As always, let me start this review with a tale from my personal life.
Picture this: the year is 2013. Four teenagers are gathered in a basement room, hunched around the screen of a desktop computer. They’ve recently started a band together, initially playing Trivium covers, and now forever seeking heavier, harder, more abrasive, less palatable music. It’s the drummer’s parents’ house; his mum has just offered everyone some lemonade. It’s summer, yet all four teens are pale, a little peaky looking, and shaggy-haired.
The vocalist says, ‘Hey, you guys should check out “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse. It’s so fucking brutal.‘ The guitarist, who has been chewing his tongue until now, frowns at him. ‘Dude, Cannibal Corpse are so mainstream, only pussies listen to them. But have you seen “Forced Gender Reassignment”?’ The drummer, who only really listens to Radiohead and is mainly in the band because he wanted to do them a solid, shrugs nonchalantly, but the bassist, who is younger than the others and eager to impress, blurts out ‘Yeah, I’ve totally seen it! Br00tal as fuck, dude.‘
‘Oh, yeah?’, sneers the guitarist. ‘Tell me what happens.’
The bassist swallows nervously. ‘Well…uh…there’s like an alleyway…and…um…’
The guitarist scoffs. ‘Didn’t fucking think so. I bet you don’t even know who Anal Cunt are.’ He begins hacking into the computer’s keyboard, muttering ‘poser’ under his breath. After some buffering, the raw, offensive tunes of AxCx fill the basement.
The bassist chews their thumbnail nervously. ‘I don’t really get it,’ they think to themselves. ‘Do I need to be into this in order to be considered cool? It’s just noise. Like, it’s interesting, but I don’t like it.‘ Out loud, they say, ‘fuck yeah man, that’s sick as fuck.‘ The guitarist doesn’t react. The vocalist is doing air blast-beats. The drummer is absent-mindedly fixing his side fringe. The bassist shifts uncomfortably and decides to do some homework on grindcore.
Friends, you may have guessed that I was the bassist in that story. I took some creative license, of course – but that was more or less my introduction to grindcore. I did my homework, but I never really did get it. My favourite grindcore album was always Fuck The Human Race’s Anal Phabet, which is snappy and abrasive while being witty and musically diverse. It’s literally one song for each letter of the alphabet (plus a cover of Napalm Death‘s infamous “You Suffer”). I adore Bill Steer, but I never got into Napalm Death – like many people, I like the idea of the band and appreciate the impact they had on metal more than I like the music itself. I gave up after our edgelord teen band broke up, and just kind of figured grindcore wasn’t for me – something to be respected from a distance, but not tampered with.
I won’t say ‘and then it all changed when…’, but perhaps I should. Sonic Poison’s most recent album, Eruption, seriously did a number on me. I suppose it’s their first full-length, if you can call a 20-minute album that; all their previous releases come in at roughly 10 minutes, whilst still consisting of 7 songs each. Eruption had me hogtied with awe from the beginning. I sat there, stunned, my mouth and eyes open so wide I thought I’d never be able to pry them closed again. Occasionally I felt a muscle twitch uncontrollably, felt my head shake, or uttered a small, incoherent noise, but the entire time, I was completely and utterly engrossed.
This aural case of lockjaw just went on and on. 20 minutes of the most thrilling, intense, overwhelmingly feral music, and I not once thought it was too much or had any inclination to turn it off. This style of music is designed to be challenging, and so it was, but it was so much more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. It was like I’d been hit in the face with a baseball bat, and was tumbling to the ground in slow motion, forever dreading the moment I’d hit the ground, my head filled with buzzing, deconstructed, confused thoughts, and every time I thought I’d hit the ground, it shifted underneath me, jolting me further still, until I came to accept that this fall would be my forever-state (spoiler alert: you do hit the floor eventually, but I won’t tell you how or when).
Even in amongst the grating on-and-on of Eruption, I found one song that I instantly elected as my Favourite Track of 2023 So Far. “Carbonized”, you filthy, awful, incredible thing – I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but I believe in love at first listen, though what I feel for this track is possibly more of a heady obsession, like when you fall for someone who’s hot as fuck, but who you know will treat you like dirt. I’ll take that song with me wherever I go, like a cyst, a thorn in my side that I won’t remove even though I have tweezers with me. It had me covering my eyes and gasping in horror and delight while it burrowed into my brain, sedating me, kicking my placid mind around at its will and whim.
There’s this perfect slice just after the album’s midway point – a series of five tracks that are damn near flawless. From “The Scavenger” to “Library Slasher”, I’d be hard-pressed to find anything to fault that isn’t simply a matter of personal taste. If those five songs were an EP, it would be the ultimate grindcore experience. There’s such variety in these tracks, each song angrier than the last, but expressing that anger in different ways; from “The Scavenger”’s thumping mid-tempo, through the wild and well-constructed “Antithesis” (one of my favourites), the pummelling duo of “No Time”/”War on Drugs”, which features one of the best guitar solos on the album, through the blackened tremolo-picking of “Library Slasher”, these five songs are the ultimate thrashing companions.
Speaking of solos, that’s the one aspect of this album I still can’t fully come to terms with – whinnying, whammy-bar-driven, divebombing, bitsy shredding à la Kerry King. It’s simply not my thing. But I’m happy to accept this as a stylistic element that I probably just don’t understand. I get the concept of chaos – the solos are definitely in line with the aural assault of the backings, but they don’t make me feel very much. There are a few exceptions (the one on “Orouboros” should turn me off completely, but it ends so cleverly that I can’t help but love it), but for the most part I’m happy to shrug them off. The solos, like the tracks themselves, are mercifully (and sometimes frustratingly) short. It’s like early thrash on the most intense dose of amphetamines imaginable, but more than that, too – Sonic Poison weave in slivers of other genres; death metal, black metal, punk. I know that’s exactly what grindcore is supposed to be, but I feel that Sonic Poison summed it up incredibly well for a pleb like me. I don’t really know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I know that I fucking love this album.
Eruption is wonderfully raw, rife with fury, frustration, and aggression, and yet it’s very well-crafted. The flow is spot on; the production, while anything but polished, suits the boundless, wild energy of the songs perfectly. It makes me feel like I’m in some filthy basement club watching Sonic Poison play, allowing myself to get screamed at, and screaming back, aimlessly, senselessly, but charged by the same energy, soaking in the sweat and aggression of those around me. Not many people in my social circle like this sort of music, and there sure as hell isn’t a live scene for it where I am; I guess Eruption will just be mine to keep for myself. My dirty little grindy secret.