One of my favorite things about heavy music—hardcore especially—is its ability to capture so much within the confines of a band’s dynamic. Each song tells a story; that much is obvious, but what’s more is how every song gives insight into the people who made it—their stories, their trials and tribulations, and the place they call home. This is true for the lion’s share of hardcore bands, but among them all, it holds most true for Chicago hardcore unit Drowning. Taking a raunchy, street-savvy breed of beatdown hardcore and infusing it with distinct hip-hop and nu-metal influences both, ranging from borderline Bizkit worship to poignant, powerful tales from the Chi, Drowning capture the essence of Chicago living so expertly that even someone who has never spent more than a week there—so, someone like me—can feel like they’ve spent a decade or more roaming those streets. Still heavy as all hell, but carefully and creatively written to tell stories of struggle, near-defeat and subsequent overwhelming victory, 23 is the voice of an act with one foot locked firmly in traditional hardcore and beatdown influence and another sneaking its toes into something new and exciting, creating a sound that will serve as a template for artists to come for years.
23 is a record as grandiose as its name implies, infringing on a truly legendary status. Taking Drowning’s background as a cold-blooded, hard-as-nails Midwestern beatdown hardcore band, 23 sees the outfit renovating their sound with the infusion of overt hip-hop and nu-metal sounds, coming across as the ten-ton heavyweight, older, buffer and more street-savvy Limp Bizkit—but fear not, because the band’s penchant for bone-busting heaviness still reigns supreme. Songs like “U.A.S.H.” and “World of Snakes” are immolating from start to finish, combining punchy, huge drums with soul-smothering chugs and thick, bouncy bass that creates layer after layer of oppressive mayhem. Meanwhile, “Run It” and “Want It More”—not to mention “Gods,” which is absolutely true to its name—draw more heavily from a newfound love of 90s-era hip-hop and nu-metal. Here, the bass kicks it up a notch, echoing every dense smack of the kick drum, brilliantly contrasting the sharp, slicing snare. Even with the more mellow and fluid atmosphere that rears its head during parts of the aforementioned tracks, there are still some hectic moments and hellishly hot leads found within, not mention build-ups to bare-knuckle, gut-busting, skull-cracking beatdowns and breakdowns that hit harder than Mike Tyson after a bad breakup. Every song brings something heavy to the table to keep Drowning’s sprawling, extant fan base on board—while infusing something truly new and unique, appealing to fans of heavy music spanning generations.
Even if you’re reading this and have (somehow) never actually heard Drowning’s music before, I’d be more than willing to bet you’re at least familiar with the attitude and intensity they bring to their music and the Chicago heavy music scene as a whole. Packed with aggressive, violent and, at times, introspective energy, 23 is, in that respect, no different. Also following in the footsteps of it’s predecessors, 23 boasts a large range of guest vocal appearances from heavy hardcore, blackened/slamming death metal and hip-hop alike—but it’s all just icing on top of the band’s resident frontman’s excellent efforts. A departure from their previous efforts, 23 sees Drowning utilizing much less native harsh (or “screamed” if the term “harsh vocals” bothers you) vocal work in favor of raw, half-yelled, half-spat, fluid and catchy syllabic excellence. Songs like “Run It” highlight this—as even when I wasn’t the biggest fan of the track originally, it quickly grew on me—and “Want It More,” as well as many others. On the other hand, “World of Snakes” and “Burnin’ Alive” are throwbacks to the more beatdown-heavy range of Drowning’s dynamic spectrum. The takeaway is simple—even with the use of several styles and touching on several topics ranging from personal to pure hatred, Drowning are consistent and crushing vocally, just as they are instrumentally.
23 might not be for everyone at first—but I’d bet the farm that after a very short learning curve, listeners with any background in heavy music will find themselves addicted. Drowning bring heaviness, catchiness and creativity by the boatload in an effort to turn rap, metal, hardcore—all of it—on its ear. From “Burnin’ Alive” to “Uninspired” and “U.A.S.H.” and beyond, the band have outdone their already-monstrous effort EgoTrip with ease, creating an album that throws it back just enough to play to nostalgia, but still manages to be unique and legendary in its own right.
For Fans Of: Limp Bizkit, Wolfpack, E Town Concrete
By: Connor Welsh