Something strange has been happening to mathcore lately. Or at least the public perception of it. It seems the most well-known mathcore bands now are those that temper their sound with passages of calm and big choruses. And I’m not complaining. I love big choruses. Giant shifts of tone and extreme musical contrasts are a natural extension of the genre: mathcore has its roots in musical whiplash and making the listener work to keep up, so tossing in a passage of industrial polka trancecore* is all part of the fun really. But there is an appeal to mathcore bands who sticks closer to the genre’s beginning as an offshoot of hardcore and this is the space in which The Crinn sit: a grind-infused punky white-knuckle ride through one band’s stripped-down vision of what mathcore is meant to be.
Coming on like someone fed your local grind band a dangerous mixture of amphetamines and jazz lessons, Shadowbreather, their latest album, is what mathcore feels like with all the extraneous musical elements snapped off. The Crinn have no need for such ornamentations, focusing on capturing the essence of the genre in spectacular style. The result is difficult but rich and rewarding, a warchest of riffs that threaten to blow the listener’s head clean off if not handled properly. Following on in the footsteps laid by the best of their predecessors, the music embraces chaos but crucially it never feels totally disordered. A lot of this lies in the strength of the riffs, which are distinctive enough to act as soothing musical placeholders to comfort and reassure the listener as the album bludgeons them senseless. The music is sure-footed in the emotions it intends to convey, anger being the foremost, but also finds ways to be almost disturbing, cleverly writing some parts to sound like straight ahead rock that has been twisted just enough to sound dissonant, using a similar technique to horror writers who take something familiar and then break and mold it into something that will haunt your nightmares for weeks. The production is spot on, borrowing certain atmospheric elements from black metal and coming off the better for it. It somehow manages to simultaneously feel polished and like it was recorded in a murder house, a perplexing but impressive accomplishment. Dense enough to reward repeated listens and immediate enough to make headbanging feel mandatory, The Crinn have crafted a terrific album here and reminded us that you don’t need synths and a drum machine for your mathcore to leave the listener dizzy and breathless. You can listen to Endless from Shadowbreather below and find the rest of the album on the group’s bandcamp page
*Warning: Genre may not exist.