When we look deep into the wide web of underground music on the outlying fringes of many online music communities, we often get a glimpse into the worlds of many bands, labels, and subcultures that for some appear too obscure and hidden away from broader audiences. Nevertheless, it is because of these smaller, niche platforms that we get music that possesses much more authenticity and dedication from the artists who prioritise making personal music that symbolises more character and essence over net profit and audience expansion. An emerging alternative label that fits this characterisation is one I found whilst surfing many online music forums called Tomb Tree Tapes. The Canada-based label is home to a number of widespread artists, whose styles range in their extremities from punk offshoots like emoviolence, skramz, and hardcore to subgenres in metal such as black metal, grindcore, and metalcore. Whilst I could sit here all day and talk about the many versatile artists represented by this label (notably, Holly Caught a Contact High, My Hair is a Rat’s Nest, and Victor Shores), this review focuses on the debut release of blackened screamo band Sear’s Grief in V Stages, featuring members of the Charlestown, South Carolina screamo outfit To Forget.
An interesting release from this label to say the least, and to be honest, it was the wholesome and somewhat out-of-place album cover that brought me towards this record in the first place. Whilst the cover might have you thinking of a lo-fi bedroom indie rock sort of EP, I can assure you what comes is quite the opposite. Each track, appropriately aligned to represent the five stages of grief from “I-V”, explores this concept, with a razor-cutting sound to them thanks to a violent projection of anger, despair, and agony. The dissonant blackened riffs create these tense atmospheres that clearly aim to demonstrate a state of unease and struggle; as the title may suggest, you can get a feel of these songs trying to accurately convey the impression of losing a loved one in the most antagonising way possible. The vocal arrangement is equally as violent and chaotic as the instrumentation, which showcases wails of pain and misery that feel very personal and sensitive.
What I think stands out about the songs on this album is how they are able to express the clear theme of traumatic and persistent grief using a variety of different subgenres, as the artist knows how to implement them in a useful way to amplify the record’s deeper message. Take for instance the track “II”: it opens as a very direct track with chaotic post-hardcore segments and violent skramz vocal lines that are followed soon after by a surprisingly fitting atmospheric black metal-esque guitar passage that almost throws you off guard yet stills seems to retain that unnerving edge of before. Another track that exhibits this genre diversion quite well is “IV”, which conversely opens with a dismal instrumental section slowly trudging along to this terrifying climax before unleashing a blackened hardcore bridge that shudders in a terrifying manner. Soon after, the outro appears with a harsh, dissonant breakdown section to affirm unrest.
A disturbing EP for sure, and one that will no doubt linger around the dark corners of many online music community hubs, enticing new listeners with its misleading cover art and leaving them coming out of this experience with a new perspective on sound. A debut record like this has a lot to offer, and it’s worth checking out if you have a spare ear to lend and are not put off by the track’s dejected subject matter. Certainly, one for fans of screamo that also don’t mind venturing into black metal territory sometimes.