REVIEW: Knives Exchanging Hands – Bitter [EP/2023]

Artist: Knives Exchanging Hands
Album: Bitter – EP

I might be dating myself, but I remember it like it was yesterday—I was in 11th grade, in a venue that could fit maybe 100-150 but was currently far under capacity. Knives Exchanging Hands were on tour supporting their record Hiatus, alongside A Different Breed of Killer. My friends and I had both been avidly studying Hiatus since the day it had released, each of us with our favorite riffs, breakdowns and soaring ambient segments. To no one’s surprise, the band were stellar live, and while this was far from my first experience with deathcore in a live setting, for whatever reason, it continues to live on in my memories as one of my most poignant ones.
Fast forward to 2023—I am very much no longer in high school, and the world is a very different place, but I still think about that time it was me and maybe 20 other sweaty dudes shouting the Jackie Brown sample from “I Aim to Misbehave” in a tiny venue in Romeo, Michigan. What I didn’t have on my bingo card for the year was an all-new EP from these gladiators of progressive deathcore, aptly titled Bitter. While the world is different and much has changed, Knives Exchanging Hands continue to deliver aggressive music that blends atmosphere, melody and mesmerizing progressive undertones to consistently push the genre’s envelope. The result transcends the run-of-the-mill comeback record, and serves as a stellar standalone release from one of the genre’s most historically underrated acts.

Bitter sees the band expanding both on the groovy, crunchy aggression of Hiatus while expanding on the interplay between heaviness and ethereality on The War of Speech, The Weapon of Words. Songs like “A Wound, A Thirst” and lead single “Keep My Name Out of Your Mouth” are outright ruthless cuts where pummeling percussion and razor-sharp fretwork steal the show, carving away at the listener with brutish, dissonant grooves and lacerating leads all the same. Here, the band’s breakdowns land like jabs and spry kicks, peppering the listener with blows—while songs like “Your Fight is Over” start with a lick straight out of an Ion Dissonance record that builds into a colossal series of spine-shrinking chugs before spending the back-half of the song dousing the immolating maelstrom the band has been building in a refreshing dose of atmosphere. Knives Exchanging Hands find themselves brilliantly weaving moments of calm and serenity into a backbone of ferocious deathcore, and while “Your Fight is Over” is certainly the chief example of this, “Bitter” and “What of the Message, Young Blood?” See them expanding on this aspect of their dynamic as well. Here, the band’s abrasive onslaught of percussion slackens and uses rudimentary patterns as a foundation while flourishes of snappy bass and vivid guitar break up the low-tuned, lurid bombardments of brutalizing chugs and grisly grooves that define much of Bitter.

While Knives Exchanging Hands bring a refreshing and nostalgic flare to progressive deathcore, the band’s vocal dynamic is one of the more unique in contemporary heavy music. Almost instantly recognizable from anyone who stumbled across “I Aim to Misbehave” or “The D.O.E. Are Stone Cold Killers” on late-2000s breakdown compilation videos, the band’s vocal element is a hoarse, grating yell that is capable of piercing shrieks and grisly bellows without skipping a beat. “A Wound, A Thirst” and “What of the Message, Young Blood?” Are two personal favorites of the band’s vocal dynamism—while “Your Fight is Over” highlights a stunning guest vocalist who manages to amplify the serene but ever-so-slightly placid calm the second half of the song manages to absolutely excel at creating. It makes sense that with a soundscape as varied and intense as Knives Exchanging Hands’ is, their vocal element would need to keep up, but they manage to do all that and then some—with an awe-inspiring array of styles and pitches to keep the listener hooked through Bitter’s heaviest and most melodic moments both.

Bitter is a stunning release that brings Knives Exchanging Hands back from a prolonged quiescence while feeling like they never really missed a beat at all. Working with Blackplate Records to extract choice elements from both of their outstanding full length records, building on them and blending them beautifully, Bitter is a bold and powerful EP that serves as an excellent gateway into the band’s style for those previously uninitiated as well as a resounding “I’m back” for those who have long awaited their return.

For Fans Of: From the Shallows, Every Bridge Burned, From Graves of Valor, My Hero is Me, Years Spent Cold
By: Connor Welsh