REVIEW: I AM – Hard 2 Kill [2018]

Artist: I AM

Album: Hard 2 Kill

The year is 2018. Deathcore—once regaled, then rendered
repugnant and now rejuvenated—is no longer a “dirty word” in most heavy music
circles. With this revival, several bands took the genre back to its roots,
built on a gnashing fusion of extreme death metal and brazen hardcore. That did
wonders for bringing back some of the genre’s appeal to those who had survived
the “first wave” and wanted a splash of nostalgia. But, as deathcore resurged,
as did bands that took the sound and made it even more primal, moving toward
the extremes of both hardcore and death metal to fuse them into something
furious and otherworldly.

Reigning above all the bands that went that route, I AM
remain supreme.

With Life Through
Torment
, and even their Memento Mori
EP that preceeded it, I AM used heavy-handed breakdowns and slams in sharp
contrast with scathing riffs and straight-up Texan heat to make a name and a
reputation for themselves. Has that changed with Hard 2 Kill? Hell no it hasn’t, and if anything, the band are even
riffier and more pissed off than before. Hard
2 Kill
captures all the ignorant, brazen aggression the album’s name boasts
into a riff-laden, groove-tinted and bone-breakingly heavy release that fans of
I AM’s previous works—as well as the uninitiated—will fall in love with in
minutes flat.

Hard 2 Kill  is a primal assault on the senses that lurches
forward with the unstoppable, crushing nature of a steamroller but the
razor-sharp nature of barbed wire. Songs like “Paid in Sin” or “In Lust We
Trust” highlight this excellently, combining crushing breakdowns with soaring
leads and immense riffs that perfectly capture the bands ability to meld death
metal and hardcore. Percussionist Ian Scott dominates on these tracks—never being
too over-the-top or technical, veering away from the obsession with 300
beats-per-minute blast beats and insane fills that much of the current heavy
music scene is so infatuated with. Instead, from the first salvo of sonic fury
within “Texas Death,” Scott keeps it simple with raw, hard-hitting patterns
that sprinkle in just enough flare to keep them out of boring territory—and instead,
making him the perfect compliment to the fretwork from guitarists Chris Burgess
and Tom Reyes. Burgess and Reyes are titans, with “Steel Roses” and “In Lust We
Trust” highlighting their more melodic elements and “Texas Death,” “Burn” and
the album’s title track seeing their more ruthless sides. Between the two,
grooves, riffs and slamming segments of bewildering brutality are abundant, and
just about every track features at least one moment where the listener’s jaw
will slacken. “Burn,” for one, is a personal favorite when it comes to seeing
how excellently the duo work with Scott’s drumming, whereas “Texas Death” is
probably one of the most energetic, hype-inducing intros since Kublai Khan’s “Antpile”
from late last year (which is high praise if you never got around to it). All
in all, I AM bring heat and intensity to even the most ethereal songs they
create, crafting nothing but malevolent mosh anthems with some spice and a
penchant for good ol’ metal to keep them fresh.

I AM aren’t just an instrumental onslaught, however. Over
the past three or four years, the band have become a staple not just for their
gritty, metallic take on contemporary heavy music, but for the unique voice
that fronts them. Vocalist Andrew HIleman has one of the more distinct voices
in modern heavy music and it matches the raw, no-holds-barred attitude that I
AM boast excellently. Songs like “In Lust We Trust” see his voice dominating,
holding a catchy-but-crushing candor that allows even simple segments—like the
track’s opening line—to stay stuck in the listener’s head. Other cuts, like “Burn”
and “Steel Roses” clash Hileman’s penchant for poetic lyrical imagery with the
grim and ghastly; an ideal complement to the cruel and brutalizing nature of Hard 2 Kill’s overall tone. In short,
there isn’t much I have to say about HIleman that I haven’t said on reviews for
Memento Mori or Life Through Torment—or that you, the listener and reader, don’t
already know. He is energetic, dynamic, voracious and intense—everything I AM
needs in a vocalist to match their style.

Hard 2 Kill might
as well be named Hard 2 Beat because
when it comes to bands colliding traditional metal with modern deathcore and
hardcore, few acts even come close to the reputation I AM have—let alone the
fact that every ounce of that reputation is hard earned. Hard 2 Kill is as crushing and violent as its namesake (or as the
Steven Segal movie that shares the same name), and doesn’t let up for anything
or anyone. In short, I AM are every bit the Texas Death they so proudly have
claimed.

9/10

For Fans Of: Bodysnatcher, Kublai Khan, Varials, The Acacia
Strain, Shame Spiral

By: Connor Welsh