Centuries // Broken Hymns
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — A good, but not essential case study
Label: Southern Lord
Websites: facebook.com/centuriesfl  |  http://centuriesfl.bandcamp.com/
Release Dates: World Wide: 2013.04.23

CenturiesRecently signed to Southern Lord, Florida-based hardcore act Centuries combine the frenzy of hardcore with emotive metalcore, hardcore punk ferocity and even some d-beat heaviness. After participating in SXSW, the band are currently holed up in Greensboro, North Carolina to record their next record (and full-length debut) for the venerable American label, Southern Lord. In advance of that all new release, indie label Halo of Flies is releasing Broken Hymns, a collection of all of their available work to date. The record includes material from their Creation/Extinction 7”, a split EP with Patsy O’Hara (from which the titular track of this record comes) and another split with Homestretch, as well as four original songs.

Centuries have a sound that certainly displays some points of comparison to label mates Nails, but their closest relations are other young, hybrid hardcore acts like Full of Hell and Code Orange Kids. Like the latter two bands, Centuries display a boundless black hole of energy, but aren’t just flailing wildly; they are able to direct their ravenousness in carefully considered, productive ways, so even at their most chaotic, the structure of their work is apparent. Their performances and their songwriting, right from their earliest material, is tight and well-crafted, which is always promising.

As a record, Broken Hymns is, by it’s very nature, uneven. Including work that was released as early as 2010 right up until the present day, and presented in chronological order, it effectively captures the early development and evolution of Centuries‘ aesthetic. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as being able to look back and watch a band progress and make decisions about their sound and tone as they progress can be fascinating. You can see them become more heavy in tone, favoring the low-end more and more over time, and being drawn to a thick, chugging guitar tone. While their metalcore delivery remains intact, they gradually move away from the metallic and more towards a hardcore punk energy. While this is certainly interesting, it doesn’t make for a cohesive listen, and beyond the story of the band itself, the record has no narrative. Its status as a curiosity, a collection, is both a strength and a weakness.

However, the value of the material it collects is enough to make Broken Hymns more enticing that a mere early discography. The three tracks from the Patsy O’Hara split, for example haveCenturies2 a dark, almost foreboding tone to them, and a distinctly atmospheric focus, especially “Dusk.” There is more of a singed, Cursed-core angle to these tracks that makes them particularly strong.  The three short, blasting tracks from the Homestretch split, identified solely by Roman numerals, are more unhinged and chaotic. Their earliest work has a burnt-out, smoldering quality.

The newest material from Centuries, and the last on the album, is unquestionably the best written and most mature. Again returning to a more atmospheric, brooding quality, the tracks make use of frequent tone and pace changes to keep the listener imbalanced. “Caeruleus” alternates between moody, smoky passages with trembling guitars and slow grooves that evoke a body rocking back and forth in misery, to demented chaos, complete with raw screams. “Metus” is the most metallic thing Centuries has done in a while, with an almost blackened song structure and a chilly, distorted bleakness.

While Broken Hymns is unquestionably a record that is less as a whole than its individual parts, it is nonetheless a fascinating case study. It also will serve to pique a lot of listeners’ interest in advance of their forthcoming full-length.

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