As a writer, it’s kind of rare to be able to put pen to paper and extol a band from my home state. Not that there aren’t plenty of bands from Virginia that deserve writing about, not at all. The Richmond (AKA RVA) scene is rife with incredible musical acts ranging from Inter Arma to Lucy Dacus and while the rest of the state has just as much to offer, fewer rise to get the attention of national or international media. So when I came across Infant Island a few years ago, thanks in no small part to Everything Is Noise, I was happily surprised to see a band from my state making waves as far as Europe and the West Coast of the US. The best thing about all of this, however, is just how damn good and fresh the music was when it hit my ears. A smoldering blend of hardcore, skramz, and some post-rock is what Infant Island serve up and while an itemized genre receipt is never a full picture of what a band is and what they can do, these are some good terms to remember as we pull back the curtain on the band in this feature.
After being featured on a couple of splits with other notable bands such as smallhands and Frail Body, Infant Island released their self-titled debt in 2018 and the music press, well they ate it up. All the praise was and still is warranted. The opening track “Small Differences” widens from a rolling acoustic riff to a bombastic and cathartic and atmospheric hardcore song with ease before the fade-out betrays the chaos that immediately follows with “Replenish”. It’s a ballsy way to start an album and it pretty much paints the picture of how to approach this band and what to expect from them. Twists and turns pervade the album’s runtime and while it perhaps can be overstated, I’ll say it again; dynamics make music listenable. The push, the pull, the surprise, the chaos, the calm. All of these are shown to a somewhat equal degree in the album and their music as a whole, but I think what I started to see with this album was just how good Infant Island are at taking the aggression of screamo and hardcore and sitting it squarely across the net from their atmospheric elements and letting them play off of each other like two tennis pros that refuse to lose or even give up a point to their opponent across the court.
Their debut, like many first LPs, is a beautiful and borderline explosion of ideas that felt extremely energetic and focused. Songs like “Broken Pieces” have moments where the volley between the aggression and the space reaches tournament-level fervor and in a way feels like another band of which I am quite fond, Trophy Hunt. There’s a garage-punk DIY feel at times, but it’s not at all just a whirlwind of ideas, it’s a combustible fog of intent. While swirling these ideas together is by no means an original idea of Infant Island, the creative energy that fills each song on their debut, feels as though this idea may have sprung from their minds.
In the Spring of 2020, we got another glimpse and yet another side of the band with their release of the EP, Sepulcher. Relying less on the atmospheric moments and in some ways eschewing them all together, the chaos was pushed to the forefront and cranked, dare I say, all the way to 11 on the opening track that rages at full force for two-and-a-half minutes before the respite of their familiar atmosphere returns in the opening moments of “Unspoken”. That lasts only briefly before the pandemonium reintroduces itself and the familiar push and pull of these two competing ideas resume. This is the first release that I heard by Infant Island and at the time I was neck-deep in a fling with mathcore, so this was hitting me in all the right ways. It still hits in all the right ways. What I loved about this EP was its construction of it. The first three songs are in many ways what we’d expect from this band by now, but the closer flirts with a ten-minute runtime and pushes the band to balance what they do in a host of new ways and proves that they are beyond competent songwriters and composers and refuse to let the past write the future.
Infant Island have already managed to put out some great music by this time and are staying in the eye of some impressive music outlets. For some bands, this kind of exposure and praise could change the approach or lead to all kinds of other creative changes. What makes this band great, however, is that they are still pushing themselves and striving to keep inventing new versions of themselves. As a personal fan of this style of music, it’s impossible not to keep singing their praises as I write this article because there simply aren’t enough bands welding all of these ideas into a single metallic weapon the way that Infant Island are. As a fan of the more aggressive styles of music, there’s no denying that they can keep pace with any hardcore band touring right now. The balancing act of delicately mixing in elements of post-rock and punk, post-hardcore, and screamo into a sound that sounds in tension with itself but a single entity nonetheless, is pretty astounding.
Around a month after the release of Sepulcher, Beneath hit the shelves and after just one listen I could tell that once again, Infant Island weren’t sitting on their butts and phoning it in. Yes, it was the same band that I had only recently begun to love, it was also a movement into a direction that played with dynamics even more. The incorporation of harsh noise in “Signed In Blood” was a new wrinkle and boy did it hit just right. “Content” made the most of the borderline orchestral instrumental beginning before once again being thrown into a fiery chasm of metallic hardcore. Overall it seemed that with this release, more oxygen was injected into the sound making the space between the aggression and repose even wider. Who knows where this album would have ended up sounding like in the hands of lesser musicians and songwriters but this was exactly the right move to make as it made for such an engaging record and a beautiful step forward in their somewhat short career so far.
Bands like this don’t pop up often and it’s rarer still that I live within an afternoon drive of where they call home, so for me Infant Island are a standard-bearer in this space and this state. While it’s been a couple of years since we’ve heard anything from them, I know they’re touring and perhaps even cooking up something with Greet Death. That’d be the coolest. Until then I’ll keep spinning Beneath on my turntable and pondering a trip to see them at their next hometown show.