Album: Sustainer – EP
Part of the grim life-cycle for bands involved in any scene—but especially the heavy music scene—is inevitable death. It’s a bummer, to say the least; no one likes to see a band they like and have followed for weeks, months or years cease to play music. However, there is often a silver lining in the cloud of ash that hovers over every band’s implosion—the comfort that, many times, new artists rise from the ashes to sustain the scene’s needs for fresh blood and new life. Portland-based chaotic hardcore quintet Sustainer follow this same cycle. Created from pieces of renowned heavy acts American Me, Defeat the Low, Jean Grey and Above the Broken, Sustainer borrow slivers of sound and style from each act and use them to build a foundation for the furious speed and punishing heaviness prevalent on the band’s debut EP. Built on dizzying drumming, raunchy riffs and brutalizing breakdowns, Sustainer sound like a surreal fusion of Norma Jean and Dead to Fall, carefully—yet whimsically—blending a cornucopia of crushing –core influences together to create something absurd and original.
Instrumentally, Sustainer are diverse and devastating. With only one track straying over three minutes (and only by a few seconds at that), the band work diligently to bombard the listener with salvo after salvo of scalding riffs and speedy drumming with more energy than ten energizer bunnies on ten thousand grams of meth amphetamine. From the first spastic segment of “Jump Shot,” percussionist Duncan Allen leads the band, serving as Sustainer’s arrhythmic and unpredictable heartbeat. Allen’s insane fills and whirlwind candor throughout “Jump Shot” drop into more steady and almost dancy drumming on “Get Your Mind Right” and “Everyday PMA” before—you guessed it—gunning it again and leaving the listener in a daze for the final songs. With Allen bouncing hither and to with ludicrous speed and matchless technicality, it’s a wonder anyone can keep up—but bassist Josephus Manning has no issue. Manning matches Allen’s kick drum almost beat for beat, tracing his sharp fills on “Jump Shot” while adding beef and heft to the breakdowns in “Everyday PMA” and “No Convo,” all the while giving a low-strung and lurid firmament for guitarists Devin Stanford and Scott King to build upon. While Allen’s polyrhythmic and jagged drumming set the speed and tone for Sustainer’s sinister sound, Stanford and King are what make it leap out of the speakers at the listener’s head. “Jump Shot”—perhaps one of the busiest songs on the bustling EP—proves this before the song is even half-way through, while the longer “Think x2” sees the duo taking the time (even if it’s only a couple seconds) to drop into lower-tempo grooves before slamming the listener’s head into the ground with a series of concussive chugs. Stanford and King take what Allen and Manning give them—a frenzied, furious canvas—and make it into pure gold, roaming from riff-driven aggression to bone-snapping breakdowns without missing a beat.
Where Sustainer’s instrumentation is reminiscent of hopped-up hardcore with splashes of groove, the band’s vocal element is high-strung and grating, using the band’s musical momentum to its advantage. Frontman Chris James takes bizarre grooves and brutal heaviness both and covers it with six tracks of remarkably unique lyricism with unique vocals to match. Screeching and shouting with a primarily high register, James hits topics from Michael Jordan (“Jump Shot”) to positive thinking (“Everyday PMA”) with equal intensity. The result? Even if the lyrical content seems far-fetched, the listener eats it up as if it was a State of the Union address. James has a way of making every topic sound sincere, even while having fun with it. From the catchy mosh call in “Jump Shot” to the entirety of “Think x2,” James takes a soundscape many vocalists would be afraid to try and shout over and absolutely nails it.
Sustainer are frantic, furious, crushing and catchy all in one. Even where “No Convo” and “Punchknife” seem to blend into one song, and “Jump Shot” will likely emerge as a favorite after one or two listens, the entire EP is a cohesive and contemporary example of chaotic hardcore done perfectly. With unrivaled production and incredible songwriting at the band’s disposal, Sustainer emerge as an amalgam of several different styles of metal and hardcore bands to create something unlike their previous acts—and furthermore, unlike much of what is abundant in the heavy music community now. With dancy portions and portions that would be dancy…if the listener could keep up…Sustainer strike gold with their debut, establishing a solid dynamic that many fans of hardcore, metalcore and more will be excited to see them build on the future.
For Fans Of: Norma Jean, Converge, Duck Duck Goose, Dead to Fall
By: Connor Welsh