You like metal, bro? More importantly, you like bro metal? Boy, have I got the thing for you. Chicago quintet Harm’s Way, a band that makes the last Dyscarnate album look like fucking Modest Mouse. Formed in 2006 as the side project of Chicago punk band Few and the Proud, this quintet soon became a full-time band with 2009 debut Reality Approaches and 2011’s Isolation. Yet wider recognition wouldn’t come until the group signed with Deathwish Records to release 2015’s excellent Rust. Actually, ‘release’ isn’t the right word – they fucking unleashed that album. While maintaining a hardcore foundation, Rust showed Way pummeling listeners with death metal and even industrial influences, all without evoking the dreaded ‘deathcore’ tag. It was a massive record that did wonders for my weightlifting regime, and somehow Metal Blade debut Posthuman is even better.
In a word, Posthuman is punishing. It’s heavy, in-your-face, and loud. It doesn’t ask for your acceptance or forgiveness, only that you give it a chance to bash your fucking face into a facsimile of that cover art.1 Like its predecessor, the base sound here is a mix of toughguy hardcore, industrial, and a bit of death metal, only Posthuman finds a way to make that even heavier and more aggressive. The guitar tone is thunderous, vocalist James Pligge roars like a bear, and the Godflesh-meets-Last Ten Seconds of Life songwriting is liable to cause stress fractures. You thought you knew heavy? Prepare to be schooled.
Opener “Human Carrying Capacity” is crushing from the start, riding a groove that sounds like a two-ton Pantera before erupting into a beatdown chorus and finishing with a good old-fashioned breakdown. And oh, that breakdown. That breakdown is the heaviest thing I’ve heard since 2007. That breakdown is so heavy my future children are still going to be feeling the aftershocks from it. It’s so over-the-top heavy that it’s practically a work of art, and fortunately this is just the start of the goodies Posthuman has to offer.
Take early highlight “Sink,” whose crunchy riffs and repeated vocal motif of “Justify your judgment!” are guaranteed to make your balls feel ten times bigger. But even that’s not as catchy as “Become A Machine,” whose swift chugs and roars of the track title are made more powerful by the clever trick of occasionally dropping out the guitars for a couple beats. Follow-up “Call My Name” evokes a revelation: anytime you’ve heard music described as ‘destructive’ in the past, it’s fallen short of what that word truly means. The steady pounding rhythm and wormy verse guitars sound like Godflesh cut up and thrown in a protein shake, and the electronic background effects recall a phone ringing off the hook while a building is leveled by a wrecking ball.
Yet for all the overbearing heft, Posthuman is a surprisingly well-constructed album, both in terms of track order and variety. While several of these 10 songs follow a roughly verse-chorus structure, second track “Last Man” eschews that formula by barreling forward for two minutes like a beefed-up Terror. Songs like “Temptation” offer a welcome respite from the heft with bass-led verses and wry noise rock guitars, while penultimate track “The Gift” likewise calms things by sounding more like an industrial ambient piece. With an average track length of 3 minutes and a runtime of 34, these songs say their piece and get out, no fluff or bullshit left in their wake. Meanwhile the guitars shift delightfully between grooves, chugs, dissonance, and even tremolos, never lingering too long but always leaving an impact. And though the production is explosive and crushed to hell, it’s hard to consider that a negative for how well it fits the album’s aesthetic.
In fact, other than its obvious niche appeal, I’m having trouble coming up with negatives for Posthuman. It’s catchy, it’s well-written, and moments like the twisted notes and melodic shouts of closer “Dead Space” highlight how each track has its own identity. Even the Meshuggah-esque theme of “progressing above and beyond the confines of what is considered human” feels far more intelligent than countless other bro-core acts. Ultimately, Harm’s Way have crafted an incredibly powerful and enjoyable record, and one that’s sure to appeal to fans of Xibalba, Code Orange, or curious listeners looking to expand their musical bro-cabulary. Just don’t ask about my bench press stats.