Hardcore supergroup SECT mournfully lash out at the loss of hope for our crumbling society on Plagues Upon Plagues.

Release date: June 7, 2024 | Southern Lord | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp

Every year, as the weather warms, I find myself turning from the icy clutches of black metal and the cavernous hollowness of funeral doom and death metal in favor of my old, dear friend hardcore. I came of age in our local hardcore shows, sweat soaked clothes clinging to my bruises from each mosh pit, overcome with a sense of elation and catharsis I had never experienced before. Those are halcyon days, as our community has much less of a DIY hardcore scene, now. Social media marketing and stable venues have done away with handbills and rented-out banquet halls, and few local hardcore bands exist here, anymore. Yet, this genre sticks with me, through every curveball life throws my way, I always have fast, pissed-off music to rely on.

Fortunately, we live in a great era for hardcore. There is a veritable horde of bands pushing the envelope in many directions or simply sticking with the formula to great effect. This is important, to me, not just for nostalgia, but because at the heart of hardcore is a political spirit that calls for the very radical politics I have carried with me for decades…shit, has it been that long? Seriously, have we been calling for things to change through this music for this long?

SECT has answered ‘yes, and for what?’ on their fourth album, Plagues Upon Plagues. SECT are a group of hardcore scene veterans, comprised of members of Earth Crisis, Catharsis, Cursed, Racetraitor, Day of Suffering, and Fall Out Boy. They have put in their time to the cause of punk and hardcore. Their brand is a vegan/straight edge take on crust-infected metallic hardcore, not the metalcore of say like, The Devil Wears Prada, but gritty, fast and nasty hardcore that offers no sing-along choruses. When I think of SECT, I think of their 2019 album, Blood of The Beasts, that absolutely crushes your ear holes with a frenzy-paced vitriol that annihilates comfort with a wrecking ball of intensity.

So, when opening track, “No Uncertain Terms” starts off with slow, darkly melodic guitar and cleanly sung vocals, I was taken aback, This is a somewhat new sound for the band, though the mid-paced and more melodic track isn’t some hot pink, 2000’s-era Hot Topic single. It is a seething reproach against the admittance of slow-burn catastrophe that we have complacently ushered onto ourselves. ‘Cathartic as it is/there’s not a fuck you left in the world that can cover all this,’ Chris Colohan sings, having given up hope that we collectively can come to our senses and fix our own demise, ‘this is what we are, and always were.’ Guitars swell with an almost traditional metal melody as we are left to truly ponder, ‘what’s left to save?

“No Uncertain Terms” is a hell of an opener, a spiteful lament building on itself over six minutes. This is a different kind of intensity, far from the knuckle-rupturing mosh-pits. It hits me that they haven’t lost their edge with these new elements, but have honed it to a scalpel, surgically admonishing our false hopes. Though SECT aren’t advocating for apathy, here. They are sick of our shit and trying to navigate the dystopia of end-stage capitalism and an empire gulping in the air of its dying breaths.

While this lyrically sets the tone for the album, elsewhere Plagues Upon Plagues is the kind of bludgeoning crustcore I was looking for from SECT with a few more slowed down parts and solos for texture.: Lead single “New Low” showcases Amebix-influenced nihilism. “Zarzan Wept” starts off slower and features one of these classic metal solos in the breakdown, but otherwise will have your fist pumping. “Drowning In Sorrow” and “Inventory” would fit neatly into previous SECT albums. “Lovers of Life” is a caustic attack on Christian Nationalism, teeming with anger at those who profess love but breed division, ‘the do unto others people are here, run for your fuckin’ life.

KEN mode comes to mind, occasionally, on this album, merging elements of hardcore with cutting lyrical commentary. “#Foreverhome” focuses on the sad trend of pet adoption during the pandemic, for vanity purposes and social media clout while leaving many animals abandoned like they were disposable razors. Doom metal distorted bass and whispered vocals contrast blistering screams and winding guitars as Colohan snarls tragedy.

“Six Black Lines (Plagues Upon Plagues)” closes the album returns to the themes of “No Uncertain Terms” as ‘a new world record size pot of boiling frogs find themselves aware of no such sensation at all‘. We are bearing witness to our own destruction, through climate change and rising fascism. I won’t pretend that the cynicism of this record isn’t something I feel, daily. I long for communities strong enough to advocate for themselves in the face of these horrors, to answer the call of adversity and overcome what seems increasingly inevitable, but for about as long as the members of SECT, I, too have watched wave after wave of hope fall to the relentless scourge of powers that remain unshaken and unfazed by our protests, our clear plans, and our cries for help.

What the future holds is dismal, yet uncertain. Whatever takes place over the next few years to decades will see many of us struggling to survive in unfamiliar and hostile settings. Bands like SECT and albums like Plagues Upon Plagues are bleak reminders of our mortality as a society and species. If we are going to go down, we are going to do it loudly, blasting sick hardcore, aware of our own resilience and flaws. Play this at outstanding album at max volume. Feel the discomfort, the history, and the rage that got us here. Maybe in those moments, the spirit of hardcore can be our savior, or at least allow us to cope and expel our anger and dismay.

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