Hardcore largely exists as a reaction to things in the world that invoke the ire of an angry singer. This can range from society as a whole (Pro-Pain), the government (Sick of It All), or some unnamed person who wronged the narrator so often and so consistently that it literally must be their job to anger the guy (Terror). This blunt and reactionary anger translates over to the music, which is a bunch of chugging at various speeds made for maximum aggression, kinetic impact, and an endless sea of mosh pits. British bruisers The Hell are reductio ad absurdum for hardcore, amping up every ridiculous aspect of the genre to eleven on their third full-length Brutopia, skewering the genre for, to employ advanced British parlance, shits and giggles. They poured the gas, lit the match, and chug through moshable riffs while Rome burns, like a shouty Nero played by Scott Vogel.
Brutopia embraces a very modern form of hardcore that borrows heavily from the almost djent-y elements of modern The Acacia Strain, but The Hell are much more focused on fun tunes than complimenting pseudo-nihilistic rants with something dark. They’ve changed a bit since last year’s Groovehammer by incorporating some hard rock influence into the mix, but still sound pretty much the same. Like Gloryhammer‘s use of intentionally poor English to compliment ridiculous fantasy tales, The Hell mix rap’s braggadocios boasting with hardcore’s sense of brotherhood, tough love, and general anger, ending up giving myriad shout-outs to themselves exclusively and having a positive opinion on nothing but their own music. All of this is delivered by vocals that remind of Lou Koller (Sick of it All), Katherine Katz (Agoraphobic Nosebleed), and various angry British men (the pub when England loses at something on the telly) with the addition of gruff clean vocals as well.
While The Hell focuses on being as outwardly obnoxious as possible, their material is legitimately clever; much like Space 1992, Brutopia is elevated from a one-trick pony to worthwhile, fun, and sometimes hilarious parody. Applying the carefree silliness of pizza thrash to hardcore, “One More Time” spends its duration layering energetic vocals concerned solely with the fact that The Hell is “back-er than ever” and “spitting hot fire like a dragon who’s back” over catchy staccato riffs, making for a strong and funny first impression. “Sick” toys with an arena-ready version of hardcore, merging a massively hooky hard rock chorus with choppy hardcore rhythms to great effect that succeeds in being a great bit of fun. The Agorapocalypse-meets-Meshuggah pounding of “Just Curious” suits the takedown of modern tech-death well, but the most satisfying lyricism appears in “I’ve Got Loads of Money” among its throbbingly hooky chugs. Mixing rap’s over-the-top financial posturing with hardcore’s have-not sentiments makes for some very funny stuff, and the purposeful butchery of Pink Floyd‘s introductory “Money” bass riff is just icing on the cake.
While Brutopia is generally a blast to listen to, it loses steam in the middle. “Gather Round” is a spoken word interlude that lacks replay value which leads into the straightforward hardcore of the title track before going into “DH1 Classic Album” which is another standalone interlude. It divides Brutopia in an unappealing way and makes it seem lighter on content than it actually is. This means that it comes across as a lesser record than last year’s Groovehammer even though it has better material overall. It’s hard to deny the sheer entertainment value of The Hell‘s music, but at the same time it can satisfy your itch for this stuff (provided you have one) within a few songs, and given that Brutopia has four of its best songs right at the beginning, that further exacerbates the loss of momentum in the midsection. While the post-middle comeback “Painiac” is fine, it doesn’t provide an exciting enough second wind to lessen the damage done by being one of Brutopia‘s weaker cuts.
Brutopia‘s production values are outright sterile, but this works with the sound The Hell is going for. Drums sound almost entirely replaced, bass pops up to do some cool licks but mostly plays second fiddle, providing more low-end to the chunky and clinical guitars. Trimming a bit of fat and better sequencing would’ve earned Brutopia a higher score, but as it stands The Hell have managed to release the best hardcore record of 2015. The songs are catchy and fun enough to stand on their own apart from the humorous lyrics, and the jokes are good enough to withstand repeat listens and retain their appeal. Brutopia probably won’t find a spot on my year-end list, but it’ll definitely find a spot on the ol’ stereo when I get an urge to hear something loud, obnoxious, hooky, humorous, and, most importantly, entertaining.