Incendiary have been one of hardcore’s leading lights for beyond a decade. 2017’s Thousand Mile Stare was a hugely formative album personally which blew my mind and plunged me into the modern hardcore abyss, from which I’ve never looked back. Come 2023 then, Incendiary are a veteran band in hardcore after 16 years together and now onto their fourth album, so you’d think they might have lost some of their bite, but you’d think wrong. On Thousand Mile Stare they were ‘the dogs that can’t be trained’, but on Change The Way You Think About Pain not only have they learned new tricks but they’re off the leash and on the prowl.
Now, before I start writing an entire essay on Incendiary, I’ll lead us into the album. The opener was also the first single that announced the band’s recording return, “Bite The Hook”. It’s immediately an Incendiary song, vocalist Brendan Garrone’s familiar Long Island bark is stamped everywhere, Brian Audley and Rob Nobile’s blend of chugging and melody weighs heavily while the rhythm delivers a hugely powerful foundation. Not only was it a triumphant return but it sets the expectations through the roof for the rest of the album.
“Jesus Bones” (which the band debuted live at last year’s Outbreak Fest, set below) is similarly heavily, with an underlying tension only broken by the pointed attacks of the chorus. The intensity is undeniable even two songs in, not a single second is wasted across the opening tracks and the bass stands out with some extra melody alongside holding it all together. Last year’s Outbreak Fest also saw Garrone speak on the 100 Words or Less podcast, giving an insight into what the band want to achieve at this point in their career, what emerged is a fervour for live shows and a passion for the hardcore they create. He affirmed ‘we quite literally just want to be play hardcore shows and that’s the only thing we care about doing. There is no endgame and it is very liberating’; this attitude and positivity for what they’re doing shines through not just live but on the album too.
Second single “Echo of Nothing” continues the trend of power, intensity and pure quality. It has everything you could want and more from a hardcore and Incendiary song. It has tension, built with an almost grungey guitar riff, aggression around the verses and especially towards the closing of the song when a melody reminiscent of classic Xibalba shines through. What I love most about this track though is that it has a classic Incendiary one liner that could be at the forefront of any political discussion, important strike or brewing riot. Each album has at least one of these phrase to really latch onto, that is powerful and straight to the point from “Antichrist” (‘the true Antichrist has finally fallen’), to “Primitive Rage” (‘forcing a reckoning, set us free’), to “Hard Truths Cut Both Ways” (‘even the sharpest blade will eventually rust, even the dullest blade can make the deepest cut’) and all the way through here to “Echo of Nothing” (‘every window deserves a brick’).
“Host/Parasite” jumps into the heaviest part Incendiary have ever put to record. Matt Lomeli’s double bass drum attack lies beneath almost mathcore riffs which propel the song at a higher pace than usual. “Lie of Liberty”, the album’s final single, actually comes in to balance the pace out a little and sees the band deliver the grooviest song of their career to date. A mid-pace rager compared to the rest of their career, the song is still very much an Incendiary song and oozes the charisma they’ve harnessed for 16 years.
“C.T.E” is a song that intrigued me just from its title. Conversations around safety have become especially important in sports across recent years, especially looking at concussions and the long-term effects of C.T.E. In possibly their most pointed song since 2013’s police brutality focussed “Force of Neglect“, the track highlights the powerful way in which Garrone uses lyrics to paint a picture and create a feeling. While there are no names or direct stories, a compelling narrative unfolds ‘drip by drip’ as the mind struggles with degeneration. With lines such as ‘they’re coming for me, locusts swarm, mind melting, drip by drip’, there’s a poetic nature to the way the song is structured in an intelligent way that few bands have ever managed to do in hardcore.
“Collision” and “Rats in the Cellar” maintain the momentum and the intensity, showcasing a band entirely on the same page. Even these tracks which can often get lost over the course of an album are memorable. The chorus of “Rats in the Cellar”, is a moment that will stick in your head as you can immediately imagine a crowd baying to grab the mic to scream ‘are you still one of the living?‘ back towards the stage. “Santosha (Illusion of the Self)” alludes to the Indian philosophical term meaning contentment or satisfaction, which bites back against the idea of being content with something not up to the required standards. This is another insight into the band’s attitude as mediocrity is something the band won’t settle for, especially after being a band for as long as they have.
The title track closes the album and is the longest song the band have ever released. It’s also the most effective album closer of their career. It feels deliberate, bringing the pieces together and tying up the tension. ‘The album title is meant to conjure the concept of pain avoidance. Most of the songs have some kind of tie back to the things everyone does to avoid feeling any semblance of pain’, Garrone explains, and when you reach this point of the album, you can look back to what came before and implicitly understand what the band was striving for, this feeling of catharsis and of hardcore as an outlet is so effective when it’s pulled off this well.
‘The enemy of Incendiary is time, everything that we do is organised and we know exactly what we want to do’ (100 Words or Less), and this shines through across the album. In short, Change the Way You Think About Pain is another monumental album from a band that will go down as one of the best bands from the hardcore scene of the 21st century. Not many bands have released four great albums back to back, even less within the sphere of hardcore punk and heavy music. Not only is this album the culmination of three albums of material in terms of sound, but they’ve managed to step up their intensity while bringing in new sounds, new influences and showing a level of growth while retaining their signature sound. I truly hope there’s many more years to come to savour Incendiary, but if not then there will always be more than enough to lose yourself into.
Header photo by Rebecca Lader