’s brain like marbles in a cup. Ryan sets the pace for Before the Harvest, keeping each track moving from moments of jarring technicality (provided by segments like the intense blast beats in “Achulophobia”) to mammoth-like crushing brutality, exemplified by “Nefarious Voracity.” Wretched Existence is a gem in large part to the percussion that it is built upon—where countless drummers rely on hyperspeed (and hyperdull) blast-beats, Ryan uses them sparingly, instead writing and hammering away creative kick drum patterns and dizzying fills to captivate the listener. In this respect, his work on “Lifeform Disintegration Ray” is just as marvelous as it is on “Denouement…,” even though the tracks are markedly different.

Ryan’s drumming works in dynamic tandem with Brennan Richardson’s beastly bass grooves to define Before the Harvest’s fluid, furious song structure and dynamic. Richardson’s bass—while often smothered under Ryan’s immense drumming and the cacophony of other crushing elements the quintet bring to the table—is often heard when Wretched Existence is about to take a gutwrenching turn for the worst—and by worst, I mean heaviest. Where there is a breakdown, slam or beatdown to be had, Richardson is there, heralding the oncoming onslaught with zeal and vigor—adding more depth to Before the Harvest in a manner that separates them from a great majority of other slamming, brutalizing deathcore acts: meaningful fretwork. Gone are the days of quickly plucked, indistinguishably low riffs relying on 0’s and 1’s: guitarists Coen Hammelswang and Jack Van Rynswoud usher in a new and vivacious trend for hyper-heavy deathcore bands to pick up on: riffs and grooves that are more than just quickly played breakdowns. Hammelswang and Rynswoud play in perfect concert with Ryan’s relentless drumming while giving plenty of room for the band’s symphonic keys and atmospheric elements to blossom—grooving and gushing away on “Overriding the Menial,” but giving enough heaviness to last a lifetime on “Filthy Breed” and “Obscene Turpitude” both. Lower than the ninth circle of Hell and meatier than Burger King’s headquarters, Hammelswang and Van Rynswoud are prodigal legends at low and slow devastation, but still leave room for Richardson’s bass prowess to segue smoothly into moments of skin-peeling brutality.

If Before the Harvest’s blitzing drumming, blistering fretwork and sinful slamming didn’t reduce the listener’s insides to pulp, the band’s vocal element will surely finish the job. Frontman Josh McKenna’s roars rip through the listener’s ear drums, course through their auditory meatus like acid and poison every square centimeter of the listener’s brain. Fluent in a lexicon of lurid lows and screeching highs, with more techniques to choose from than the listener can imagine, McKenna is a misanthrope of the highest order, adding a full-bodied and ferocious vocal element to every track he appears on. Screeches like those on “Lifeform Disintegration Ray” (assisted by another prodigal talent, Duncan Bentley of Vulvodynia) are top-notch not simply for slam-tinted deathcore styles, but for deathcore as a whole. His skill in a comprehensive array of styles, as well as his incredible endurance and power make him a force not simply to be reckoned with, but to fear whole-heartedly. On Wretched Existence, McKenna adds himself to the already legendary vocalists Australia has born, proving he can hold his own against the likes of I, Valiance, A Night in Texas, Signal the Firing Squad and Aversions Crown.

Before the Harvest are what might happen if someone isolated and extracted Make them Suffer’s symphonic elements and injected them in the man-made monster of Signal the Firing Squad’s sinister, heavy skeleton filled out with the meat and blood of Aversions Crown’s fleeting speed and engaging energy. Wretched Existence slams just as hard as any of the UK’s legendary slam-deathcore acts, but packs a catchy, hooky whallop that can only be found with bands well-versed in symphonic song structure—evident in the anthemic, atmospheric dirge “Denouement…,” as well as many other moments on the album’s more aggressive tracks. Before the Harvest are bold, intelligent and incredibly heavy—making them a band that any fan of heavy music should acquaint themselves with before they’re left behind and sentenced for harvest.



For Fans Of: Aversions Crown, Ingested, Thy Art is Murder, Make them Suffer, Signal the Firing Squad

By: Connor Welsh