For Fans Of
Regarding ‘Broken‘, the new five-track EP from Adelaide heavy outfit 23/19, I’ve had a couple people tell me that their latest release is a real step up for the South Australian four-piece. And they would all be correct in saying that, in fact. For ‘Broken‘ is a step up from this group’s so-so 2017 single ‘Fatigue‘ and their forgettable 2016 demo. The only issue is that it’s still not all that great in the grand scheme of things, as ‘Broken‘ really is as bland and as meat and potatoes as it gets for hardcore and metalcore these days.
Of course, the band’s recently released EP is absolutely nothing new for the genre(s) – and it was never ever going to be anything different, let’s face it – and while you definitely could listen to much worse, 23/19’s music just isn’t fully “there” yet. My reasoning for that stance is that with the exception of this EP’s minute-long melodic and atmospheric interlude, ‘Nightlife‘, this release’s other four songs are highly interchangeable with one another. To the point where these remaining four tracks – ‘Heartbreak Kid’, ‘Crucio’ (which I think is a Harry Potter throwback), the titular track and closer ‘35th Floor’ – are very similar sounding remixes of each other at best, and the same goddamn song at worst.
The dulled mid-tempo grooves that wearily bash against your skull on-repeat and the borderline obnoxious beatdown-like songwriting approach throughout this EP make it all a chore to sit through. Which really shouldn’t be the case given that it’s only 16-minutes long. The faster hardcore moments, two-step-esque sections, and occasionally melodic instrumental parts (like the bridge section of ‘Heartbreak Kid‘) hint at there being actual life brewing beneath 23/19’s mundane surface, yet you only ever receive faint glimmers of something actually engaging happening but that payoff never arrives. Along with the odd drop-tuned breakdown included only as an excuse so that 23/19 can do those drop-puppet stage moves live, the band’s bottom-dwelling metalcore norms and flat instrumentation only add to this EP’s already dire lack of interesting sections and gripping passages. Then there are the boomy, noisy and rather overbearing distorted guitars that don’t gel well with the other instrumentals or the rest of the mix, what with these under polished chugs taking up of so much space and attention within their respective songs. Now, to be fair, I do actually like the raw, almost sludgy tone and quality to said guitars but they really do sound like they were recorded for another band or another release entirely yet somehow got mixed up with this shit.
Look, if I was watching 23/19 play at Enigma Bar or some other small local venue and they played ‘Broken‘ material along, their aforementioned 2017 single and a song or two from that 2016 demo, I’d be bored to fucking tears. Sure, it’s heavy, but so is a useless bag of bricks too.
Quite clearly from these five songs (four if we discount the EP’s one, phoned-in non-heavy track), these guys do know how to write a passable breakdown or two, they know how to deliver some solid grooves, and they know how to offer a decent enough chug-section. However, that seems to be the full extent of their songwriting abilities currently as it never progresses beyond that arguably one-dimensional plain. If there’s anything deeper, anything better and anything remotely more interesting than “hey, here’s some decent at best mosh parts you’ve probably heard from countless other bands” to be had from 23/19, than you sure as shit won’t find on it this EP.
Lyrically, like the many bands 23/19 are trying to emulate, there’s some pretty dark and brooding stuff housed within this EP’s lyrical content. Which, of course, lends to the heaviness of the music. But, and while it’ll make me sound like a callous dick, it’s never that compelling to listen to, lyrics or otherwise. Whether it’s the emotional breaking points detailed in the EP’s title track, the self-loathing nature of ‘35th Floor‘, or that of being the victim of one toxic relationship in opener and Shawn Michaels referencing ‘Heartbreak Kid‘ as well as second song ‘Crucio‘, it’s never that deep an experience when you pawn over the lyrics. And that’s fine – some people will probably prefer that straight-up and none-pretentious approach to this bands lyric writing. But it does nothing to invest me personally any further into the actual music when I don’t ever feel anything about the emotions and thoughts being offered up here. And I say that as a young man who hates himself more than anybody else ever could.
Based on their prior material and after having given this EP more spins that what was probably necessary, I just can’t help but feel that having some kind of ambition or some sense of self wouldn’t have hurt the band here. Because oh boy, ‘Broken‘ just sounds like 23/19 are trying way too hard to be Alpha Wolf or Graves and not, y‘know, their own fucking band.
The real kicker about ‘Broken’ and 23/19’s music is that there is constantly a trade-off happening. Yes, the breakdowns are heavy and the mosh parts are decent enough, but they’re also so incredibly generic and far from the best you’ll hear this year, let alone the best you’ll hear this month. The occasional melodic guitar parts that crop up do break the sheer monotony of these tracks, but they’re always so short-lived before it’s right back to mind-numbing business as usual. I loved that the bass was actually distinguishable in the mix but wished that bassist Jai Page was given more to work with. Drummer Sam Maloney is the core moving force of the band’s music but his drumming only ever amounts to being “metalcore and beatdown drumming 101”. (Though, judging from this EP and the rest of their releases, it seems like the dude didn’t have much to work with when it came to hitting the tubes either). Yeah, frontman Nathan Stuckey’s vocals are fine but they never go that low nor that extreme either, only adding to the band’s rather bland texture here, sadly. And no doubt that ‘Nightlife’ is a very pretty interlude track, but it just feels so out of place; like it was only included as to force some sense of dynamic into this EP instead of 23/19 aiming to actually do that on the release’s remaining four songs.
Look, besides all of that, ‘Broken’ isn’t totally awful or a total write-off, it’s just offensively mediocre. Some would say that’s worse, though.
1. Heartbreak Kid
5. 35th Floor
‘Broken’ is out now. Also, I’m sure there’s a joke in here somewhere about this new EP being worth a 23/19 rating but I can’t be arsed making it.