After whetting listeners’ appetites with recent 7” Obscene Humanity, a palate cleaner of reconfigured and re-recorded material that was both tantalizing and ultimately unfulfilling, South California’s abrasive hardcore hatemongers have finally released Abandon All Life. An able follow-up to their breakthrough record, Unsilent Death, Abandon All Life displays depth, maturity and sophistication while losing none of the blistering rage and ferocious energy that first captured their audience’s attention.
Nails are one of the most promising band to operate within the aesthetic frequently referred to as “Entombed-core,” a union of the thick, blackened, steel-wool riffs that defined pioneering death metal band Entombed and the ravenous energy of hardcore. At the beginning of their career, Nails focussed on taking this sound and infusing it with as much ferocity and crushing energy as possible. Abandon All Life represents an evolution of this technique, no longer powering through on sheer reckless abrasiveness, but tempering the fury with a little more intelligence and, dare I say it, subtlety.
Abandon All Life is a gritty, gouging record that succeeds not just on the virulence of its tone, but also the quality of its songwriting. The riffs are more hooky and engaging, more immediately effective and memorable long-term. There’s nothing here that can exactly be considered an earworm, though the riffs in “Wide Open Wound” definitely have the propensity to burrow into one’s grey matter. The leap in the quality of songwriting is even more promising in what it might mean for future Nails output; if they are this much better on their sophomore release, their next release will be even stronger.
Another aspect that both makes Abandon All Life stronger and speaks very well of their future potential output is the impulse towards lengthening their songs. Tracks like “Suum Cuique” allow Nails a little more room to breathe and stretch their black, leathery wings, and are definitely stronger for the space. If anything, I would like to see Nails continue this trend of exploring the potential of longer, more fully realized tracks rather that short blasts of intensity akin to a superheated geyser. As skin-melting and fantastic as their shorter, grind-inspired tracks can be, the variation of adding some longer material is definitely a step in the right direction.
Of course, remarking upon the lengthening of Nails’ output is kind of ridiculous, considering this full-length is still, with ten songs (one of which is five minutes long) delivered in a searing seventeen minutes. The modus operandi for Nails isstill to batter the listener as fast and viciously as possible, allowing no room to breathe or regroup. It’s almost cruel to expect out fleshy, mortal eardrums to contend with this kind of punishment. And yet, as Nails go hammer and tongs on us again, it is still possible for the finer connoisseur of pain to detect an elevated level of sophistication in the battering.
Taylor Young’s drumming is the most similar to the work done on Unsilent Death, which is to say that it is caustic, precise, and wonderfully violent. The blastbeats rival the ferociousness of any black metal skinsman. The drum sound captured on the record is perhaps even better, more crisp and full, and it seems that producer Kurt Ballou has an even more solid understanding of how to handle their sound and get the most out a studio experience. Vocalist and guitarist Todd Jones has employed a slightly different vocal tactic, with a less guttural tone and more high-pitched anguish.
Abandon All Life continues to embody all the same things that made listeners excited about Nails when they first broke onto the scene, but with an elevated level of musicianship and a marked level of thoughtfulness. But what continues to make Nails so captivating, and their violence so addictive, is something more intangible. There is a real, palpable rage that infuses their work, an emotional core of authenticity that can’t be carefully crafted. However they may evolve, Nails are still angry, and they are better for it.