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People like to tell themselves that what they’re doing with their life is right and that they’re a good person; that they aren’t evil, and that they aren’t guilty of any real sin or crime. We as human beings tend to tell ourselves this at various points in our lives, simply to reassure ourselves that we aren’t the problem. Because surely neither you nor myself could ever be the root of our own issues or the cause of problems that affect other human beings, right? …Right?
I’ve taken this self-reassuring path a couple times in my life and I’m confident that you – the person taking time out of their day to read this review – have done so too. Whether it was right before you closed your eyes and let unconsciousness embrace you on one particular night; following a difficult time or tough situation you experienced that left a profound mark on you; or perhaps even during a calm, happy period of your life that you indulged with in order to keep your head up. Whatever the case may be, I believe that these internally focused, ultimately selfish “lies” are a universal trait we humans share. Yet through avenues such as the media and the Internet, we’re often confronted with the revelation that our perceived morality isn’t quite as clean or as justified as we had initially thought.
For how do you change and improve not only yourself but also your community when your ignorance is cured and you see that the pleasures of your life come at the deep cost of another? Where do you turn when you’re backed right into a corner and you realise that you’re fucked because you are the very person who put yourself there? How do you carry on when the foundations of your life crumble beneath your very feet and all that’s left is pieces to be put back together? And what do you do when you’re empathy is completely shot and your life is lacking purpose?
These are the questions and concepts that Sydney’s prime hardcore outfit, Vices, battle with at the core of their third LP, ‘Now That I Have Seen I Am Responsible’; their heaviest, darkest and most emotional record to date.
Admittedly, I don’t have the answers to those above questions and I think that for the most part, neither do Vices. But a lack of answers doesn’t stop this band from trying to find said answers nor does it stop them from trying to improve the world around them with their music, for change first begins in both the hearts and minds of the individual before it’s tangible.
Now, when you break this album’s title – ‘Now That I Have Seen I Am Responsible‘ – right down to the core, there are two distinct parts. There is the realisation and understanding of the problem (‘Now That I Have Seen…’) and then there is the accountability and action taken to rectify that problem (‘…I Am Responsible’). Just like the two-part nature of its title, one-half of this record’s track listing rests within the personal, internal camp inhabited by the inner thoughts of vocalist John McAleer. The remaining songs deal with the politics of the external world; something the band has a big chip on their collective shoulders about.
For now, we’ll talk a bit about that former half.
The short and sweet melodic hardcore affair of the self-hating ‘Wither//Collapse’ is a deep dive into the mind of McAleer and the harsh opinions he has of himself. The slow-then-fast-then-slow-again ripper of ‘Isolation‘ deals with the fear of death and the unknown. The 50-second rapid assault that is ‘Grey‘ goes from 0-100 in a split second, and deals with the inward battle against loneliness and the struggle to find self-acceptance. Also, while I’m on the topic, ‘Grey‘ has now overtaken ‘Sustain‘ and ‘Vices Go‘/’Perspectives‘ as the best set opener Vices have ever written to date.
Then there’s the album’s key emotional crux, ‘Alone’, an impactful, harrowing tale of the vocalist’s divorce last year in which he deals with the fallout of said split, going from a having a full, loving family to having an empty home, and how this situation will affect him and his young daughter henceforth. It’s powerful stuff and is bound to put a lump in your throat. ‘Alone‘ also showcases one of the rare moments where McAleer has sung clean vocals for Vices (he also has some better pitched screams across the board here too) and it works damn well. Above all else, it feels natural for not only that particular song but for him as a vocalist and for the band’s overall sound.
I’m going to flog a now dead horse and say ‘Do you see this shit, Suicide Silence?’ The clean singing is not the issue, the fucking songwriting is what really matters, you stubborn bastards!
Anyway, as for the latter of the album’s external themes, there’s the hardcore, militant vegan endorsement of ‘Species’ (which didn’t convert me as I love meat too much – sorry guys) and the sheer hopelessness found on ‘Purpose‘, which is neatly summed up by the prominent line of “you’re born, you learn, you work, you die“. Then there’s my new personal favourite Vices tune, the recently released ‘Hell‘, which is bound to see the band loose a few ears with its harsh comments on religion. Here, the scathing lyrical criticisms of the traditions within organised religion and their implementation today, combined with epic tremolo guitars, surging drums and a real sense of grandeur, create a truly unforgettable moment. ‘Hell‘ is made all the more effective by the fact that McAleer comes from a religious background (see: the first Vices album, ‘Between My Mind And The World‘.) But this isn’t just the stance of your typical ‘Fuck religion/Fuck God’ individual cashing in on the angst of rebellious youths, but rather, a man voicing his own experiences and his deep concerns about one of the most central yet most rotten pillars of society.
Moving away from self-inflicted hatred and the politics of the wider world for a place somewhere in between comes the vicious pace and unrelenting instrumentals of the mid-album duo, ‘Treachery…’ and ‘…Suffocate’. This short, intense, and aggressive pair tell the true story of a vile incident that hit very close to home for Vices, in which a young female friend of theirs was taken advantage of by an adult; someone that she should’ve been able to trust; someone who was supposed to protect her. ‘…Treachery‘ is that story, that loss of innocence and the deep personal damage inflicted to their young friend, but the 40-second follow-up punisher of ‘…Suffocate‘ is the band holding nothing back with galloping rhythms and aggressive lyrics like “I think I’d take comfort in your death” and “Maybe it will bring some peace to know that you are not here“.
And for real, fuck that guy in question; that son of a bitch deserves to suffer the very worst. Seems only fair to me for his own heinous actions.
Finally, and on a much lighter note, Vices key strength has always been the speed and brevity of their music, and they’ve continued that running trend here. Because goddamnit, these guys know how their shit works and they know exactly how Vices should sound.
Which has only been exacerbated by the guidance and tight production from Jay Maas. The blast beats, fast tempos and thunderous beats summoned up by drummer Marcus Tamp (whose drumming has never sounded this good) drives the quick riffs and stomping chugs of guitarists Calum Waldegrave and Jake Forrest; whose guitar work has also never been this beefy or impactful before. The short energetic bursts of hardcore-punk that are found across each of these 13 songs also mean this album’s welcome is never once worn out (and will provide the band with many more punk-jump opportunities.)
With ‘Now That I Have Seen I Am Responsible‘, Vices get in, say their peace loudly and quickly, and get out just as quickly as they entered; allowing you to listen to and enjoy this ripping record in an extremely efficient manner. Seriously, this album will be the best 24-minute experience you’re likely to hear in 2017.
On a solely musical level, ‘Now That I Have Seen I Am Responsible’ lands the same beats as always for Vices. For this third record shows Vices as they have and potentially always will be; short, fast, cathartic, energetic, and bloody solid. Yet on a purely emotional and thematic level, this is by far their most potent work yet. When you combine those two factors together, along with the tighter mix and production helmed by Jay Maas, you get a punchier, consistent hardcore/punk record that only further proves these Sydney boys will forever kick ass. Is it more of the same? Yes, but that’s no bad thing in this case. Although, while this is without a doubt a damned good record, I must admit that it doesn’t surpass 2014’s truly excellent ‘We’ll Make it Through This‘ for me, but it definitely came close. It does leave ‘Between My Mind And The World’ for dead, though!
‘Now That I Have Seen I Am Responsible’ is out March via Resist Records. Get it here. You can read our brutally honest, in-depth interview with John McAleer right here. Excluding ‘Home’, check out the closest that Vices have ever gotten to being a metalcore band below with ‘Broken’.